Profile: Allan Biggar, Burson-Marsteller: A man to embrace all that fate has in store - B-M’s new London MD, Allan Biggar, plans to scale the peak of cutting edge PR

Allan Biggar’s career at Burson-Marsteller began in 1994 on the tarmac of Cairo airport at two o’clock in the morning. Just three weeks before this, he had been running his own PR consultancy, but a meeting with a former colleague, Simon Bryceson, who was head of B-M’s public affairs outfit in London at the time, led to a life-changing decision.

Allan Biggar’s career at Burson-Marsteller began in 1994 on the

tarmac of Cairo airport at two o’clock in the morning. Just three weeks

before this, he had been running his own PR consultancy, but a meeting

with a former colleague, Simon Bryceson, who was head of B-M’s public

affairs outfit in London at the time, led to a life-changing

decision.



Bryceson mentioned, over lunch, that B-M was looking for someone to head

its Middle East office, and told Biggar he would be the man for the

job.



That same afternoon, Biggar found himself in B-M’s office being

’interviewed’ and within three weeks he had sold his house and packed

all his worldly goods into two suitcases.



It appears typical of the man that a major decision could be made

without weeks of procrastination and weighing up the pros and cons. ’I

don’t like boring,’ he says, and he obviously lives up to this

maxim.



This week Biggar, 37, joined B-M in London, as its first managing

director for four years. The move is part of a restructure at the

agency, which sees profit and loss reporting return to a

country-by-country basis.



Biggar claims that the ’agility of shorter reporting lines’ of this

structure makes a lot more sense. ’I think the move to a practice

structure was an evolutionary process, and this is a further step in

that evolution,’ he says.



It’s been said that B-M is not as ’sexy’ as it may have been in the

early- to mid-1990s. ’Some might pervceive us as ’big corporate

Burson-Marsteller’, but I want to get us back to the cutting edge of

PR,’ says Biggar.



Although the last London MD, Alison Canning, certainly made a huge

impression on the agency and the industry in general, Biggar feels that

enough time has elapsed for him to start with a clean slate, and that he

is not following in someone else’s footsteps. What can his new

colleagues expect? ’I like to lead from the front. I’m about change, and

developing things,’ he says.



Bryceson, a friend of 20 years’ standing says: ’Allan is unusual in that

he’s an excellent communicator, but he also knows how to run a big

communications agency.’



Scottish-born, but with only a gentle burr, Biggar grew up on a hill

farm in Northumberland. Eager for the bright lights, he escaped to the

city as soon as possible.



A long involvement with the Liberal Party began in the late-1970s. ’My

late-teens and early-20s were devoted to politics,’ he says. He held

various positions in the party until 1988, and retains an interest to

this day.



At the age of 25 he decided that he had had enough of being constantly

broke and set up his own agency, Concept Communications. Eventually he

sold his interest in it, and spent a year running Immediate Corporate

Communications before the fateful meeting with Bryceson.



His decision proved to be a wise one, and he loved his time in the

Middle East. In fact, it was during this time he met his wife Dalia, who

is Egyptian.



He tells the story of Bob Leaf, former international chairman of B-M,

having to stand in as his father, to fulfil the Egyptian custom of the

groom’s family asking the bride’s family for her hand in marriage. Leaf

jokes: ’It was one of the most difficult and pleasurable PR sells I’ve

ever had.’



It was on the last day of his honeymoon in the UK that Biggar decided to

pay a visit to B-M’s London office. Again, it proved to be a fateful

meeting. When he returned to his new wife, it was to ask her how she

would feel about moving to Brussels, as he’d been offered the position

of head of public affairs. Fortunately she was open to the idea, and in

1997 Biggar took up his position. Since he joined, B-M’s European public

affairs business has increased by 42 per cent.



So when he says he has plans to reinvigorate the London business, you

believe he can succeed. Leaf says: ’He’s intelligent, dynamic and

client-focused - but he’s still very nice, people like working with

him.’ He already has his own ideas on areas he wants to develop, such as

the graduate recruitment programme, which he believes was once

considered the best in London. Biggar talks of ’unleashing’ and

’empowering’ the staff at B-M. ’I love getting people to do things they

thought they never could,’ he enthuses.



And Biggar believes he has the tools in place to do just that. He claims

he never thought he would work for a large agency, but that the last

five years have shown him the benefits of being part of a truly

international company.



’When you’re running your own small agency, there are limits to what you

can actually do, but these limits just don’t exist at

Burson-Marsteller,’ he says.



It will be interesting to see the progress B-M London makes under

Biggar’s leadership - until his next fateful meeting, that is.



HIGHLIGHTS

1988

MD, Concept Communications

1994

Managing director, Burson-Marsteller, Middle East and North Africa

2000

Managing director, B-M, London



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