PROFILE: Tom Watson, Hallmark PR - Getting straight down to the PRCA business. The PRCA’s new chair Tom Watson will usher in a new era of standards

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.

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 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.

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