Iain Anderson: Lobbying's open book

Described by one member of the public affairs industry as the 'acceptable face of lobbying', Iain Anderson's fiercely ethical approach has never been so important, with sting operations and rogue traders blighting the reputation of the business.

Iain Anderson: 'It's been a hell of a rollercoaster'
Iain Anderson: 'It's been a hell of a rollercoaster'
The 43-year-old, whose financial services lobbying agency Cicero Consulting has just secured a major piece of business with Barclays Bank, is a bastion of industry transparency and a fierce critic of the Government’s consultation on public affairs for its failure to include in-house lobbyists.

College Public Policy managing director Warwick Smith, who pays tribute to Anderson’s passionate belief in lobbying, says he is ‘very cerebral but also stunningly good company’.

In person, the man who describes himself as ‘the only Tory from north of the border’ is a tightly wound bundle of energy with a tendency to go the extra mile to put people at their ease. Anderson responds bashfully to the suggestion that he is lobbying’s acceptable face, but adds: ‘Being friendly, open and transparent with people is much more effective.’

He has just become deputy chair of the APPC, and the body’s new chair, APCO’s Michael Burrell, says Anderson is ‘one of the most talented practitioners in the public affairs business today’, recalling the work he did to persuade the CIPR’s members to support a statutory register.

Outside the Westminster bubble, Anderson is a big fan of opera – and sees notable similarities between the two worlds. ‘They both have a lot of drama… and some big personalities,’ he smiles wryly. ‘Some of them are tuneful and some of them are not so tuneful.’

As stories about some of those discordant voices are splashed across the pages of the national media, he dubs the access-salesmen who bring lobbying into disrepute as ‘glorified party organisers’.

When asked about the PRCA’s pronouncement of a clean bill of health for Bell Pottinger after its Independent sting, Anderson cautiously suggests that the industry ‘must be seen to have effective sanctions, otherwise codes of practice are not seen to be effective. You need to be seen to have teeth’.

He adds: ‘The problem here remains perception of the sector. If the sector is not seen to be an effective policeman, you get the political response that [we are] currently experiencing.’

In 2001 and 2005, Anderson worked on the doomed Conservative Party leadership bids of current Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, whom he describes as ‘unspinnable’.

‘I’ve never had so much curry in my life,’ Anderson recalls of those days alongside Clarke. He remembers a rather unfortunate photocall that he organised for the Hush-Puppies-wearing, real-ale drinker at a Formula 1 event.

‘There’s quite an infamous picture of Ken climbing into, then trying to get out of, a racing car. I was somewhat responsible for getting him to climb in. As he was trying to climb out, the snappers had a field day and I’m there trying to stand in front to shield him.’

Despite this momentary gaffe, Prudential director of group public affairs and policy Miles Celic describes Anderson as a ‘polished professional and a class act’, adding that one of his differentiators is that he looks at public affairs in its most international sense. ‘He understands Westminster but he understands the interplay with Brussels and also international organisations in the US, Asia and elsewhere. That’s quite rare.’

Anderson views the Barclays win as the final vindication of Cicero’s strategy, which now sees the agency plotting further expansion into areas such as India, Australia or the Middle East, on top of offices in Washington and Singapore.

Despite the big plans and international growth, it was not so long ago that the sub-prime-mortgage crisis in the US was taking its toll on his agency. He concedes: ‘I remember going into Christmas in 2007 and feeling not very perky. I’m asking myself: "Is it a good idea that we aligned with the financial sector?" We got to 2008-2009 and we had a serious… [Anderson takes a startlingly sharp intake of breath] moment. We didn’t know what was going to happen.’

However, with the help of quantitative easing, the danger became an opportunity, as Anderson realised that Cicero could help financial institutions to navigate their new world of reform. ‘It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster,’ he says of the past five years, adding that the agency is now being called on to help financial services brands to communicate better with those who blame them for austerity. ‘They’re sick of being hated,’ he explains.

Anderson is a practising Christian who is in a civil partnership, and is saddened by the vehement opposition to same-sex marriage expressed by some members of the Church. ‘The word that is missing in this debate is respect,’ he calmly explains. ‘Is that what Jesus meant, for us all to be shouting at each other? His message is about togetherness and community and about respect.’

Other than leisurely weekends in Nice, Anderson likes to unwind by taking flying lessons at Biggin Hill Airport in Kent.

‘It’s the most amazing feeling – the only thing you can focus on is flying,’ he comments. ‘Mentally, that’s a great way of switching off.’

If Cicero continues on its current flight path, the sky’s the limit for this immensely likeable Scot.

2010 President, Cicero Inc (US subsidiary)
2010 Chairman, CIPR Government Affairs Group
2005 Communications team, Ken Clarke Conservative Leadership Campaign
2001 Communications team, Ken Clarke Conservative Leadership Campaign
2001 Co-founder, director and chief corporate counsel, Cicero Consulting
1997 Divisional director, Ludgate Public Affairs
1994 Founding shareholder and journalist, Incisive Media
1992 Reporter, Money Marketing and freelancer for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian
1988 Part-time researcher for Henry Bellingham MP  


What was your biggest career break?

Being part of the launch team at Incisive Media taught me a lot about business and turned my tiny investment into a really big one – allowing me to co-found Cicero.

Have you had a notable mentor?

As a journalist, Tim Potter of Money Marketing. In business, Tim Weller of Incisive Media. In politics, Richard Chalk, who has worked for five Tory leaders and retains his campaigning zeal.

What advice would you give to people climbing the career ladder?

Always give more than you are asked for. I look for people who do things you had not thought of yourself. That’s what will make them stand out.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

People who are smarter than me, prepared to ask the idiot question and learn from it, prepared to try everything, and who do the most difficult things first.

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