Alistair Mackinnon-Musson. Virgo. Tidy desk (’It makes you more
efficient’). Free-thinker. Sits in the boardroom of his new company
Hudson Sandler and tucks his hair neatly behind his ears. ’It’s a new
job among friends,’ he says.
Ten days ago he and two colleagues, Philippa Robeson and Philip Dennis
moved the 20 or so yards down the road from Square Mile to rival Hudson
Sandler, taking 13 clients with them.
Hudson Sandler is privately-owned, but is affiliated to the Grayling
Group, which is owned by Havas, one of the world’s largest advertising
and marketing groups. Mackinnon-Musson has been working with and for
some of these clients for up to 14 years, and is not one to allow
something such as a change of agency to stop him. When he joined Square
Mile as a director in 1996, he brought with him ten clients from his
previous agency, Financial Dynamics.
So what is the Mackinnon-Musson USP? ’Clients hire people, as opposed to
hiring the name of an agency. I have a laugh with my clients. I don’t
have a client/consultancy relationship. Many people in the corporate
armory don’t move across that boundary. I can ring up my clients and
pull their leg, and they pull mine.’
Mackinnon-Musson started his career in financial PR at Financial
Dynamics in 1987 after the first half of a chartered accountancy course
left him cold. He wanted to be ’shaping the future, not auditing the
past - at the front, the sharp end of the boat, not the flat end’.
His thoughts turned to the world of advertising, and he started in
financial PR as a side door into this. ’There were five of us working in
the same room. Financial PR was the dot.com business of its day. We were
energetic, young and highly motivated by making money.’
Fourteen years later the fundamentals of his way of working have changed
little since Financial Dynamics days. Set up by Justin Downes, whom
Mackinnon-Musson cites as a great influence and mentor, FD was run in
teams responsible for their own clients and with a high degree of
freedom. The aim was to professionalise and intellectualise financial PR
’which hitherto had been done in a more casual way by ex-hacks’, says
Downes says Mackinnon-Musson stands out because of his intelligence and
creativity. ’He was instrumental in helping me to build the business, he
has a great facility with clients and is a great strategic thinker,’ he
Mackinnon-Musson counts among his other great influences Lynne Franks,
with whom he has worked during his long relationship with retailer
’She taught me to see how different slices of the population react to
different things, which is probably why I now work with such a broad
range of clients.’
These clients include PPL Therapeutics (the people behind Dolly the
Sheep) and, more recently, individuals such as ex-Dome chief executive
In 1996 he joined Square Mile as a director, choosing from six offers,
including from Hudson Sandler and the Grayling Group. At Square Mile he
started doing corporate PR, including working with senior executives as
a sounding board on company strategy. His move to Hudson Sandler was
inspired by the need for a broader resource base, he says.
’My clients wanted support in Europe,’ he says, citing the large network
of related companies of which Hudson Sandler is a part.
He claims the move from Square Mile was amicable, and that working as he
did, his two ex-partners Tim Jackaman and Susan Ellis would have
expected him to take clients with him.
There is something almost Dale Winton-esque in his open enthusiasm for
life and work. ’I have a wonderful relationship which keeps me balanced,
gives me a sense of proportion. You have to be able to look at yourself
in the mirror in the morning, and if you don’t like what you see, you
should change it,’ he says.
’In a business of largely boring characters, Alistair stands out as
being both personally and mentally flamboyant,’ says Downes.
Mackinnon-Musson says PR is a simple job, best achieved through an
interest in people, a capacity to understand what they want and to relay
that successfully to the media. ’But successful PR people are born,
never made. They are brilliant because of their personality,’ he says.
Does he put himself in this class? ’I’d leave that for others to
’He’s one of the sharpest, wittiest people I’ve ever met,’ says Kevin
Bell of Bell Pottinger, who has worked with Mackinnon-Musson over the
years with various clients. ’He can always see round a problem. He’s not
everyone’s cup of tea - he’s creative and can ask awkward questions, but
he makes chief executives stop and think. Alistair can give a CEO in
trouble a view of the light at the end of the tunnel.’ And that can’t be
bad, can it?
Director, Financial Dynamics
Director, Square Mile
Director, Hudson Sandler