Fresh from the convincing election victory that will see her take
over as president of the Institute of Public Relations in the year 2000,
Alison Clarke exudes an air of joie de vivre as we meet in her office
with its views of the Covent Garden piazza. As president-elect she will
work closely with next year’s incumbent, Railtrack corporate affairs
director Philip Dewhurst, and has already agreed a role for herself in
the year before she takes up the presidential reins. Clarke, says
Dewhurst, will travel around the country to focus on the 80 per cent of
the IPR’s membership that is located outside London.
What is important, says Clarke, is that she builds on the efforts to
modernise the IPR made by her immediate predecessors rather than
embarking on wholesale change. ’If this industry is to be taken
seriously, commitment to education and training must be top of my list,’
she says. But, she add, there will also be an onus on ’fun events’
during her tenure as president as a means of boosting membership and
revenues for the IPR’s Business Development Unit. ’If I’m critical of
the Institute I’d have to say that in the past, in the very valiant
efforts to be taken more seriously, we have lost sight of the fact that
we need to be interesting.’
Having spent four years as the IPR’s honorary treasurer, Clarke is well
acquainted with the organisation and in many people’s estimation is the
ideal figure to succeed Dewhurst.
’She’s going to be a terrific ambassador for the profession,’ says
former IPR president Rosemary Brook. ’Not only is she competent, highly
professional and switched on enough to have reached a top management
position at one of the leading consultancies, she’s a lot of fun
To unwind from her long working days Clarke and her property developer
husband relax by attending wine tutorials. Moreover, a certificate on
her office wall testifies to a distinction gained in the Intermediate
Examination in Wine, Spirits and Liqueurs.
Clients and ex-colleagues alike agree that Clarke is an outstanding team
player. This is likely not only to be felt within the IPR but in
co-operation with other organisations such as the PRCA as well. ’On
things of a general nature we ought to be working together,’ she says.
’Evaluation is a prime example.’
Clarke began her career at Mars subsidiary Pedigree Petfoods. After
three years she took her FMCG knowledge to Welbeck, where she has
remained for 13 years, rising from the lowest rung on the ladder to the
top job. During that time the agency has gone under three different
names and been acquired by Shandwick.
Welbeck is known for its long-term client retention: Elida Faberge in
one form or another has been with the agency for 41 years, ICI Paints
for 28. But, concedes Clarke, by the mid 1990s Welbeck was stuck in a
’bit of a time-warp’ with an over-dependence on consumer accounts and a
lack of focus on growth for the future.
Clarke has energetically remoulded Welbeck, enabling her staff to bring
in corporate business from the likes of Lever Brothers and Sheraton. The
transformation has so impressed Shandwick’s European chief Michael
Murphy that in his restructuring programme this year he moved the
healthcare business into Welbeck.
’Some of the innovations she has introduced to the consultancy have been
very powerful and have made Welbeck motor,’ says Hogarth Partnership
chief executive Chris Matthews, a former colleague. One-time client,
PowerGen director of corporate affairs Esther Kaposi adds: ’She’s good
at giving clients what they want, has loads of energy and undimming
Erstwhile Welbeck account director Louise Cairns recalls an occasion
during a pitch when one of the team fainted. Clarke stepped into the
breach, despite having had little involvement with the presentation
document, and carried things off with such aplomb that she won the
business. A truly worthy IPR president in waiting.
1982: Graduate trainee, Pedigree Petfoods
1990: Board director, Welbeck Golin/Harris
1996: Managing director, Welbeck Golin/Harris
1998: Chief executive, Shandwick Welbeck.