We all know PR consultants who are brilliant at handling their
clients’ reputations, but who would they choose as the best ambassador
for the PR industry as a whole?
In last year’s Top 150 we asked a cross-section of industry luminaries
which agency they felt was best at handling its own PR. What eventually
emerged was that many felt that consultancies were by and large dreadful
at doing PR for themselves.
This year we have sought to identify the consultancy practitioner who
has been the greatest ambassador for the sector. Predictably in light of
last year’s findings, the most common response was that no one fitted
’The problem is that people in a position to give good opinions are
generally too busy running their own agencies,’ says Firefly managing
director Claire Walker.
There is, of course, a lot of truth in this assertion, yet at the same
time it is a damning indictment of communications professionals. If the
PR industry was a country it would be one bereft of a satisfactory
foreign policy. But even so, there are still a few practitioners who are
deemed by their peers to have shown ambassadorial qualities. Of these,
it is no surprise to learn that the one who stands out most is the
chairman of Bell Pottinger Communications, Sir Tim Bell.
’Tim Bell is still the public face of the industry,’ says Cohn and Wolfe
managing director Martin Thomas. ’I don’t always agree with the way he
does business, but in terms of profile he’s head and shoulders above the
Edelman managing director Tari Hibbitt also plumps for Bell. ’In terms
of profile I suppose one has to say Tim Bell. But I’m not convinced I’d
consider him to be the ideal ambassador.’
Nevertheless, in an industry in which precious few are prepared to stand
up and be counted, Bell is in a class of his own.
There are, however, others who win praise for their efforts. Sir Tim’s
namesake, Quentin Bell, erstwhile chairman of the PRCA, is singled out
by Firefly’s Walker. ’He repeatedly goes on record about very sensitive
issues. Over the last three years he’s done a lot to lift the industry,’
Fishburn Hedges chief executive Neil Hedges votes for his counterpart at
Hill and Knowlton, David McLaren. The revival of H&K under McLaren has
set high standards and enhanced the credibility of PR, according to
Scope Ketchum deputy chief executive Richard Aldwinckle nominates the
chairman of fellow Omnicom-owned consultancy Countrywide Porter Novelli,
Peter Hehir, for his work with international consultancies body ICO and
for the ’gravitas’ he brings to PR consultancy work.
High hopes were expressed by a couple of industry figures for incoming
PRCA chairman Adrian Wheeler, the managing director of GCI Group
His tenure is expected to be ambassadorial in nature, with Wheeler
striving to build client confidence in consultancy services.
Put on the spot as to who he believes is PR’s most effective ambassador,
Wheeler also opts for Tim Bell: ’He is a PR man in the broadest use of
the term. I won’t say he’s an angel, but he talks sense, he’s
unflappable and sees PR in its true context - part of corporate or
Government management concerns - rather than as a precious craft in its
There were several quirkier best ambassador nominations. Keene
Communications managing director Tina Elliot selects headline-grabbing
publicist Max Clifford. ’With Max, at least people know that PR is
there,’ she says.
Dewe Rogerson executive chairman Tony Carlisle picks Alan Parker,
chairman of rival financial consultancy Brunswick. Parker is famous for
seldom giving interviews, but Carlisle sees this as a cunning technique
for building his prestige. ’Alan’s position is that he’s studious at
avoiding publicity, but in so doing he gets a lot of it.’
But Peter Hehir has the last word: ’The best ambassadors are those whose
businesses are doing best because that’s good for the PR industry.’
So much for the cult of personality.