PROFILE: Alasdair Sutherland, IPRA - Industry veteran has a new taste for IPRA. MS&L's Alasdair Sutherland is relishing his role as IPRA president

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.

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