James Gordon-MacIntosh: Living in hope of glory

The ex-Seventy Seven PR MD intends to combine his strategic and creative talents to make his new venture a roaring success. Nikki Wicks reports.

James Gordon-MacIntosh: Living in hope of glory
James Gordon-MacIntosh: Living in hope of glory

Enigmatic consumer PR boss James Gordon- MacIntosh is a bit of an all-rounder.

Described by those closest to him as strategic yet brilliantly creative, he is a man of contradicting characteristics.

A consumer PR man to the core, Gordon-MacIntosh in fact learned his trade in corporate comms - a contrast that perhaps laid the foundations for his diverse outlook.

At the age of 35, after 13 years at Fishburn Hedges Group, Gordon-MacIntosh last week opened the doors of Hope&Glory, a consumer venture backed by corporate and financial agency Lansons Communications.

The start-up is a partnership with his former joint MD at Seventy Seven PR, Jo Carr, who left the Fishburn-owned agency alongside Gordon-MacIntosh and Alan Twigg in September.

'We wanted to start an independent agency to make sure the team we recruit is properly rewarded for creating value,' says Gordon-MacIntosh.

Meeting PRWeek at trendy Farringdon breakfast spot Smiths of Smithfield, Gordon-MacIntosh is drinking his third coffee of the morning and cannot resist making an awful joke when asked if he minds a dictaphone being used to record the interview. 'I'd rather you used your finger,' he says, laughing.

Throughout the conversation he is playful and yet occasionally falls silent for several seconds when a question requires a moment's thought - a silence during which the cogs of his mind seem to be almost audibly spinning.

'James has a great strategic brain on him - something you don't see enough of in consumer,' observes Twigg.

Gordon-MacIntosh is a riddle in more ways than one. He is a prolific blogger and digital advocate, yet he argues that traditional media are still the key influencers of consumer opinion; he confesses to being OCD about notebooks and stationary and yet his desk is likely to be a pit; and although a thorough planner down to the tiniest detail, he remains a keen risk-taker, admitting that, 'just sometimes, it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission'.

Gordon-MacIntosh began his career at Fishburn Hedges in 1998 as a graduate trainee, learning the ropes in the finance and corporate sector and working his way up the ranks before being asked to launch consumer shop Seventy Seven PR in 2004. By the time he left in September, the agency was on track to hit £3m in annual fees.

But he admits success at Seventy Seven did not come overnight. While keen to recognise the arrival of Twigg in 2007 as part of the agency's turnaround, Gordon-MacIntosh also recalls the corporate shadow that loomed over the agency early on.

'One of the failings of Seventy Seven in the early days is that it didn't cut ties with Fishburn firmly or quickly enough,' he says. 'We're in a market where creative ideas are what sell pitches, bring in clients and get remembered. Early on, trying to get creative ideas through was a challenge.'

Despite Hope&Glory being financially backed by Lansons, with the 20-year-old financial services stalwart having taken a 25 per cent stake in the new venture, Gordon-MacIntosh is far from concerned about interference from his new investors.
'The backing we have secured from Lansons gives us a two-year head start. The way we have structured the partnership means we can remain fully independent in culture, team, clients and approach,' he says.

This approach has been given the full blessing of Lansons chief executive and co-founder Tony Langham, who told PRWeek: 'Hope&Glory is an independent agency, we're a minority shareholder. We'll be glad to work together when the client is right, but it's their show, not ours'.

In typical contrasting fashion, at the heart of Hope&Glory's ambition remain two opposing core values: a creative approach to clients, balanced carefully with defined commercial targets.

'Fundamentally, PR has to at least see a way to deliver a commercial end for a business,' says Gordon-MacIntosh.

'The moment anyone goes into a pitch room and is asked by a client if an idea will sell more stuff, the answer can never ever be, "no but it will make more people aware of your brand and it will get some lovely messages across".'

'It's got to sell more stuff. It's why businesses spend money on PR'.

Yet as quickly as he delivers his frank commercial pitch, Gordon-MacIntosh switches to his creative alter-ego and says that delivering a commercial end for a client ultimately means 'coming up with bloody clever ideas' - of which his career to date boasts more than a few.

'Ideas change the world, but few people have good ones - James is an exception, a true creative mind,' adds Langham.

'He probably doesn't agree, but he's really quite eccentric and I love that in him,' adds Twigg. 'His bonkers gland took us to some weird and ultimately very happy and effective places in our creative sessions together.'

Commenting on the name of the new agency, Gordon-MacIntosh says: 'The thing I like about the name Hope&Glory is that it's got a vague reference to PR in that we all live in hope of glory, let's be honest. Every story you put out and in every business pitch you live in hope of glory.'

Whatever his hopes may be, Gordon-MacIntosh is on a quest for glory that it would be very unwise to bet against him achieving.


2011 Managing partner and co-founder, Hope&Glory

2008 Managing director, Seventy Seven PR

2004 Associate director, Seventy Seven PR

1998 Graduate trainee, Fishburn Hedges


Have you had a notable mentor?
Lots of notable mentors. Most notable among them, Guy Corbet: he taught me to be tireless in making clients happy and seeing the world through their eyes. And Alan Twigg: who taught me that clients value honest opinions and bravery.

What was your biggest career break?
My first story: pitching and flogging an M&A report for KPMG. I got it on to the Today programme. I've never been afraid of pitching a story since - and that instilled a real sense of ambition for the prospects of every story idea I've ever come up with.

What qualities do you most prize in new recruits?
A no-bullshit approach to clients and colleagues. A tenacious attitude to selling ideas to clients and stories to the media. A willingness to seize responsibility.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?
Just sometimes, it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

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