Managing a public relations department of 70 staff should hold no
fear for Nick Chaloner. As a former army captain and adjutant to a
commanding officer, Abbey National’s new director of corporate
communications is used to managing the troops.
Long before public relations even occurred to him as a career, Chaloner
was busy manoeuvring tanks across firing ranges in Germany and touring
the hot spots of Northern Ireland on intelligence exercises.
’I ended up as an adjutant to the commanding officer of a group of 800
soldiers,’ he recalls. ’Basically the commanding officer developed the
strategy and I had to implement it for him as his chief staff
’The army gives you a great deal of confidence. It helps you to think on
your feet and it gives you a structure so that you can find strategic
solutions and then carry them out quickly.’
That experience, say colleagues, has stood him in good stead in terms of
managing people and steering them through heavyweight PR campaigns.
’To call him a safe pair of hands is almost an insult to his abilities,’
says former colleague and Hammond Communications partner Peter Rae.
’He’s a very straight character but with a great sense of humour and is
very good with the staff. He’s perfectly happy to work on the job and
roll his sleeves up.’
Chaloner’s six years in the military, which started after he left
university, ended in 1982 when he took a job with Grand Metropolitan as
a marketing manager for one of its brewing businesses. Armed with ’a
company car, a box of beer mats and a budget’, he took charge of
promotional work for 60 pubs. That work led him into contact with
Saatchi and Saatchi subsidiary Kingsway PR, which he joined as an
account director in 1984.
Two years later he moved on to Burson-Marsteller where, together with
Peter Rae, he worked on the massive Industrial Development Board for
Northern Ireland account. When Rae left to become Hill and Knowlton
chief executive Chaloner followed him there, lured in part by the offer
of a seat on the board.
As head of H&K’s corporate division, Chaloner sampled the full range of
PR disciplines, from financial and corporate to business-to-business and
public affairs, and became increasingly involved in pan-European
So when the vacancy came up for a managing director at Hill and
Knowlton’s Athens outfit Chaloner seemed an obvious choice. ’It seemed
like the chance to do something interesting outside the UK, gain some
European experience and run an office myself,’ he says. ’Effectively I
was running my own business without the headaches of owning my own
Arriving in a smaller and less developed PR market than the UK, Chaloner
worked hard to build the reputation of the industry as well as Hill and
Knowlton’s own business. He also took an active role in setting up
Greece’s first PR consultancy association, which was launched last year.
’Having broken through personally in terms of gaining some respect and
credibility and then getting the company moving in the same way, the
next step was to get some of the more serious players together and to
create something that would give an indication to clients that they were
dealing with a serious operation,’ he says.
Back in the UK and working since last June on Athens’ bid to host the
2004 Olympic Games, Chaloner is unfazed by his move to an in-house role
after 15 years with consultancies. ’I had looked in the past, but
frankly I didn’t find either a successful organisation which I wanted to
be a part of or one that was committed to communications,’ he says.
’There has been a major sea change in the last three or four years and
more companies realise that it’s crucially important to get their PR
Abbey National certainly takes it seriously. I wouldn’t have wanted the
job if it didn’t,’ he concludes.
Associate director, Burson-Marsteller
Director, Hill and Knowlton UK
Managing director, Hill and Knowlton Athens
Director of corporate communications, Abbey National