ANALYSIS PROFILE: Ernst & Young - starting its new global PRstrategy at home

Ernst & Young has created a new global PR position, and the firm

appointed Larry Parnell in July to fill it. He talks to Craig McGuire

about doing PR for prisons, politicians, and accountants.

When 'big five' accounting powerhouse Ernst & Young (E&Y) decided to

reorganize its far-flung communications operations into one global

group, it needed just the right kind of professional to tie it all


He, or she, would need the savvy negotiating skills of, say, a political

speechwriter. The person would also need the kind of crisis management

credentials you'd find in a high-pressure setting - like a prison


Yet, most importantly, they'd have to have a firm grip on the slippery

world of professional services.

Lucky for E&Y, they didn't have to look far. In fact, the recruiters

didn't even have to leave the building. In Larry Parnell, the director

of PR, Americas, the company had someone who knew the company's culture

inside and out.

The top global communications post is a daunting position when you

consider the sheer size and complexity of E&Y, which operates in 130


E&Y advises companies on a broad range of financial and business issues,

and has more than 80,000 employees pulling in worldwide revenues of over

$10 billion (for 2001).

While the communications division at some of its outposts may only

consist of a handful of staffers, that's an infrastructure with myriad

cultural differences and languages. And let's not forget the varying

regional financial priorities and practices.

"(Larry) has extensive experience in all aspects of communications that

he can draw upon to help position our firm strategically across the

globe with our key stakeholders," says Jim Speros, who has worked

alongside Parnell as E&Y's chief marketing officer.

However well suited Parnell may be, head communications honcho of a

leading financial services firm isn't exactly where Parnell pictured

himself 26 years ago when he graduated from Boston University with a BS

in Journalism.

He had initially set out to become a journalist, but his first job out

of school was in politics.

Parnell landed a job as a speechwriter and acting press secretary for

Mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta in 1976. "It was a great, eye-opening

experience for me," he remembers, "in terms of the power of

personalities and getting an agenda across." He went on to serve as

press aide for the Jimmy Carter for President campaign in

Massachusetts, and speechwriter and director of communications for the

Massachusetts attorney general.

Parnell's experience spans corporate and financial communications,

government, and public affairs work. Prior to his arrival at E&Y,

Parnell served as SVP at Ketchum, among other agencies. It was in the

agency world where Parnell says he gained the most experience by working

closely with big shots like Dave Drobis and Ray Kotcher at Ketchum,

Chris Komisarjevsky at Burson-Marsteller, and most recently Howard

Paster at Hill & Knowlton (E&Y's agency of record).

"I've rubbed shoulders with some of the heavy hitters in the industry,

and it's really helped me gain perspective on different management

styles, and different ways to get things done," Parnell says. "I'm a big

believer in an agency background, because it's simply the best way to

broaden your communications skills sets."

Parnell also gained invaluable experience as the public information

officer for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, where he worked

for two and a half years. "You're talking work stoppages, hostage

situations, and all sorts of highly emotional life-and-death crisis

scenarios," says Parnell, adding that such experience is "a little

unexpected in the professional services world, but great training."

Today, Parnell has a number of short-term goals at E&Y. These include

taking several programs - such as crisis and issues management

initiatives - overseas. That's alongside filling a number of key posts,

such as his own former job.

But in the long term, Parnell and the industry he represents have some

major hurdles to overcome - without some basic changes to the way

accounting firms protect their reputations. "We need to educate people

about the difference between a traditional and a forensic audit," says

Parnell, adding that too often accounting firms are criticized when

their clients restate figures or make mistakes.

A traditional audit finds the outside accountancy firm working with

numbers they are given by the firm; forensic is when the firm is hired

to investigate potential fraud. Travel giant Cendant and its former

auditor Ernst & Young were forced to settle a major lawsuit over alleged

accounting irregularities, and Parnell says Ernst & Young is now in

litigation with its former client.

Parnell explains that often accountancy practices settle lawsuits to

avoid protracted litigation, even if they are not liable. Parnell feels

this has damaged the industry's reputation as whole.

While there's not much he can do on that score, Parnell has worked hard

to increase his knowledge of E&Y's industry. He explains: "Years ago,

after landing a position at People's Bank, I met CEO David Carson and

had to confess that I didn't really know a lot about banking." (He has

since acquired an MBA from the University of New Haven.) "He said, and

it resonates with me to this day, 'I have a building full of bankers, so

I don't need another one. What I need is a great communicator.' It was

an empowering lesson I try to pass along."


1975-1980: Various political posts, including speechwriter and acting

press secretary for the mayor of Atlanta; Press aide for the Jimmy

Carter Presidential campaign in Massachusetts; public information

officer for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections; speechwriter

and director of communications for the attorney general of


1980-1983: Account supervisor, Manning Selvage & Lee

1983-1987: Vice president, Booke & Company

1987-1993: First VP, corporate relations, People's Bank

1993-1995: Managing director, Gavin Anderson & Company

1995-1996: Director of IR, GTE

1996-1999: Senior vice president, Ketchum

1999-2001: Director of PR (Americas region), Ernst & Young

July 1, 2001: Director of global PR, Ernst & Young.

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