Tom Watson is dedicated to the PRCA. Having founded his own agency
in Winchester in 1984, the former Australian newspaper reporter took the
PR agencies’ trade body as soon as possible, just three years later.
After a long involvement in the running of the PRCA’s affairs, Watson
formally replaced GCI’s Adrian Wheeler as chairman this week.
Watson still serves as managing director of Hallmark PR 16 years after
its launch, and has built up a Top 150 agency which earns 40 per cent of
its income from overseas. Hallmark works for KPMG, British American
Tobacco and the International Tobacco Grower’s Association and focuses
on issues management, community lobbying and business awareness.
The business awareness specialism will stand Watson in good stead, since
he has ambitious plans to raise the profile of the industry’s trade body
among potential clients. He takes on his two-year stint at a time when
the organisation faces a series of key challenges, the main one being
that, while PR agencies are familiar with the work of the association,
those who hire them are not. Client awareness is, Watson claims, ’very
low’. He hopes the consultancy management standard (CMS) will alter
Developed for the PR industry, CMS works along the lines of programmes
such as ISO9000 and Investors in People; it is certified by external
bodies DNV and MQA.
The standard was developed as a means of differentiating member
agencies, since it is independently-assessed. ’Surveys showed us that
marketing directors - the clients for most agencies - were unaware of
what we do. When the CMS becomes mandatory it will give membership a
definable difference. We can then market that difference to potential
clients,’ Watson says.
Current members still have until the end of 2000 to become CMS-approved
or lose their membership. ’The standard is there and we’re proud of it.
We gave members three years to pass the standard, which was generous
enough,’ Watson insists.
Some agencies will leave the PRCA but those who predicted a crippling of
the PRCA’s finances are, Watson insists, going to be proved wrong.
’Accountability and standards are industry-wide issues. CMS doesn’t
crush creativity - it just helps you run your business with more
Watson expertly deadbats any question of a merger between the PRCA and
the IPR, emphasising the former’s status as a trade association and the
latter’s as a professional body. As a fellow of the IPR since 1998 and
former vice-chair of the institute’s Wessex region from 1989-92 he is
perhaps well-placed to comment. ’We will work very closely,’ he
’The British way of doing PR is a world leader, the most emulated style.
But the PRCA needs to be a really strong brand with meaning for
The PRCA is also about to introduce a one-year diploma in consultancy
management at Leeds Metropolitan business school. Watson himself has a
PhD in PR research from Nottingham Trent University and sets great store
by measurement: ’I was probably at the most commercial end you could get
with the PhD; there’s a lot of useful research within academia which is
not finding a home with agencies.’ To this end, Watson wants to
encourage discussion between the industry and academics.
In turn he believes this could aid staff retention and the development
of talent. The difficulty of moving good account handlers up the ladder,
giving them financial and management responsibility, is a challenge he
is well aware of. Developing ways of keeping and attracting talented
people will be a key part of his chairmanship and Watson has a
sufficient blend of experience, tact and drive to give it a good go.
He was born in New South Wales and, although effectively having ’gone
native’, as he puts it, knows when he can play on his roots.
’Australians can get away with murder at times because people expect you
to be direct,’ he says. ’People see it as a national trait.’
One former employee goes along with that. ’He is fairly straight
talking,’ says Sharon Walker, PR manager at Scoot.com. She was an
account director with Hallmark for more than three years. ’He works
people hard and expects a lot from his staff, but he is fun, too, and
brings real strength through emphasis on detail, she adds. ’He offers
value to clients through the value he places on evaluation and
A contemporary who Watson says is ’even blunter than I am’ offers
another assessment. ’I find Tom a pretty straightforward guy,’ John
Williams, MD of Mason Williams, says. ’I don’t quite know how he fits it
all in but he always appears to enjoy what he does, which is refreshing.
In fact, I can’t think of a bad word to say about him.’ Williams pauses,
then concludes: ’Which is unusual for me.’
1978: Press officer, International World Secretariat,
1984: Co-founder of Hallmark PR,
2000: Chairman, PRCA.