John Mahony claims he was misled when he joined Edelman PR
Worldwide in 1996. But the new CEO of Edelman's London operation is a
forgiving sort. Indeed, the man described by IPR president Ian Wright as
'one of the most outstanding PR professionals around' jokes that if he
had not been misled, he would not be where he is today.
Mahony claims that before joining the world's largest independent PR
network, the then president of Edelman Europe, Michel Ogrizek tried and
failed three times to lure him with promises of vibrant staff and a
sparkling office in the centre of Dublin. After what Mahony calls
persistent 'stalking', he accepted.
Mahony recalls: 'When I finally arrived it looked like a run-down slum.
Inside were five people, two of whom were about to leave. I wondered if
I should walk away but the staff looked at me as if to say, "you are our
Mahony did not walk away. He says now that taking the role and proving
himself was as inevitable as entering PR in the first place. Born in
rural Ireland, Mahony is second-to-last of a family of eleven: 'I was
the little-noticed toddler pushing the baby in the buggy,' he says.
'Coming from a big family you have to learn about share of voice, saying
what you want concisely, being heard over the din.'
While his people skills were clear, Mahony's original career plan was to
land himself a job in TV. With this in mind, he left Ireland in his
early 20s and headed for Australia. Enjoying the sun and sand of
Sydney's Bondi beach, he fell into a PR role, working as press secretary
for local mayor Barbara Armitage and later as an aide to Australian
prime minister Bob Hawke.
After three years in Australia, Mahony decided to visit England on his
way home to Ireland. 'It turned out to be the typical Irish stop-off,'
he says. 'I was meant to be here for six months, and actually stayed for
One reason for this lengthy stay was that he got a job as an account
manager at the then Paragon Communciations, under CEO Julia Thorn.
Despite his loyalty to a PR boss whose alumni include Weber Shandwick
Worldwide joint CEO David Brain and chairman Tim Sutton, it was,
eventually, time to go home.
Mahony says he 'wanted to see if he could live and work in Ireland'.
The work was no problem - he was soon employed at local PR agency
McMahon, and within three years had taken it through a merger and built
up the staff from six to twenty, making it McMahon Sheedy, the third
largest agency in Ireland.
It then took Mahony three years to build up Edelman Dublin, to restore
morale and transform the atmosphere and performance of the division.
During this time he got to know Wright, in the latter's capacity as
Diageo's group communications director. Wright says of Mahony: 'John
gives clear advice. He is extremely good at testing the temperature, and
understands the constraints of business.'
Once Dublin was an established success, Mahony felt it was again time to
move on. In Edelman London, where Mahony took the role of MD - he only
became joint CEO this April - he worked in partnership with the outgoing
CEO, Tari Hibbett.
Here his focus was on recruiting, and introducing a research and
development culture to the business. 'London is a tough environment.
While the office was getting the fees in, with the people there was
something of a revolving door. We wanted to change that,' he
In this role Mahony's passion for 'wooing talent' was unleashed. It is a
passion that stems from a real interest in people. He says: ' I want to
know what my staff are doing, about their domestic situation, their
social lives. I find they don't seem to mind telling me, I suppose it's
the accent, they say to themselves, oh, he's Irish, he's just being
Another passion he could indulge in London was his love of reputation
management specifically for CEOs, his flair for which was tested to the
full when he managed flamboyant Millennium Dome boss P-Y Gerbeau.
Within two weeks of taking up his new appointment in England, Gerbeau
was savaged by the tabloids and says of the time: 'My personal life was
being crucified. But John worked very hard to get me into the right
frame of mind to face these people. He even convinced me to say sorry to
With Mahony as the sole CEO, the target for Edelman London over the next
three years is to double its turnover from £12.5m to £25m.
Once that target is reached, it is probable that it will be Mahony doing
the stalking - he will be looking for the next big challenge.
1987-88: Aide to Australian prime minister Bob Hawke
1992: Director, McMahon Sheedy - Ireland
1999: Managing director, Edelman - London; Chairman, Edelman - Ireland
2001: CEO, Edelman UK