The last film Anne Davison saw at the cinema was Moulin Rouge,
followed by a Q&A session with its creator, Baz Luhrmann. The last one
she paid to see at the cinema was the computer-generated Final Fantasy:
The Spirits Within. The distinction is important, since Davison is the
new director of communications at the British Film Institute (bfi), and
will therefore not be shelling out to see films for a while.
The bfi is a charity that exists to promote an understanding of film
culture while acting as guardian of a massive film and TV archive. It is
funded by the Film Council and both are answerable to the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport.
The bfi has never had a director of communications before and has
recruited its first from the City of London police. 'Obviously I have an
interest in film,' Davison says. So, one imagines, has everyone at bfi -
so why pick someone whose experience during the past 12 years has been
in the police force? 'It's a valid question, but people in PR move
around. You can apply PR and communications skills and experience. The
police have to communicate with everybody.'
Detective superintendent Ken Farrow, City of London fraud squad head,
says Davison was expert at communicating a variety of messages. 'With
police issues, it is not as simple as giving one straight answer to all:
there are so many implications for the public, for business and so on.
She was a master at understanding all those nuances.'
After an English degree at Hull University - where poet laureate Andrew
Motion was a tutor - Davison took a postgraduate qualification in
business studies to narrow her options. This narrowed things down so far
she decided not to pursue a business career at all.
Instead, in 1980 she joined the Department for the Environment as a
personal secretary and ended up as Kenneth Clarke's diary secretary in
the Department of Transport. She left in 1984 for a junior PR position
in energy group AHS. 'I wanted something more creative,' she says.
It was at AHS that she first saw the link between editorial she
generated and a difference to the bottom line in terms of business wins.
By 1989 she had developed an interest in corporate identity and was
drawn to an advert for the Met. It was a major jump, she admits. 'I went
from a quite wide PR and advertising role to narrow hard news. The media
demand on the Met is unimaginable.' From police dogs to paedophiles, as
a press officer she had to become an expert commentator on an
extraordinary range of issues.
The following year she headed the force's briefing unit, keeping senior
officers informed of legislative and parliamentary developments. A spell
as acting assistant director of public affairs led to her being 'loaned'
to the City of London and then to a permanent home in a force where
fraud and terrorism are the main threats.
Scotland Yard chief press officer Bob Cox recruited Davison to the
Metropolitan Police in 1990: 'We regarded her as high potential,' he
says. Indeed, it was her secondment, on his recommendation, to the City
of London police that led to her leaving. Cox believes the bfi will be
challenging, but said: 'She is talented and a strategic thinker.'
She will need to be. Her newly created remit has three strands:
corporate, internal, and PR for a film centre that will open on London's
South Bank in 2006. Here things become slightly more opaque. The bfi
already has press and marketing teams - for the London Film Festival,
Davison will have no responsibility for this, nor for promoting bfi's
respected magazine, Sight and Sound.
However, she is expected, with her team of five, to develop a cohesive
PR strategy for the whole of the bfi - including the National Film
Theatre, IMAX cinema, John Paul Getty conservation centre and the bfi
headquarters, with its public library. 'It is an overarching
communications function,' says Davison, who will also use the body's
website, which she sees as important in developing the bfi's educational
role. Corporate branding and special events will also be to the
Davison is careful to say there is no danger of treading on other
people's toes. But perhaps most significantly, she says the bfi's
internal comms needs to raise its game. 'Like many organisations,
(internal communications) could be improved. We're on different sites,
so that needs proactive attention. One of the things I'll be doing is to
start pulling people together.'
At the bfi, Davison is unlikely to face similar issues to those in the
police. But if you want to debate the relative merits of, say, Karate
Kid III and Citizen Kane around the watercooler, the bfi is the place to
Davison knows there are more pressing debates to come.
1984: PR and ads manager, AHS
1990: Head of briefing unit, Metropolitan Police
1995: Head of corp comms, City of London Police
2001: Head of comms, British Film Institute