PROFILE: Donna Zurcher, Ogilvy PR Worldwide - A world of PR experience. Ogilvy’s UK CEO Donna Zurcher is no stranger to dealing with different cultures

It takes some guts to be in your early-30s and uproot yourself to the other side of the world, especially when you’re a single mother with no work contacts in your new country. Ogilvy PR Worldwide’s new UK managing director Donna Zurcher refers to her decision in 1987 to swap South Africa for her native UK as ’either brave or stupid’, but acknowledges that it was a defining moment in her career.

It takes some guts to be in your early-30s and uproot yourself to

the other side of the world, especially when you’re a single mother with

no work contacts in your new country. Ogilvy PR Worldwide’s new UK

managing director Donna Zurcher refers to her decision in 1987 to swap

South Africa for her native UK as ’either brave or stupid’, but

acknowledges that it was a defining moment in her career.



Zurcher will be calling on her reserves of self-reliance in the coming

months. Charged with raising the fortunes of an agency whose income

dropped 18 per cent in 1997, she has joined at a crucial time.



In the 18 months since Bob Seltzer was brought in as the agency’s

president and chief executive, Ogilvy PR Worldwide has been in the first

stages of a European resurgence. The agency has always been strong in

the US and Asia but has traditionally not been a cohesive force in

Europe, with its largest office in London lacking the critical mass to

compete.



Seltzer’s appointment of former Burson-Marsteller UK MD Paul Philpotts

last March, and now Zurcher’s entrance, mean that the management set-up

is complete. Seltzer is keen that the European division of the agency,

with London taking a pivotal role, exploits its capability for handling

global pieces of business such as existing client IBM.



Zurcher is a wise choice for this role, being no stranger to crossing

cultures. Her childhood years were spent in a variety of African

countries, trailing after her hotelier father.



Within a few years of moving to South Africa with her family when she

was 18, Zurcher married an actor and had a son. The rest of her family

gradually returned to England, but she chose to stay.



She was a late convert to the world of PR. After her marriage ended she

began working for South African retailing group Trueworth, rising to

become manager of a large clothes store. A friend suggested she put her

organisational skills to use in PR, prompting her to scour the phonebook

for agencies, securing interviews with the three she rang on spec.



Zurcher ended up staying for eight years at her first agency, Concept

Communications, which later merged with TWS, progressing to the role of

director by the time she left South Africa. Her departure from her

adopted country was hastened, she says, by ’the escalating violence of

the place. I found that the politics were strangling me’.



But arriving in London in 1987, having left her son Jason at school in

South Africa, was ’tough’. She spent a year at Keene PR, then switched

to Good Relations shortly after Tim - now Lord - Bell bought it from

Tony Good. ’Because there was so much change happening within the agency

at the time, I learnt a lot about management,’ she says.



Former colleagues refer to the quality of her management skills. Howard

de Souza, director of Bell Pottinger Good Relations, believes that,

unlike many managers in agencies, her own self-confidence means she is

not threatened by ’young pups’. De Souza, who reported to Zurcher when

she was at Good Relations, also attributes her self-assurance to the

fact that ’nothing fazes her’. Zurcher thinks it was the constant

uprooting when she was younger that bred her independent character, but

admits to a bossy streak.



’I do like to take control.’



She has only been at Ogilvy for a week - all of it spent fighting the

effects of flu - but is already clear what her priorities are. ’Staff,

first. I’m a great believer in training people, giving them a decent

wage and encouraging them to stay with us.’



Attracting new clients, both international and domestic, is also a key

mission. Zurcher’s role as a client in her most recent job at US

interactive media broadcaster National Media Corporation means she has a

fresh perspective on this. ’We have to make sure that we are the kind of

people that clients like picking the phone up to speak to,’ she

asserts.



HIGHLIGHTS



1987: Managing director, Watson Lane and Keene



1990: Managing director, Lowe Bell Good Relations



1994: Vice-president global communications, National Media

Corporation



1999: UK managing director, Ogilvy PR Worldwide.



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