Chris Corfield describes his early career on local papers with a
wince as involving ’pounding the streets of Harrow in a lime green Mini
Metro’. The reason for the pain becomes clear when he speaks with barely
contained excitement about the unmentionable speed (155mph) with which
he can now drive to work down the M4 in his favourite Jaguar. Clearly,
this is a man for whom being given a company car was a significant
motivation to move his career forward.
That motivation has taken him from his early working life as a
journalist (International Pest Control, no less), through a spell of
selling advertising space and then, after advice from his father (also a
PR man) into the world of public relations. Now he has entered the big
league with last week’s deal under which his agency Banner PR’s parent
company, the technology marketing services group Banner Corporation, is
to sell 60 per cent of its holdings to the international media group
Young and Rubicam.
The present deal is the second big one of his relatively brief career -
he is still under 40. Five years ago, after spells at various agencies,
he decided he wanted to be his own boss and rather than go it completely
alone, took the opportunity of setting up with the the backing of the
Banner Corporation, which offers services ranging from advertising to
As a man with a young family he was playing it safe. Banner put up half
the money to launch the agency and underwrote his and his partner Robert
Hollier’s mortgage repayments for three months.
The two partners are very different. Hollier says Corfield is the
extrovert who reacts emotionally and is good at seeing the big picture.
Hollier’s approach is more introverted and intellectual - he also hates
cars. Hollier testifies to Corfield’s competitive character. Golf, he
says, is another one of Corfield’s passions which would be good for
drumming up new business ’if Chris didn’t insist on beating them
(potential clients) - he always plays to win’.
The basis of Banner PR’s success, says Corfield, is its integrated
marketing approach. When the agency first set up he did not feel it
would be taken seriously if it was simply part of the Banner Corporation
so it maintained a separate identity to the rest of the group.
Nevertheless, as part of the corporation, it could still offer an
integrated service and as technology has continued to grow and the pace
of the industry quicken, the approach has become fashionable.
The agency also deliberately took a different tack from technology
rivals A Plus (now Brodeur A Plus), which Corfield and Hollier left to
go it alone. Rather than build a network of continental affiliate
agencies like A Plus, Banner prefers to import continental expertise to
work on pan-European accounts from London. The savings are matched by
improvements in communication and quality control, he says.
The success that this approach has brought (35 per cent growth last year
for example) has led to the current deal, which is valued at around
pounds 6 million for the whole Banner Corporation. It won’t allow
Corfield to realise his ambition of racing classic cars just yet as it
is a five-year buy-out, but it does pave the way for him to move towards
the targets he has set for himself before taking, if you will, a back
seat in the business.
The goal is to build a top five global technology communications
To find the partner for this ambitious plan, Banner went to a US
merchant bank (’like an expensive dating agency for companies’) and
after a few abortive dates found Y&R. ’We needed a partner to help us go
global, it is the way the world is going. In order to get on those pitch
lists you need a global capability,’ he says.
The new arrangement will give Young and Rubicam a strong European
presence in the fast growing world of technology PR, and give Banner a
partner for its global ambitions. Banner PR will work closely with Y&R’s
PR agency Burson-Marsteller. The two agencies will share clients and
will not compete against each other, possibly pitching together in
Europe and certainly doing so globally.
’Both Burson-Marsteller and Young and Rubicam are outstanding globally
but neither have done much on hi-tech in Europe. The B-M hi-tech
business is run out of the US and is less strong in Europe,’ Corfield
says, explaining the logic.
One of the main attractions for Corfield is that he can continue to
enjoy a degree of independence - Banner will still work from its offices
at Chelsea Harbour. He is also unlikely to be offered anything in lime
green as a company car.
1984: Account executive, Carl Byoir and Associates
1995: Group account director, A Plus
1999: Director, Banner PR.