PROFILE: Jon Aarons, IPR - Aarons' grassroots chart course to IPR - Jon Aarons gets down to business as the newly-elected president of the IPR

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

background'.



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

limited resources.'



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

outfits.



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

us.'



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

adds.



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

president role.



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.



HIGHLIGHTS

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



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