Marina Pirotta has tackled Chelsea FC chairman Ken Bates, handled a
barrage of criticism from the media and created a PR system now used by
more than 60 local authorities.
Described as 'unbelievably determined' by colleagues, this journeywoman
of many of London's councils under-fire, was helped into PR by the
unlikeliest of routes - a failure to spot actress Jenny Seagrove.
Pirotta was ordered to doorstep Seagrove, who was rumoured to have just
split with her then boyfriend, director Michael Winner. 'I didn't know
what she looked like. I had this photocopy of her and took it to her
She'd had a haircut since it was taken and I missed her. The job wasn't
for me,' she says.
Pirotta, who is to quit as Brent Council director of communications next
month to set up on her own, started work as a journalist. She worked
first at her local paper, the Hendon Times, then at the Yorkshire Post,
followed by a spell at the Daily Express.
At the Express she quit news to move into PR due to an unhappy time on
the paper's showbiz desk. 'I loved hard news but was moved to
showbusiness, which I loathed. I had no interest in celebrities and
still don't. I'm not that kind of person,' she says.
At the same time, she started working on the press desk at Islington
Council and rekindled her passion for news. The council was under heavy
scrutiny from the nationals, hungry for stories involving a child abuse
scandal and corruption allegations.
With the bright-eyed look reminiscent of so many journalists recounting
their greatest scoops, she views her time positively rather than as the
nightmare it could sound.
It was her success at Islington that brought her to the role of
communications manager at Newham. During her time there she, along with
agency QBO, overhauled communications, building a new team. 'God, we
worked so hard there,' she enthuses.
After 15 months it was time to move again, this time to Hackney, then a
rich source of 'loony left' yarns.
Most famous of the scandals was a damning inquiry accusing the council
of incompetence in its handling of an investigation into Mark Trotter, a
social worker accused of child abuse who had strong links with the
council's Labour group. Although a grave she describes as 'turmoil' the
look on her face suggests she relished the challenge.
James Flynn, communications manager at Southwark council, worked under
Pirotta at both Newham and Hackney. 'You definitely had to be a certain
person to be able to deal with it and Marina is that sort of person,' he
Lorraine Langham, assistant CEO at Hackney at the time, adds: 'She
doesn't give up, gets the job done and does it methodically.'
When questioning Pirotta about crisis management at Hackney, each
negative is firmly rebuked with a positive. But is this merely a hang up
of working in the industry? 'Definitely not,' the keen walker and art
lover with a first in art history replies. 'I love life and my work. I'm
naturally a positive person and I feel lucky because I love my job,' she
Aside from crises, Pirotta revamped PR at the council, creating a press
inquiry, release and evaluation database which has since been bought by
more than 60 councils.
She also won awards, including a role in PRWeek's in-house team of the
year in 1999. With this behind her, she moved to yet another London
borough, Brent. It was here, more precisely at the borough's Wembley
Stadium, that Pirotta made what she says is her proudest
From what started as a negative news story on the sports pages,
involving the council blocking the Bates-led Wembley National Stadium
Limited's planning bid, became a centre spread in the news pages, with
favourable news angles for the council. Pirotta stuck with the public
affairs strategy of pushing the council's desire to gain funding for the
community. The result: pounds 110m to develop the area surrounding the
stadium. 'This was a huge story and a risk to stick with our message but
we didn't give in,' she says.
Looking back at eight years in council PR, Pirotta talks about
achievement with what appears to be, arrogance. Indeed, this is not an
accusation she minds.
She says: 'I'm not modest. I think I'm realistic and I'm quite happy to
say what I'm good at and don't care if that sounds arrogant. I do know
the areas I'm not adept at. But that doesn't matter, I'll just buy in
that skill.' With her public sector specialist PR agency, Pirotta is
hoping others will be doing that with her skill-set.
1996: Comms manager, Newham Council
1997: Head of comms, Hackney Council
2000: Director of comms and consultation, Brent Council
2001: Founder, MPC.