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
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
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
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
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’
One day, maybe, the decision to move from one side to the other will not
even merit a raised eyebrow.