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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
’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.
MD, Concept Communications
Managing director, Burson-Marsteller, Middle East and North Africa
Managing director, B-M, London