The newly installed CIPR president Kevin Taylor is somewhat self-deprecating when discussing his new role. 'I was sitting on the wrong seat when the music stopped,' he jokes.
At the time of PRWeek's interview, Taylor had spent one month as president, having taken over from Lis Lewis-Jones on 1 January. His presidential reception at the CIPR headquarters actually coincided with the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. There, however, the comparisons end, laughs Taylor. 'Where were the hordes of fans and chauffeur-driven ride to work? Nowhere to be seen,' he quips. But, in the same vein as Obama, Taylor is embracing his new responsibilities and wants to make a difference, albeit while adding his own distinctive flavour to the role.
He is keen for the presidency to be more than just an administrative post, running executive and council meetings: 'I want it to become a leadership role. And I think that's what the industry needs when we're heading into a recession. It needs this institute to be leading and helping its members in this way.'
One of his first jobs has been to brief the CIPR's in-house team to devise a PR campaign to 'make membership meaningful'. 'I believe strongly that when someone asks why they should join the CIPR, the answer shouldn't be because members get a discount from The Sunday Times wine club,' says Taylor. 'It should be because it's going to get you a better job, help you win business if you're in a consultancy, and it's going to help with the job you're doing.'
The campaign is currently in its infancy but Taylor hopes it will promote the tools on offer at the institute to help members become better practitioners and improve their career prospects.
Taylor is aware PROs are unlikely to join without knowing what is in it for them, so the campaign aims to raise the CIPR's profile. He is clearly a man with big ambitions.
'I'd love to see the day when a tender for a government contract or for a big blue chip company says we expect 40 per cent of your staff to be members of the CIPR. Or that on the recruitment pages of PRWeek a job states CIPR membership would be welcomed or an advantage. But I think we're a long way from that and that's going to take time.'
He is honest enough to admit the CIPR's influence is underestimated by non-members. Part of the campaign will try to demonstrate how PR can be good for business, with case studies of organisations that have used PR to build reputation. It will also involve promoting the Chartered Practitioner scheme, launched earlier this month, along with CIPR training and qualifications.
Taylor is passionate about his profession and wants to improve its reputation. He goes as far as stating that PR practitioners need to 'reclaim' the phrase PR and what public relations actually means.
'It's either perceived to be spin, which I don't like, or press relations and stakeholder management, by far too many people. There are a lot of people trying to reinvent a term for public relations. I've been guilty of it in the past. Far too often PR is put in a box.'
After admitting the CIPR and industry trade body the PRCA sometimes have different agendas, Taylor points out that unity between the two can bring benefits.
'Together the two of us have a stronger voice than speaking separately. I think (PRCA director general) Francis Ingham has done a really good job. I could say we've taught him everything he knows because he started out working here, but I'd be saying it with a smile and a twinkle in my eye rather than any other way.'
Aside from his role as president, Taylor's 'day job' is as a director at technology specialist consultancy CCGroup, which he joined 20 years ago, soon after its launch. As a PR practitioner, Taylor acknowledges one of his best skills is listening to clients and interpreting what they want.
'Kevin is a listener who can interpret a company's business into concise messages for all audiences,' says GyPSii corporate comms director Vanessa Vigar. 'He really does love his industry, which can only be good for the rest of us - clients and agencies alike.'
Taylor's mentor and director of The Amber Group Ken Deeks adds Taylor's biggest problem is that he is almost too nice, if that can be a bad thing: 'Unlike most PR people he doesn't seem to have an ego and to that extent he's a real team player. He doesn't seem to care who takes the glory as long as the team wins. That's pretty rare these days.'
1998: Director, Company Care (now CCGroup)
1989: Account manager, account director then associate director, Company
1985: Head of press and publications, BT Mobile
1983: Corporate spokesman, BT
1982: Press officer and radio reporter, London Transport
1978: Senior publicity officer, Rotherham Borough Council
1975: PR executive, South Yorkshire County Council
1973: PR trainee, London Borough of Islington
KEVIN TAYLOR'S TURNING POINTS
- Biggest career break?
Joining BT and getting into technology was a big break - especially working on the birth of the mobile industry. It's also how I met my colleague, business partner, mentor and friend of 20 years, Ian McCann.
- Advice for climbing the career ladder?
Don't be in too much of a rush, but never sit back. Get the most from each position by being hungry for knowledge and success, and by delivering results. Work with people you trust and admire and only move on when you stop learning and progressing.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
John Egan, press controller at BT Corporate, taught me a lot about communication. John Carrington, CEO of BT Mobile, showed what an articulate spokesman could achieve. Ken Deeks has a knack of getting to the heart of an issue that I admire.
- What do you prize in recruits?
Being 'bright' - in terms of intellect and personality. Being quick-witted, eager to learn and calm under pressure are all important qualities.