Jon Aarons, the Financial Dynamics partner who took over the role
of IPR president for 2002 last week, must be hoping his political
experience comes in handy as he enters the partisan atmosphere of the
institute. As someone who grew up in political communications and
student activism, the secret machinations of the political class will
come naturally to him as he tries to balance the competing needs and
wants of the IPR's 7,000 paid-up members.
And yet despite a career culminating in the IPR role and a partnership
at FD, Aarons has never lost sight of what he calls his 'working-class
He grew up in Essex, won a scholarship to public school and studied
politics at Exeter University - where he became a campaigner for the
then SDP of David Owen. He was swiftly asked to be Owen's constituency
agent at the tender age of 21. 'I was cheap labour,' he says. '1985 was
an exciting time - the SDP had 50 per cent of the opinion polls but
Owen was Aarons' first mentor, but the demise of the SDP meant the end
of his political career. He then fell into PR, after a friend introduced
him to the MD of a small London firm. A year later he joined Peter
Sawell & Partners in Greenwich, where he spent five years learning B2B
PR from his second mentor.
By 1993, he had joined The Communication Group. 'That was the most
significant and formative period of my working life,' he says, 'building
a corporate and B2B practice and ending up as MD of corporate.'
But after what he blankly terms a 'falling out' with bullish chairman
Maureen Smith - whom he nevertheless credits as a third mentor - he
decided he wanted a change and joined design consultancy Lapot. Within
two years he faced redundancy as that business closed: 'It was scary. I
had a wife, a new baby and a mortgage.'
Through a mix of luck and guile, after just five weeks out of work,
Aarons landed a job as a partner at FD - which employs 170 people, has
£20m fee income and is indisputably in the top flight of City PR
The industry has changed a lot in the past 15 years, Aarons says. 'My
experience was similar to a lot of people. I stumbled into PR -
education is becoming far more important now.'
This brings him onto industry training - a drum the IPR has banged for a
number of years and an issue that remains a top priority for the next,
he says: 'The industry has been exposed to criticism about the quality
of its people. If we want to be taken seriously as business advisers we
need an industry-wide infrastructure and training system to support
Aarons named his priorities for the year ahead in a recent e-mail to IPR
Council members. He also asked them to share responsibility for
leadership and to remember that 'there is no place in today's IPR for
self-aggrandisement or freeloading' - characteristics that some IPR
fellows have been accused of in the past.
A principal aim is to promote the reputation of the industry externally
through the media and at conferences. He also intends to boost
membership by recapturing what he calls the 'disenfranchised
communities' - financial, political and internal comms specialists - so
it can speak as a representative body for the entire industry.
'I don't want to be carping over individuals this year,' Aarons adds.
'If any members breach our code we'll take action against them.'
Aarons goes out of his way to break his previous silence over the attack
on the IPR by Lewis PR founder Chris Lewis's in The Financial Times late
last year. He describes Lewis's statements as 'arrogant,' and says they
showed no understanding of how the IPR has changed in recent years: 'The
challenge as a whole is to focus on promoting professionalism,' he
Although Aarons is no longer involved in politics, he says that working
for the IPR fulfils any remaining urge he might have to rally people
behind a common cause.
It was in the political arena that Aarons first met Ian Wright - from
whom he takes over as IPR president - when Wright was the SDP's youth
officer and Aarons was a student activist.
Wright, now Diageo group comms director, says Aarons is a logical
thinker and a good strategist: 'There's a lot of that in political
campaigning and many of his political skills will transfer to the
He's also energetic - I'd be surprised if any other president has spent
as much time as he does out talking to members, especially in the
regions. He has a great view of the business.'
David Lloyd, Aarons' current boss and FD corporate MD, agrees: 'Jon has
been a supporter of the IPR for many years, which takes plenty of
enthusiasm and drive as it can be a thankless task. But he still has a
campaigning, missionary zeal about him.' He will need it.
1985: Constituency agent for David Owen, SDP
1988: Account executive, Peter Sawell & Partners
1993: Account director, Communication Group
2000: Partner, Financial Dynamics
2002: President, IPR