Nancy Prendergast hails from Boston, Massachusetts, but has learned
her way around the British sense of humour. 'That's irony,' she says at
one stage. 'I've been here long enough to spot it. You can test me as we
There's no need. The joint MD of tech firm Gnash Communications is witty
and fun. She's been in London six years, the last two at Gnash. Formed
in 1997 by Narda Shirley, the PRWeek 'One To Watch' rode the tech wave
throughout last year and has survived in pretty good shape.
Going into next year, its senior staff reckon they have hit on a new gap
in the market. MORR, which stands for Managing Online Risk and
Reputation, is a service that seeks to identify web messages that are
potentially damaging to brands and suggest strategies to nullify them -
even if that means legal action rather than PR.
Prendergast, who is in charge of B2B and viral campaigns at Gnash, says.
'Consumers are pissed off and getting a lot more savvy about their own
power. MORR is designed to look at serious brand infringement.'
Real danger to brands from international consciousness stirring would
have been unthinkable ten years ago. But that was before the
orchestration of anti-globalisation protests in Seattle, before Naomi
Klein's No Logo became a bestseller and, crucially, before the internet.
By backing MORR, Gnash acknowledges it is not only 'geeks and freaks'
who are logging on to potentially damaging websites, chatrooms or
Known for working with smaller, emerging companies in technology -
Letsbuyit, First Tuesday and iVillageUK are clients - Gnash hopes its
offering will attract another set of players to its books. 'CEOs of
start-ups are going back into big firms now. If they have had a good
experience with Gnash, the network grows,' Prendergast explains.
With MORR, Gnash will not simply monitor reports from search engine firm
Envisional and hand the offending ones to libel lawyers Schilling &
As Prendergast says: 'If that is all that happens, there's no role for
Gnash.' The agency will make assessments of what needs doing, based on
the search engine findings, and decide whether to recommend action.
It might all have been so different for Prendergast. At school she had
wanted to be a physiotherapist but found 'I was crap at science,
An English and Spanish degree, with a year in Madrid, followed and then
came an MA in Mass Communication. She thought she might try her hand at
ads but a professor got her in touch with the Lotus comms team and she
More importantly, she found she enjoyed writing for internal and
customer publications. Ads no longer seemed such a great option. PR
allowed you to get involved with a business, indeed Prendergast talks of
PR having a more 'soulful' feel than advertising. Worried about sounding
too whimsical, she suggests we change that to 'beefier'. Either way, she
means it is about helping people tell a story.
Prendergast began her UK PR career at Ogilvy as an account director
working on IBM's pan-European business. She quickly went freelance,
working from home as part of a 'virtual' team for US firm Lotus.
She enjoyed freelancing so much she told friends: 'Someone kick me if I
go back to full-time work.' Her return to regular work started with
three or four days a week as amarcoms freelance for FT.com. That
company's former head of marketing Yehuda Shapiro says: 'She combines
old world cynicism with new world enthusiasm. She has a readiness to
take on new ideas and she likes people to get their dues for what they
'Gnash was so attractive to me.' Prendergast says of her move: 'You had
to be blind to miss the potential. I quickly went from three days a week
Two factors, the dotbomb and the fact Gnash is no longer a fledgling
company, mean the mania has eased. '(The market) is more sane now. We'd
like to see the economy strengthen but are busy without that
Prendergast heads a young team. 'I am the grey hair,' she says with a
smile. The weight on her and CEO Narda Shirley's shoulders has, however,
eased as the company has matured, she insists. Next year's growth is
unlikely to match 2001's Prendergast admits, but 'there's no reason why
Gnash can't lead. We don't know how big MORR will be.
'Clients are interested in guerilla activity and viral campaigns but
also in seeing how both can be integrated into traditional media
relations,' she says. Gnash is seeking to consolidate gains in a
relatively depressed sector while branching into new areas.
She likens at least part of her career path to 'a stick floating in a
stream', saying that although endeavour plays its part, being in the
right place at the right time helps too. Physiotherapy's loss was
plainly Gnash's gain.
1995: Account director, Ogilvy PR
1996: Freelance consultant, Lotus Development Corporation
1997: Marketing comms manager, FT.com
2001: Joint MD, Gnash