It is hard to think of a more appropriate person to head the
International Public Relations Association (IPRA) than Manning Selvage &
Lee's Alasdair Sutherland.
A Scot, but born in Sri Lanka, Sutherland's 33-year career in PR began
in Hong Kong with Burson-Marsteller and has encompassed virtually every
corner of the globe since, including spells in Frankfurt and Paris with
MS&L in the past five years. 'It was a case of 'go to the Far East young
man and get your career started', and it was the smartest thing I ever
did,' he says about the beginning of his globetrotting life in PR.
Nevertheless, Sutherland left the industry after a couple of years to
enter the restaurant trade in which he originally trained. At one stage
he and his elder brother ran two restaurants, a wine bar and a nightclub
situated a few doors down from the legendary Tramps in
Sutherland the younger's role was as manager and genial host at an
avant-garde eaterie for the glitterati on London's Fulham Road. 'It sold
working men's food but we had an alcohol license so you could have baked
beans with champagne,' he says.
Dudley Moore's jazz trio provided the entertainment three times a week,
but a combination of 15-hour days - the restaurant trade is the only
business with longer hours than PR, he says - and the mid-1970s
recession sent Sutherland back to the PR business.
His only time out of the industry since was an enforced two-year absence
to beat life-threatening non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the early 1990s.
Sutherland's continuing fascination with the international PR business
led him to join IPRA in the mid-1980s and was the start of his ascent to
presidency of the association for 2001.
He acknowledges that IPRA, which was founded in the 1950s and has
roughly 800 members worldwide, has a significantly lower profile in the
UK industry than the IPR or PRCA, but he states it has a different
outlook and agenda than the other bodies.
'IPRA is more of a voluntary organisation. It doesn't necessarily do
things for people, it provides a forum for others to do things for
others,' he argues.
Helping PR businesses in the former communist bloc expand and attempting
to get US PROs to widen their infamously insular outlook are two of the
association's major aims for the coming year. The other is to raise the
profile of the organisation itself, which Sutherland hopes to do via
wider circulation of IPRA's quarterly magazine Frontline. 'The main
thing is to widen knowledge of IPRA to those in the business who might
not be aware of us,' he says.
Sutherland has also moved to change IPRA's image as an organisation seen
as only for the top echelons of the business.
Previously, IPRA membership was open only to practitioners with at least
five years' experience at a senior level. Now, any PRO is able to join
provided they can find two members to nominate them. Fundamentally, the
association will remain a networking forum for PROs.
Half of this year will be devoted to the organisation and already the
year planner on his office wall has trips to Turkey, Greece, and Hungary
daubed in black marker pen. 'There is no country I can go to in the
world now that I do not have friends, and a lot of that is down to
IPRA,' he says.
The job ties in neatly with Sutherland's task for this year at MS&L to
help integrate ten of parent company Leo Burnett's PR agencies which
have been brought under the MS&L banner. As he is over 55 he could have
retired from the MS&L board, under the company's policy, but Sutherland
says he will carry on and he knows the company wants him to.
In the past he has stepped in as interim managing director of the firm's
Frankfurt office and he will continue in a roving role as
trouble-shooter and fixer for as long as he wants.
Former colleagues say that Sutherland's great strength is his networking
ability and all-round image as 'one of the world's nice guys', as his
former board-colleague at Kingsway, Sally Ann Wilkinson says.
'He is a great networker and he loves the business and the people in it,
which not everybody does,' she says. 'He has a lot of mein-host and
bonhomie, which he got from working in the restaurant business. He is
also good at getting people to do things because he is so charming.'
These skills will be needed in abundance this year as Sutherland trots
around the globe trying to increase IPRA's profile and membership. If he
is successful, the PR industry may find it has an association which can
represent its interests globally.
1976: V-P marketing communications, Burson-Marsteller
1983: Joint MD, Kingsway Public Relations
1990: Joint MD, Manning Selvage & Lee
2001: President, International Public Relations Association.