Australian insurance giant AMP’s new corporate relations director
has spent 17 years in financial services PR, working for some of the
biggest names in the business, including Legal and General and Barclays.
As such, he can claim some small part in shaping communications practice
in his sector.
Tony McGarahan learnt his trade during a five-year stint at Legal and
General as a press officer, then as press relations manager. He then
enjoyed a different take on finance at gaming company Mecca, where he
built media relations and internal communications teams and recruited
A year later he left for Paragon, then thriving in the economic boom of
the 1980s, which was seeking a share of the lucrative personal finance
cake. He arrived as an account director and, within a year, his team was
bringing in pounds 1.5 million, thanks to work with Bradford and Bingley
and his old employer Legal and General. He was invited to join the
board, and won two PR Week awards for his work there.
McGarahan admits his new role is his biggest creative challenge so
AMP has pounds 75 billion under management - pounds 52 billion in the
UK, and it is seeking to expand.
McGarahan will have to co-ordinate communications internally and
externally for the six UK brands it owns, which include Pearl Assurance
and Henderson Investors. He will also work hard on raising the profile
of the parent brand, which does not punch its weight with Government and
in the City.
Part of McGarahan’s strength is his focus and his desire to express
things as they are. For example, he has firm beliefs in where PR
consultancies fit into an in-house operation.
’I am a firm believer in using consultancies as strategic counsellors,
not as operatives. I think they are an expensive resource and I think
you have to use them sparingly.’
He is forthright about the one blot on his career - an eight-month stint
at Barclays Bank before he joined Mecca. He had an unhappy time in 1987
and 1988 when he was headhunted to run press relations there. ’Promises
made to me were not delivered, in terms of the job and responsibilities.
I found myself in a position I wasn’t promised and one that I wasn’t
enjoying,’ he says.
He found the organisation too political and too bureaucratic. ’They had
an arrogant attitude to their communications,’ he now says.
Despite a career mostly spent in communications, McGarahan has not tried
too hard to smoothe away his rough edges. He was brought up in Brixton,
not far from where John Major spent part of his childhood, and as a
youth kept fit and learnt self defence by training to box with his
’Tony is very much a streetfighter,’ says Jeff Prestridge, acting editor
of the Financial Mail on Sunday. He says McGarahan is not frightened of
rubbing people up the wrong way. ’You either love or hate him. There are
very few people around in financial services that are operators of the
press like him, and that comes from his background.’
Like many in his chosen field, McGarahan trained as a journalist. He
worked for the Portsmouth Evening News and the Wimbledon News, but after
18 months was frustrated at his failure to make the nationals.
It was while at Paragon that he met Midshires Building Society’s then
chief executive Mike Jackson. At the time the recession was beginning to
take its toll on Midshires. In 1991 he was appointed to the newly
created role of corporate communications director.
He was responsible for establishing a structure, and helping to plan and
communicate the vision of the business. As well as the usual PR
responsibilities of media and investor relations, and internal
communications, he was put in charge of brand development. Upping sticks
to the Midlands, he saw Midshires through a demutualisation process and
then a merger. However, when Midshires became part of Halifax this year,
his role effectively disappeared.
He turned down a job to head the Midshires brand and took the summer off
to be with his wife as she had their third child. He spent much of the
time, it seems, applying his persuasion skills to the serious matter of
making an Arsenal fan of their five-year-old boy. McGarahan’s wife,
Helen, however, has Geordie roots and a passion for Newcastle -
naturally the Toon army won.
However, all is not lost. During his time off from protecting the
reputation of AMP’s pounds 52 billion UK operation, McGarahan will be
putting his remaining energy into persuading his two-year-old daughter
to become a Gunner.
Director, Paragon Communications
Director of corporate communications, Birmingham Midshires
Director of corporate relations, AMP UK