PROFILE: Alison Clarke Institute of Public Relations - Transforming the IPR image. Alison Clarke waits in the wings, ready to take centre stage at the IPR in 2000

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.

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

too.’



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

enthusiasm.’



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.



HIGHLIGHTS



1982: Graduate trainee, Pedigree Petfoods



1990: Board director, Welbeck Golin/Harris



1996: Managing director, Welbeck Golin/Harris



1998: Chief executive, Shandwick Welbeck.



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