Francis Ingham was at an event recently where he was required to give a speech about his plans for the PRCA. Before taking the stage, he joked with former Glasgow Council head of PR John Brown – brother of the Prime Minister – that he would steal his sibling’s famous line about getting up every day and asking: ‘How can I help make things better?.’
A perhaps unexpected homage to a Lanour PM from a self-confessed ‘sensible Conservative’, but Ingham shares some characteristics with the Prime Minister.
He is a self-confessed workaholic who bel-ieves the emphasis on a work/life balance is ‘over-egged’, and he carries an unnerving gravitas that belies his 33 years.
Ingham’s working day generally starts at 6am when he responds to emails on his BlackBerry. He normally has lunch with a PRCA member, prospective member or industry contact. The self-confessed gregarious director-general also tends to have dinner meetings three or four times a week. And with a four-year-old daughter who frequently jumps into bed with her mum and dad, Igham finds sleep can be a elusive thing even when the day’s work is over.
‘That’s how I prefer to be,’ he shrugs. ‘I think it’s recognised. You actually can be a workaholic but you can also be a lot of other stuff and keep things in perspective,’ he claims.
And the untiring representative for the PR agency world says he sees the same ethos when he makes his daily visits to his members. ‘When I go around, I don’t see an awful lot of champagne being drunk.’
He says he is ‘a results-driven person’, and what drives him is success. So, one year into his tenure as PRCA director general, has this heavy schedule produced results?
Since he joined, the organisation has increased its membership by 33 per cent. The most high profile new recruit is Weber Shandwick, which returned to the fold after five years of self-imposed exile. This was a ‘personal high point’ for Ingham.
The agency’s European CEO Colin Byrne says he felt the agency was getting ‘poor value’ before, but Ingham has ‘breathed new life’ into the association.
‘In the past the PRCA was run using half-crazed socialist nonsense, meaning big agencies ended up funding training and new business services for small agencies,’ explains Byrne. ‘It is now more representative of the growing UK consultancy sector.’
Ingham is more diplomatic on the organisation’s past, saying he was brought in with a remit to ‘shake things up’ and improve the PRCA. ‘It was felt we hadn’t fulfilled our potential, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve upped our game,’ he says modestly.
Hill & Knowlton European CEO Sally Costerton goes as far as saying Ingham has ‘transformed the PRCA; nothing less’.
‘His leadership, vision and decisiveness have won over sceptics,’ she adds.
He may be keeping the industry happy, but Ingham is not afraid of radical change. As well as a plan to relaunch the organisation’s training diplomas, this year Ingham will push through a controversial move to open up the PRCA to in-house teams.
‘We are not changing the fundamental nature of the PRCA,’ explains Ingham cautiously. ‘It remains a consultant association, and this idea was driven by members.’
Ingham says he would encourage anyone to become a member of his former employer the CIPR. ‘And I’d hope Colin Farrington would say the same about the PRCA. We compete for a share of voice, but we don’t compete for members.’
But with 2009 set to be a tough year, professional bodies such as the PRCA and CIPR will have to demonstrate the value they bring to members’ bottom line.
Ingham is confident the PRCA will not suffer. ‘Our business referral service is up 85 per cent,’ he says. ‘These aren’t itsy-bitsy accounts either. We have three briefs out to pitch that are in excess of £250,000 a year.’
Aside from winning its members’ business, a key role for the PRCA in 2009 is to be vocal about the benefits agencies bring. There is also ‘serious work’ to be done around improving respect shown by clients.
Another bugbear of Ingham’s is the ‘significant rogue element in PR’. Not members of the PRCA or CIPR, he adds briskly, but PROs who ‘don’t deliver results, aren’t accountable and aren’t particularly skilled. They bring the reputation of the industry down.’
With Ingham well into his stride after his first year, and another 12 months of early starts, late nights and vocal campaigning just beginning, those who dare to damage the reputation of the PR industry beware: Ingham has you in his sights.
Francis Ingham’s turning points
What was your first career break?
Going to the CBI. It had its flaws, but was a fantastic training ground for running a members’ body.
What advice would you give people climbing the career ladder?
Don’t be afraid of hard work. Some of the most successful people are very focused on their job and always have been. But I’m laid back about how people work. I just care about results.
Who was your most notable mentor?
I do not believe in mentors, but I do try to take the best bits from people. Those I most admire are [former chairman of GCI Europe] Adrian Wheeler and, from a different point of view, Steven Norris. I still think he would have made a fantastic mayor for London. Adrian instilled in me a need to get things done and a sense of humour. But work is only one part of life, and things go right and things go wrong and the world keeps revolving.
What do you prize most in new recruits?
Drive, really. A keenness to win. And I’d rather have someone tell me I’m talking rubbish than sucking up.
2007 Director general, PRCA
2006 Assistant director general, CIPR
2004 Head of public affairs, CIPR
2003 Campaign co-ordinator, Norris for London Campaign
2001 Senior policy adviser, Confederation of British Industry
1998 Political adviser to the Leader of the Opposition, London Borough of Enfield