Kevin Murray - Time to tell a new story

Still one of the nice guys of PR, the Good Relations Group chairman has a bold vision for the newly formed agency. Matt Cartmell reports.

Kevin Murray
Kevin Murray

When PRWeek profiled Kevin Murray in 1996, the then-British Airways comms director was dubbed as 'one of the PR industry's nice guys', whose 'rise through the corporate ranks has left him largely untouched by a sense of self-importance'.

And as he takes on the role as chairman of the newly formed Good Relations Group, this happily still appears to be the case.

The gentle and courteous 58-year-old still has a soft hint of Johannesburg as he chuckles with his PA about the number of cups of tea she makes for him every day.

It is surprising to think that back in 1998, the unflashy and reliable Murray made front-page news when he was sacked by then-struggling BA. 'I thought my career was over,' he remembers. That was until he received a call from Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher's former PR man, who had worked with Murray as a client when he was at BA.

It began a mutually beneficial 14-year relationship that ended this year when Bell decided to buy back Bell Pottinger from Chime Communications.

'Lord Bell is a legend of the business, and he has his own views on how things should be done,' says Murray with immense tact when asked about the differences in the two leaders' working styles.

'But increasingly, I was coming to a different view, that good PR is not about battling it out in the media, it's about developing the right relationship through good comms - some of which is in the media.'

Murray will talk until the cows come home about how he sees the Good Relations Group fitting into the newly converging comms landscape. 'We've moved into a world where content is the ultimate asset,' he says in his considered way. 'The creation of good content and the ability to create communities - this is the new world.'

Murray has expressed a resounding love for client servicing - one reason why in his board reshuffle in September, former MD of Good Relations North Chris Warham took some of weight off Murray's shoulders by becoming chief operating officer. 'I want to be client focused,' says Murray. 'I can't do that and manage all the details.'

However, perhaps because of the backseat role he often had to take to Bell, Murray is excited about the possibilities of growing his business. Despite Chime having a £15m pot of cash after the Bell Pottinger MBO, he prefers to focus on a strategy of internal growth, wanting to promote an 'entrepreneurial culture' at the group.

'All the Chime firms are competing for that investment money,' he says. '(Chime CEO) Chris Satterthwaite will make decisions around where growth will come from.'

Ogilvy UK MD Michael Frohlich worked for Murray for six years at Bell Pottinger, and praises his 'calming influence' and 'incredibly strategic brain'. He also remembers that he is a 'devoted family man'. 'He's so devoted to his kids and grandkids,' says Frohlich, 'and he has that paternal instinct for staff as well.'

Storytelling remains a fascination for Murray, from the high level world of corporate comms, where he is looking forward to a 'renaissance of business storytelling', to the crime thrillers that populate his downtime - a hangover from his early days as a crime reporter in Johannesburg, 'the crime capital of the world' - to creating tales with his beloved grandchildren. 'I love stories. I love sitting down with my grandchildren and getting them to co-create stories with me.'

Alongside Murray's consultancy work, he has built a new career as a business book author. His first tome The Language of Leaders was published last November and is now up for its third reprint.

'Life has some great serendipity to it,' remarks Murray when considering how the book has given him unique insights in preparation for his own business leadership. 'I had no idea of how it could be used, apart from the fact it generates leads. It's been beyond my wildest dreams.'

Eversheds chairman John Heaps was interviewed by Murray for The Language of Leaders. He remarks upon Murray's ability to articulate Heaps' words: 'He's got a great clarity of mind. He's helped me to understand some things I didn't before.'

Next year will be Murray's fortieth in gainful employment and he is already planning book number two - Communicate to Inspire, a 'how to' guide to good leadership.

So is Murray verging on a workaholic? 'I hear that all the time but I don't believe it,' he smiles. 'I can loaf with the best of us, but that's tempered by being driven. I'm cursed with professionalism. I don't want to look back and say "I wish I'd done this".

'But, unshaven and in a sloppy tracksuit, I can be as lazy as anyone else.'

That is one story that is a little too far-fetched to believe.


2012 Chairman, Good Relations Group

1998 Various roles at Bell Pottinger Group, leading up to chief

1996 Director of comms, British Airways

1994 Director, corporate affairs, AEA Technology

1992 Director, corporate comms, UK Atomic Energy Authority

1988 Group PR manager, Bayer UK

1985 MD, Shearwater Communications Services UK

1982 Managing editor, Churchill Murray Publications, Johannesburg

1981 Group publications editor and PR executive, Barlow Rand, Johannesburg

1973 Court reporter and crime reporter, The Star, Johannesburg



What was your biggest career break?

Being fired from BA. It was the absolute making of me, if you look at everything that happened since then, moving to consultancy, moving into being a business leader. It was the first time I paused. I needed to think what I wanted to achieve.

Have you had a notable mentor?

My most important mentor is my wife. She's my conscience and my guide. In a business sense my boss at Bayer, John Roddom. The way he mentored me was to get me to understand you should get your leader bought into the concept and they'll leave you alone on the detail.

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

I think it would be 'show willing'. When you're willing to get stuck in, try new things and help colleagues, you get noticed.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Enthusiasm and energy. And I'd rather have 80 per cent curiosity and 20 per cent experience than the other way around. I want to write a book on why it's important to liberate inquisitiveness. The more curious you are, the more you're going to find out.

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