PROFILE: Ian Wright, Institute of Public Relations - IPR takes the Wright path for year ahead. Diageo's Ian Wright is geared up to bring a fresh approach to his new role

'These profile pieces are often so po-faced,' says Ian Wright as he sits down to coffee at Diageo's trendy in-house cafe.

'These profile pieces are often so po-faced,' says Ian Wright as he sits down to coffee at Diageo's trendy in-house cafe.

It's taken him five minutes to walk from the service area to the table due to spasmodic stops to exchange pleasantries with members of his team enjoying their mid-morning caffeine fix.

Barely is his seat in danger of becoming warm when he says: 'I'll be back in a minute,' as he spies another team member that he missed out.

He assures me, however, that this 'nice guy' image will be shattered by speaking to a list of former colleagues whom he believes will express gritty, forthright opinions to redress the balance.

Wright's position in the PR industry was recently cemented by his appointment as the President of the IPR for 2001. He believes the next few years will be an exciting time for the industry.

'Increasingly the management of reputation is moving to the top of the corporate agenda,' explains Wright. 'At the same time, not-for-profit organisations have recognised that their reputation is a key weapon in the battle for air space.

'So this is a critical moment. In the next year the IPR will take a lead in charting a course for our business,' he says.

His position as group development director for food and drink giant Diageo makes Wright well qualified to bring about higher standards in the industry.

After joining the conglomorate (which counts Guinness, Gordon's Gin and Malibu among its brands) in May last year, he oversaw an overhaul of the communications division.

He now heads a 22-strong team based at Diageo's 'corporate centre' just off London's Bond Street.

Twenty-five years ago, Wright worked as a fork-lift truck driver to help subsidise the scholarship he had won to study history at Cambridge. It was there that his love of politics ignited, and blossomed, under the wings of David Owen and Shirley Williams. This friendship grew and when the Social Democrat Party (SDP) formed, Wright took on the mantle of communications chief.

Three years of campaigning took its toll and after the SDP's poor showing in the 1983 general election he began to look for different roles (although he did become press spokesman to Paddy Ashdown for the 1997 election and 1999 European election campaigns).

A solid grounding earned at a couple of small regional PR firms saw Wright join Golley Slater Brooker in 1989 as managing director of the company's Birmingham operation. Here he increased the agency's turnover tenfold.

Then, in 1994, Wright was recruited by Boots Healthcare International as head of public relations. Later he became director of communications for Boots the Chemist, where he remained until joining Diageo last year.

At the IPR, Wright says he intends to raise standards in training, improve services and make the institute more attractive to the under-30's. Also, he wants to expand the IPR's membership base - all in the space of 12 months.

A closer relationship with the PRCA is also a goal. 'Although there is no obvious way that the two groups could merge, there is a greater scope for co-operation. We have a shared agenda in that we both want to improve standards and discussions are on-going at the moment to see where we can co-operate.'

Wright is currently forced to commute to his farmhouse in the Rutlands every weekend to spend time with his wife and child, plus his parents who live next door.

He admits the commute is not ideal, but once things calm down a little at Diageo ('and the trains become reliable') he hopes to make more frequent mid-week visits.

'I've hardly stopped this year,' he says, then adds with a rueful grin, 'but it's been fun.'

It is clear that his enthusiasm for the 'work hard, play hard' ethic has rubbed off on the rest of his team, as Kathryn Partridge, Diageo director of corporate communications, explains: 'He is very open, honest and ready with encouragement. He is also very enthusiastic.'

When pressed to dish the dirt on what he's really like as a boss, the worst felony she volunteers is that 'he's forever losing things'.

This absent-mindedness is more than made up for by his uncanny ability to recall the telephone numbers of former colleagues as well as the six managers that his beloved Crystal Palace hired and fired during one season in the early eighties.

On hearing his name, Wright's old Boots colleague Zoe Hallam enthuses: 'He's a gorgeous man. This might sound cheesy, but he's in the top three people that I've got the utmost respect for. He's so much fun to work with and in the two years that I worked with him I learned so much.'

Despite doing his damnedest to shatter his 'nice guy' image, a po-faced Ian Wright has failed miserably.


1981: Political organiser, SDP

1997: Director of communications, Boots the Chemist

2000: Group comms director, Diageo

2001: President, IPR.

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