Clare Parsons talks frankly of being prepared to sell the agency
she has created with Tony Langham, despite her evident pride at being
the driving force behind the major success story of financial services
PR in the past decade.
In other ways, too, she is full of contradictions. Parsons is clearly a
great communicator, since the IPR doesn't hand out the Stephen Tallents
medal for PR achievement to people who have trouble getting their point
across. Individuals who struggle to persuade tend not to build up
successful PR firms such as Lansons, which she founded and now chairs.
And yet getting her to talk about herself is problematic.
Lansons' profits are up 50 per cent, fee growth of 38 per cent and
profits more than over £1m. With such attractive figures as a
financial backdrop, Parsons speaks unguardedly about the possibility of
selling up if the right offer comes along.
Although she is reluctant to focus on her own contradictions, there's
plenty to work with. A graduate in religion, she entered PR to see if
she could 'gain recognition from scratch'. Describing herself as 'a bit
pink, politically', she nevertheless helped unveil 'Sid' in the British
Gas privatisation while at the then Dewe Rogerson. She has served on
three IPR committees but still considers herself 'an outsider'. She is
not 100 per cent supportive of the institute and joins some committees,
she claims, 'to keep the ratio of women to middle-aged men' in
'Clare pushes you, challenges you,' says client Daniel Godfrey, the
Association of Investment Trust Companies director-general . 'She makes
you think differently and will never turn down an idea until it's been
looked over. She's proud of her company and staff, but also proud of
doing great client work. It's a virtuous circle.'
Parsons is proud of her firm, and loyal to her staff, most of whom repay
her by refusing to leave when headhunted. Most of those she's recruited
in 12 years since setting up Lansons with her now husband Langham are
still there, including her first-ever employee, manager Annie
The company restructures regularly to make long-serving staff partners
or to reward others by setting up subsidiaries they can take and run
themselves. Thus was Lansons' broadcast unit created three years ago,
under Tamsin Martle.
'We offer our staff exercise classes in the office and have just
introduced yoga,' Parsons says. 'For our tenth anniversary we took the
staff and families to Prague. Culture is important, and you have to keep
the culture in place as you grow.'
The staff have repaid her. Her proudest moment was turning up for work
in 1992 after winning a lucrative City contract to find the entire firm
leaning out of the office window cheering. 'It proved we were being
taken seriously not just as yardage merchants but as strategic
thinkers,' she recalls. 'That's when I knew it would work.'
Working across cliche-loving industries - media and finance - mother and
chairman have swiftly been dubbed 'superwoman'. It creates images of
Parsons and Nicola Horlick hanging out in City wine bars, breaking balls
and nursing children. Parsons isn't impressed: 'It is not possible to
have it all,' she says. 'My children are at school near the office so I
can be involved in school. I take Fridays off. School sports days and so
on are reasons to take time off and it doesn't come out of your
holidays. But still ...'
Her son, Alexander, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of three.
By coincidence, Abel Hadden & Co MD Abel Hadden was taking part in a
sponsored walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at the
Parsons joined the cause and has worked for the charity ever since.
Hadden remembers her involvement with fondness: 'Not only is she a
specialist, but she takes time for charitable causes.'
For now, she is trying not to make the 'for sale' sign above Lansons
seem obvious. 'Everything is global,' she says, 'so many clients have
been taken over by multi-nationals. It's hard for independents to
operate in one territory. We work in Europe and the US and prefer the
option of a network of independents. But there is always the possibility
someone may make us an offer we can't refuse.' Until such a deal, she's
getting ready to take it easy for a few weeks holiday to Italy.
'I love Italy,' she says. 'I go there for all my holidays, taking August
off. I plan everything in minute detail at work, but with Italy I book a
last-minute ticket, rummage around for hotels the day before I leave
then fly my family out once I'm there.'
Such looseness of planning will not do if she is serious about accepting
the 'offer we can't refuse'. The professionalism she has shown in
building Lansons up - and the respect with which she has so far dealt
with her staff - have another task going forward.
1979: Head of marketing, National Mutual Life
1985: Deputy head, personal finance division, Dewe Rogerson
1987: Director, Quigley & Associates
1989: Co-founder, Lansons Communications