PR industry veteran Lord Chadlington outlines his 12 rules of business

The founder of Shandwick and Huntsworth presented 12 rules for building a PR agency as part of his keynote speech to an enthused audience at the ICCO Summit in Paris today.

Peter Chadlington: "My life is stuffed full with Never Give Up quotes."

Lord Chadlington, who founded Shandwick in 1974 and Huntsworth in 2000, outlined the rules after telling the audience that the achievement he was most proud of in his 48 years in PR was the strategic alliance Huntsworth struck with Chinese agency BlueFocus this year.

"It will change not just Huntsworth but it will change our industry," he said.

"Take a look at the partnership – as one unit – just for a moment. We have a stock market value of $5.5 billion. There are 4,000 people working in over 100 offices across the globe. We have over 3,000 clients.

"And - most important - we have a business model - not with advertising at its core - but with public relations and - more important - digital public relations at its core.

"Both our companies have only grown up over the last 15 or so years. Digital and social media are part of our DNA - it isn't something we have to import or overlay on an existing structure.

"Welcome to the era which will be dominated by digital, by social media, by data-driven analytics, by tool kits and by benchmarks for measurements."

Chadlington went on to present his 12 rules for successfully building a PR company, which we have reproduced here:

First, everything is possible. Life may deal you a set of cards but it’s up to you how to play them - you make your own luck. If you aim low, you’re unlikely to go very far. I well remember the great humorist, Peter Ustinov saying of his Sergeant during the war; 'He set himself remarkably low standards - which he consistently failed to achieve'. Be bold and set yourself ambitious levels of achievement and then make a plan to turn ambition into reality. 

Second, in a public relations company, there is no such thing as a workable organisation chart. The structure of success defines itself. It should be like a dartboard with the bull representing the client, the next ring is your best people and the following concentric circles are the support staff. 

Third, with your ambitions clear and your mission written to meet client needs, you need to furnish your business with people who are better than you. 

Never has this been more true as we face the challenge of digital and social media. Those of us who have been in the industry for more than ten or fifteen years are probably not the people to take their business forward! We need young people whose intuitive solution to a client problem is a digital one and not an analogue one. If you don't grasp this issue now, you will have no company in five years. You will turn around and your clients will all have left you. 

Fourth, to make this third point happen you have to be prepared to sack both employees and clients. Prune the dead wood of employees stuck in longstanding ‘ways of doing things’ and make room for the growth of innovative, fresh people and ideas. 

Whose mission statement is this? 

"We want to be proud and know that we enjoy a reputation for fairness and honesty and that we are respected...let us keep that reputation high. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance do not belong here. We work with our customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely." 

I could go on! 

Would you have guessed that’s Enron? 

Very often we are so easily gulled into believing what our clients tell us, so seduced by the financial gain that we are not tough enough on the quality of the clients on our list. It’s not just about not taking on tobacco clients or turning down the chance to act for dodgy dictatorships. It’s about working only for companies in whose affairs we can trust and we can believe. 

Fifth, keep a wall between your personal life and your business life. It’s a tough call to sack or reprimand anyone. But if they have been to your home, your wife knows them, your children play with their kids or they are related to you as the owner or prime mover in the business – it’s nearly impossible. 

Sixth, learn about money. When I first started out in PR, I attended a 'Finance for Non-Financial Managers' evening class once a week. The trade press when I started Shandwick forty years ago referred to me as the only person in PR who could read a balance sheet! I don't know if that was true but I do know that really understanding the numbers is vital. Nothing forces you to face up to the bad client news in such black and white terms as understanding the financial implications for the business. 

Staying in business is the first responsibility of any owner manager. 

Seventh, public relations people, in general, are ignorant. We simply are not well enough informed. We do not read enough. We do not believe in the continuous learning experience of life. Spending an evening reading Trollope[EB1]  is an evening well spent! Make an effort to continually keep yourself up to date. 

Eighth, because PR people are, in general, poorly read they fail in one other important regard. Thinking. If you read a lot then you will learn to think. Thinking - staying abreast of how to think - is what clients pay us to do. So often, even our best consultants, repeat what they have done for others and fail to reflect on what a client needs because they do not think...think...think. 

As Bertrand Russell put it so succinctly 'When all other options have failed, man is thrown back to the painful necessity of thought'. 

Ninth, be honest. Of course, behave legally, but also behave honestly. I suspect that nobody here in this room has committed heinous sins - murder, child abuse, theft. However, every so often we come up to a line where, if we step over it, we are behaving perhaps a little less well than we would hope. Once crossed, that line is remarkably easy to cross again. I call that 'morality creep'! If you don’t vigilantly guard against the morality creep you may well wake up, as the great Philip Roth wrote, 'towards the end of your life and realise that you have become the kind of mature man whom in your youth you most despised'. 

Tenth, manage expectations – the expectations of clients, of staff, of shareholders and most important always remember the Saatchi formula - "Satisfaction = performance - expectations". 

Eleventh, professionalism is all. And it’s the small things that in aggregate make for professionalism. A few weeks ago I was carrying out a satisfaction review of one of our clients and the client said "We are very happy with your service. Let me tell you why. The account director has a weekly call with me. We have had it at a fixed time ever since you won the business. The call is at ten o'clock on a Monday morning. That's when we have it. He rings me at ten. Not 9:59 or 10:03. But at ten. In my office we can set our clocks by that call - which in eighteen months he has never cancelled. He is so professional about the little things that the big things look after themselves." 

Twelfth, never give up. Never ever ever ever give up. So often people fail because they stop! Success is achievable with a combination of Einstein’s theory "It’s not that I am so smart – it’s just that I stay with problems longer" and Thomas Alva Edison’s wisdom "Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up!" 

So, based on my fifty years in the PR business those are my lessons for success. I believe that following these rules in commercial life brings success within reach. 

Inevitably, someone will ask me which of these rules is the most important. They are all vital. You will have to adapt and adjust them when you are working in London, Brazil, China, Russia or India but they can be easily adapted to work everywhere in the world. I believe they are universal truths honed by experience. 

Still......the most important? 

Never give up. That’s the motto on the Chadlington crest and my personal mantra. And I will never give up. My life is stuffed full with Never Give Up quotes. Of course that assumes that you have an objective - a vision of a distant destination where you want to be and a plan to get there! But assuming that you do... is a version of the mantra to finish. 

It has taken me 8 years of flying back and forth, back and forth, investing thousands of hours and thousands of pounds in the process, to achieve the one thing of which I am most proud - our deal with BlueFocus. 

And as I got on that 4:30 flight from Heathrow to Beijing - yet again - I used to repeat to myself a quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe - 

"Never give up for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn." 

Thank you.

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