Gavin Houlgate is - according to his former colleagues - probably
the best man for the job of UK corporate PR chief at accountancy giant
KPMG. Those who have worked with him during his career in journalism and
PR say he evenly combines the qualities of a journalist with those of an
As former boss, Ken Rees - ex-HTV West controller of news and current
affairs - says: 'He was never your flippant hack, and in some ways he's
more like an accountant than a reporter.'
This is not to imply Houlgate is your average bean-counter, says Rees -
more that he is as focused and meticulous a media professional as you
can get: 'Of all the people I've worked with in journalism, he's one of
the most serious-natured and focused,' says Rees, now MD of
Bristol-based PR firm Winningtons.
And it's obvious from Houlgate's achievements in just six months at KPMG
that his former colleagues have the measure of him. He has carried out a
review of UK communications - with both the appointment of an external
corporate PR firm and additional in-house PROs expected soon - and is
expanding his remit to include the EMEA region.
Although he laments that he is 'not as hands-on he'd like to be' at
KPMG, Houlgate relishes the challenge of extending PR programmes outside
the UK. Working with marcoms chief Nigel Mengham, who was recently
promoted to head all communications across EMEA, Houlgate aims to create
a European 'anchor practice'.
'Rather than all the marketing and communications people in each country
doing their own thing, we need to get common ground,' he says.
Part of the EMEA communications plans also include developing best
practice across the region: 'We are bringing in new standards of
excellence right across the firm to position KPMG where it should be -
not to say that we've done badly before, but we haven't shown off all
that's happening in the company.'
Houlgate says throughout his previous 25-year career in journalism, he
always found himself leaning towards the City and corporate patch. This
interest eventually led him to join the then Shandwick International as
associate director in the broadcast division, working with corporate
clients such as PricewaterhouseCoopers.
More than two decades earlier, Houlgate was a news reporter at regional
newspaper The Bridport News after leaving school. He went on to work for
the Bournemouth Echo before breaking into TV news, landing a sub-editing
job at HTV West, and later being promoted to news editor.
From there, his broadcast journalism career took off and saw Houlgate
working at Thames News, the BBC - on its flagship news bulletins, the
highlight of his journalistic career - and at Sky News as an executive
producer in business news.
Houlgate confesses that his transition to PR was harder than he'd
On his first few months at Shandwick, he says: 'Being in a news
environment was a completely different way of working - at Sky we had
hourly bulletins to work to, while in PR it's about liaising with
clients and getting new business. In the corporate world you have to be
a little more refined,' he adds.
Houlgate still possesses some of the qualities of a news hack and admits
to disliking corporate-speak - although he catches himself slipping into
the lingo at times. 'I do sometimes think I'm becoming one of them,' he
Former WSW colleagues confirm his no-nonsense approach to PR, citing the
invention of a company Cynics Cup in his honour: 'He's cynical about
people trying to sell stories and doesn't believe in PR-ing something
that isn't good,' says Kirstine Cox, an account manager in WSW's
broadcast unit. 'He's not a PR luvvie - he's a team player and a fair
boss,' she adds.
In an otherwise natural career path - from local paper, to regional TV
news, to high-brow national TV news and then into corporate PR - there
is a bizarre anomaly on Houlgate's CV. For a brief period, he reveals
that he acted as launch news editor for L!VE TV, the news channel famed
for its irreverence and news bunny gimmick. He swears, however, he left
before the introduction of the news bunny.
Needless to say, his journalistic qualities were not ideally suited to
the role and he quit after just five months.
But at KPMG, you could say Houlgate has found his ideal niche - he can
maintain his many contacts in the news media, while sitting comfortably
in the corporate world.
'The way I like to run PR is to use the news values that I've learnt in
the past - those skills will never leave me,' he says.
It seems with his current employers, Houlgate now has the best of both
1982: Chief sub-editor, Thames News
1995: Executive producer - business, Sky News
1999: Associate director - broadcast, Shandwick Int'national
2001: UK corp comms head, KPMG