Editorial: A choice of paths to PR glory

By any reckoning the position of vice-president of corporate communications at a major multi-national business is a plum job.

By any reckoning the position of vice-president of corporate

communications at a major multi-national business is a plum job.



Yet Kirk Stewart’s decision to quit Manning Selvage and Lee to step into

Nike’s shoes has been greeted with polite bafflement by some consultancy

chiefs. Surely, they argue, the pinnacle of any PR career would be to

run a worldwide consultancy?



But to move in-house is becoming increasingly common. Just weeks before

Stewart’s departure, Edelman’s European chief Michel Ogrizek switched to

Unilever to take up a similarly high profile role. Delving further back,

many others have followed the same route - like Jack Bergen who

parachuted out of GCI to Westinghouse, and Des Wilson who left B-M to

board BAA.



Further down the career ladder there are endless examples of agency

executives being poached by their own clients. Yet it is relatively rare

to find significant traffic in the other direction, especially at a

senior level.



Only a few years ago, consultants considered in-house jobs as a

backwater of the industry to be ignored by any PR person with serious

ambition.



The increased value placed on PR as a management discipline, and the

rise of the PR practitioner within company hierarchies has steadily

eroded that view.



Now the attractions of senior in-house jobs at Nike, Unilever, BAA and

others are abundantly clear. Stewart may have abandoned the levers of

power at a dollars 40 million PR firm, but at Nike he will be in the

inner management circle of a worldwide business hundreds of times that

size.



For the ambitious PR person there can therefore be no easy answer as to

which route is ’better’. But there are some obvious differences. Those

who aspire to running a consultancy must accept spending a large slice

of their time on management rather than PR. And while those who aspire

to practise PR without such distractions may feel more comfortable

in-house, they will lose out on running their own business.



But the real question is whether the divide between in-house and agency,

already reduced from a yawning chasm to a bridgeable gap will one day

vanish altogether. For as the big consultancies forge ever closer

relationships with global clients, helped by advances in IT, the

distinction between the internal and external halves of the client team

looks set to diminish.



In the future predicted by the likes of Shandwick’s Lord Chadlington,

consultants will become a seamless extension of their clients’

operations.



One day, maybe, the decision to move from one side to the other will not

even merit a raised eyebrow.



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