Profile: Paul Taaffe, Hill and Knowlton - Aiming to take H&K to the top/Paul Taaffe harbours ambitions of taking over the communications world

It is hard to believe that a mere 13 years ago Paul Taaffe was just another hard-up backpacker making his way across Europe with nothing more than an oversized rucksack and enormous aspirations. The man sitting before me, with perfectly manicured hands, is the epitome of sophistication.

It is hard to believe that a mere 13 years ago Paul Taaffe was just

another hard-up backpacker making his way across Europe with nothing

more than an oversized rucksack and enormous aspirations. The man

sitting before me, with perfectly manicured hands, is the epitome of

sophistication.



Last month the former backpacker was promoted from president of Hill and

Knowlton Europe, Middle East and Africa to worldwide president of

H&K.



Taaffe left his native Australia in 1985, at the tender age of 24, and

spent nine months travelling throughout Europe, North Africa and the

Middle East. To family and friends in Brisbane it seemed a rather odd

thing to do, given that his career was just taking off. He had obtained

his business degree at Queensland University and begun his career in

communications as a graduate at Unilever. When he left to go travelling

two years later he had worked his way up to corporate relations manager.

But, Taaffe says, he ’wanted to be where the action was.’



’I realised the world wasn’t run from Australia and that I had to travel

to the US or the UK and the UK was the only place I could get a work

permit.’ Taaffe’s impromptu world tour ended when he ran out of money

and energy.



He ended up in London in 1986 working as group account director with

communications consultancy Reginald Watts Associates.



Taaffe’s next move was, he admits, a bit of a quantum leap. In 1989 he

joined Shandwick Consultants, the agency’s City arm, as joint MD

alongside Chris Matthews, the current CEO of financial PR specialist

Hogarth Partnership.



Taaffe’s performance at pitches became legendary. Simon

Brocklebank-Fowler, who was a consultant at Shandwick during Taaffe’s

stint there, says: ’New business pitches with him were always exciting.

People tended to either love his Australian tell-em-like-it-is style, or

not. You knew you had an even chance of it going either way.’



Taaffe admits that it has taken him 13 years to adapt to a more

appropriate style for UK or US chief executives and marketing

directors.’I have been known to challenge clients quite directly. I’ve

been marched out of a few offices but most of the time clients

appreciate it.’



After two years managing Shandwick’s corporate, financial and

business-to-business PR Taaffe realised that his opportunities to

develop in the international arena were limited. ’We did some

international assignments but it wasn’t really enough. The problem was

that all the Shandwick offices, at the time, were competing with each

other for the international work.’ He consequently accepted a post as

CEO of Hill and Knowlton UK in 1992.



By 1994 he was promoted to president and CEO of H&K Europe, Middle East

and Africa and last month was given the additional title of worldwide

president. Half of the company’s 1,500 staff now report to him, and in

his new role he is responsible for ensuring that the firm behaves like a

truly international agency for its international clients.



’What we were finding was that international companies could not find

anyone to address all their communications needs across the globe and my

job now is to make sure that H&K is that agency,’ he says. His clients

are primarily pan-European or international and include American

Express, Pepsi and Chase Manhattan bank.



Taaffe is now firmly settled in the UK with his wife and three

children.



He is one of the few PR operators who have risen to the top of the

US-based international PR networks through UK operations but still has

one aspiration, namely, to run the largest communications agency in the

world.



’That would be the toughest challenge and hopefully one day it will be

H&K. The day that communications ceases to be a challenge, I’ll retire

to Australia and finally learn to surf.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1983

Corporate relations manager, Unilever, Australia

1986

Group account director, Reginald Watts Associates

1989

Joint managing director, Shandwick Consultants UK

1992

UK chief executive, Hill and Knowlton

1994

President EMEA, H&K

1998

Worldwide president, H&K



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