PROFILE: Neil Bennett, Gavin Anderson & Co - Bennett to take helm at GA's London office - The Sunday Telegraph City editor hopes to galvanise Gavin Anderson & Co

Sunday Telegraph City editor Neil Bennett may have bridges to build when he switches from commentator to financial PR chief at Gavin Anderson & Co's London operation in May.

The financial journalist of 15 years has built his reputation on incisive yet acerbic commentary of the industry and its leading figures - upsetting more than a few CEOs along the way.

In view of this, it is likely Bennett will need to smooth a few ruffled feathers as GA's London CEO when he finds himself wooing the very people he once took pride in criticising.

This is something Bennett says he is well prepared for: 'It's something I considered carefully before I took the job, but - and it sounds arrogant - the feeling was that mine has always been a well-respected column.'

The dapper Bennett is an engaging character. Complete with City braces, he comes across as the archetypal Square Mile editor. He boasts a distinguished career in journalism, with some 'four or five gongs' under his belt - including Young Financial Journalist of the Year and the British Press Awards' Business Journalist of the Year two years running.

Before leaving University College London, where he gained a degree in archaeology, Bennett was already working as news editor on London Student and freelancing for Time Out.

He secured his first front-page story on The Financial Times at the age of 20 during a three-week work placement from City University's journalism school. On graduation from City, he worked as company writer at Investors Chronicle - a move that proved a springboard for his career in financial journalism.

From there, he moved to The Times, where from banking correspondent he was promoted to editor of the Tempus column and then deputy business editor at just 29-years-old.

Some industry insiders suspect Bennett will find it hard leaving his journalism roots and trademark style behind. As one financial PR source comments: 'It's going to be a challenge for him to make the transition from being the journalist who can say whatever he likes to the PR man who has to bite his tongue.'

Others are surprised at Bennett's decision to join GA in favour of many of its larger City PR rivals - all of which Bennett says have approached him.

While undoubtedly one of the few truly global corporate and financial PR brands, GA is no longer a UK high ranker - highlighted by its slide in Crawford's ranking from 8th place in 1999 to 13th in the 2002 league due out later this month.

Bennett's colleagues are, however, not entirely shocked by the decision. Sunday Telegraph writer, and former PRWeek deputy editor, Amanda Hall - his first hire on the paper - says it was the allure of running a business: 'The difference with GA is that they offered him the CEO post. Without that I doubt he would have been interested. He has always run his section like a business anyway, handling a budget and increasing the section's revenue.'

Bennett concedes that he has 'spent so many years criticising CEOs' it is time to try running a business himself, but adds that he made the choice partly because he feels he can really make his mark at GA, hauling the agency back into the top ten.

GA, he says, is one consultancy he has respected in his capacity as a financial journalist and one of the few he has 'never had a run-in with'.

On his plans for GA's London base, Bennett remains tight-lipped. He gives nothing away, except to claim he's got 'one or two innovative plans. My job will be to galvanise the staff, enthuse them and learn from them,' says Bennett.

'GA has got all the elements, but for some reason it just hasn't been winning the pitches it should have won. It deserves to have some self-confidence,' he adds.

While Bennett no doubt has an attractive salary package and career waiting for him at GA, it will be hard for him to leave the section he has spent six-and-a-half years building up.

He hopes that most of all his successor, who is yet to be appointed, will continue to improve the City section, which he proudly says has 'almost tripled in size' from 12 pages when he joined to a 34-page supplement.

His bosses-to-be at GA, London chairman Howard Lee and worldwide CEO Richard Constant, are confident they have made the right decision.

'It's the management responsibility and client-facing transaction work we expect him to exceed our expectations in,' says Constant.

Bennett is not lacking in self-confidence, but his next move is perhaps the riskiest of his career so far. He says he 'doesn't like failure and doesn't intend to fail', but also asks, nervously, 'do you think I can do it?'.

With Bennett's record for success, he is highly unlikely to fail.

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