PROFILE: Alison Canning, Edelman PR Worldwide - Edelman overtures at last lure Canning. First & 42nd boss Alison Canning says 'the deal is right' for Edelman job

Whenever she's not running the successful infant management

consultancy First & 42nd, you may find Alison Canning casting a

fly-fishing line across the waters of the River Teste in Hampshire,

waiting for a bite from a curious trout. If she takes the same patience

and touch she's shown in her professional life, the fish are at a

distinct disadvantage.

Canning's ability to wait for just the right moment has served her well.

After years of being wooed by senior management figures within the

Chicago-based Edelman empire, she finally succumbed last week. Edelman

has bought First & 42nd, the consultancy she founded four years ago, and

has simultaneously appointed Canning to its most senior global non-US

post - president of international operations.

Luring Canning proved quite a task for Edelman CEO Richard Edelman, who

says he has spent years trying to tempt her. Canning agrees: 'It's been

the longest courtship in history. He's tried to get me to London and New

York in the past. Eventually the deal looked right.'

One key to the deal was Edelman's acceptance that First & 42nd wouldn't

be absorbed into his firm - the world's fifth largest network. Canning

believes that would hve done her agency no favours: 'We're more than a

strategic PR company,' she insists.

'We cover responsible behaviour and HR. It's taken us three years to get

to the point where we have our intellectual property in line and I

didn't want the company to fritter away potential. Richard has given us

the chance to cultivate that potential, with a global infrastructure

behind us.'

For the time being, Canning will continue as MD of First & 42nd, though

she is now effectively chairman. Once a replacement MD is found, she

will devote 10 per cent of her time to the London consultancy and the

rest to Edelman, where she hopes 'to double the size of the

international operation in three years'.

But she sees more to the challenge than simply seeking to increase


'Edelman is on the map physically, but it hasn't got the same presence

up here,' she says, tapping her head. 'In some markets it's a strong

brand and in others it isn't. The challenge is about rebranding,

rebuilding, and repositioning on an international scale.'

If Edelman hadn't made this appointment - to the role vacated by agency

veteran Michael Morley earlier this year - others would have tried.

Since stepping down as CEO of Burson-Marsteller London four years ago,

Canning has had plenty of offers.

It's no surprise she is so highly regarded. She first caught the eye at

the highest level by founding Cohn & Wolfe as a B-M subsidiary and,

during a five-year spell, building it into a Top 30 firm. The UK CEO job

at B-M followed, where fee income rose by nine per cent to pounds 11m

during her tenure. When B-M announced a restructuring programme that

effectively did away with the need for national CEOs, she departed,

despite being offered other senior roles.

Though she says she feels no bitterness over her B-M exit, it is clear

feelings still run high.

She speaks of the 'greed' behind the decision to restructure and says:

'I walked away because I couldn't preside over something I thought was

going to be a disaster. If you take country focus out of a service

business it won't work. You don't recruit clients or staff from "Europe"

or "Asia" - you find them in cities and countries.'

Now that country-based management is back outside the US, she considers

London to have the advantage. Her perspective has changed since she

spent a two-year spell in B-M's New York office in the mid-1980s. 'At

the time New York was considered a vision of the future of PR. Now I

think there's nowhere better to work than London.'

Much as she sings the capital's praises, it was precisely the desire to

flee the big city that led her to take up fishing as a hobby three years

ago: 'A friend suggested it and I was initially dubious. Then I found I

loved it. I'm quite good actually,' she says.

Fly-fishing addicts often refer to their sport as akin to a


Indeed, she sees parallels with professional life: 'It's about the art

of knowing how to read the river, knowing where the fish will be and

what fly is going to make them bite, and most importantly, knowing how

not to let them go. I think there are a few parallels there!'

Fellow fisher and former B-M colleague Locksley Ryan says he's yet to

verify if Canning is as good with the fishing rod as she claims.

But he has no doubts about her professional expertise.

'Alison has one of the keenest PR minds around,' says Ryan, now a

partner at Brunswick. 'She can operate at board level and motivate a

team of people. There are not many top-drawer strategic consultants that

can keep all of the levers of communication in perspective. Alison

manages to see the wood and the trees.'



Founder/CEO, Cohn & Wolfe


CEO, Burson-Marsteller London


Founder/CEO, First & 42nd


President - internat'l operations, Edelman

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