Coulson and Chappell: Jokes aside, is this apparently odd couple on to a winner?

Andy Coulson's past means he was the butt of many a joke after it was announced he was to set up a PR firm last week - but he clearly means business, writes Danny Rogers

New agency: Henry Chappell and Andy Coulson (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
New agency: Henry Chappell and Andy Coulson (Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Last week Andy Coulson, the disgraced former editor of the News of the World, announced he was setting up a corporate PR consultancy with sports specialist Henry Chappell – to be called Coulson Chappell.

Coulson’s re-entry into the British media and PR sector – just over a year since being released from prison – has raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic. It even prompted some great gags in some media.

But for those of us who know Coulson it is less surprising. After all this is a relatively young man (he turned 48 last week) who, misdemeanours aside, was generally very good at his job and built an enviable network in media, business and politics.

We should not forget that even after leaving News International, in January 2007, Coulson was the comms strategist who got David Cameron elected in 2010, following 13 years in the electoral wilderness for the Tories.

Coulson was comms director of the Conservative Party from July 2007 until the 2010 election victory and then served as Downing Street comms director until being forced to resign in January 2011 following more media revelations about the phone-hacking scandal.

And while he will have few mates at the reborn News UK, or indeed The Guardian (which broke several key stories on phone hacking), Coulson still has powerful media friends such as GQ editor Dylan Jones, who stayed loyal to Coulson throughout; visiting him in prison and commissioning him as a writer soon after his release. Another old friend is PR guru Matthew Freud, probably the connection who first introduced Coulson to Chappell. Matthew once employed Chappell and then provided seed funding for his consultancy, Pitch, more than a decade ago.

Indeed, the most surprising thing about Coulson’s new venture is the partnership with Chappell, who is a very different character. Pitch has built its name as one of the UK’s leading sports marketing consultancies with clients such as BT Sport, the NBA, Chelsea FC and the London 2012 Olympics. And where Coulson is steely and politically astute, Chappell is warm, vivacious and gossipy.

What both share, however, is fierce ambition and a very good network. Chappell was probably looking for a new challenge (Coulson Chappell will operate in the same Soho offices as Pitch and they will look for "synergies"). One senses the two different personalities – both very likeable in person – may well prove complementary.

In the launch statement the duo said Coulson Chappell would provide "discreet corporate strategy and communications advice". With Coulson’s reputation, this is a smart move, and it is unlikely we will learn the identity of their clients. But it is also a potentially lucrative business model. They will be following in the footsteps of former Google comms director DJ Collins and ex-Clarence House spin doctor Paddy Harverson, who set up the now thriving Milltown Partners three years ago.

Whether the actual synergy between Coulson and Chappell, politics and sport, ultimately pays off will be fascinating to watch – particularly with Coulson’s old flame Rebekah Brooks back in control of News UK.

Danny Rogers is editor-in-chief of PRWeek UK

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