PROFILE: Jack Cassidy, RJH Public Relations - Fashion veteran pins hopes on RJH's future - Jack Cassidy has turned RJH's outlook from despair to hope in 12 months

A year ago, RJH was in crisis. The position of its founders, Sophie Wessex and Murray Harkin, was at best precarious, clients were looking shaky and loyal staff were wilting under the pressure of a baying press pack outside its Mayfair front door.

Twelve months on, there is a breezy air at RJH's South Audley Street HQ. New clients in corporate PR - outside the agency's luxury consumer niche - have been signed up and a further floor of the building commandeered.

A good part of the difference is due to the lithe and dapper 59-year-old American who this week celebrates his first year in the CEO's chair.

Jack Cassidy, a management veteran at some of the world's leading fashion brands, has put a lot into the agency so far. Apart from his time away from home - his hat rests in Philadelphia, along with his wife and family - he has also put money in, buying a sizable chunk of Wessex's stake and sitting on a war-chest lined up for expansionary acquisitions.

He is confident, sassy even, and sporty. He runs marathons every year and plays golf and tennis as often as he can. He is also global in outlook: 'I've been an international commuter for as long as I can remember,' he says, 'and I try to get back to the US every second week'.

If running a 17-strong PR firm is a comedown from running, say, the retail division of Polo/Ralph Lauren, he doesn't show it. He appears to be enjoying his foray into the PR consultancy scene, and is being treated with the respect due to a man who more than any other has stopped the rot at a company widely tipped for bankruptcy last spring.

It was not the original plan that Cassidy would take over the firm. He met Wessex at a social function two years ago when running the UK arm of luxury conglomerate Thompson Holdings. She, it seems, tapped Cassidy for new business. She also spotted in him experience needed to counsel RJH's then board and guide the firm to sustained growth. His appointment to RJH's board led to others joining, notably a chief finance officer, Chris Clarke, to control costs and plan for the future.

Within a year of joining the board, Cassidy's experience as SV-P of marketing and corporate communications at Oxford Clothes came in handy. As readers will recall, an unholy trinity of Max Clifford, the News of the World and a disgruntled RJH employee plotted a hidden-mic sting on the agency's hapless founders, which was to move the agency from the news pages of the trade press to the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

'It has been very difficult for the staff,' Cassidy says, 'though not for me early on because I was not full-time. Having a fellow staffer (Kishan Athalathmudali) involved in the sting was especially hurtful. The staff here felt betrayed.'

The scent of a catch had the media salivating and Harkin was soon forced out for his bold claims of cocaine use and being able to organise gay sex parties in Thailand. Wessex stumbled on amid claims she had abused her closeness to society's highest echelons, but it came as scant surprise when she stepped aside as chairman late last year. She now holds a minority equity stake and is a non-executive director, while Cassidy runs the show.

'The legal costs, and the trauma of daily scrutiny was hugely disruptive,' says Cassidy. 'My job was to see the good people stayed and to go round all the clients reassuring them the firm had a future.'

The efforts of Cassidy and his team over the past 12 months are akin to treading water. They have the same headcount as last April and an annualised fee income similar to within a few percentage points. The desertion of Thailand's Banyan Tree hotel - upset at being mentioned in the same sentence as gay sex parties (oops) - has been offset by wins from courier giant TNT and expansions from luxury clients such as Clive Christian, 'The Most Expensive Perfume in the World'.

As for the future, Cassidy and Clarke are preparing to move into overseas markets but see building critical mass in London as the first step on that road. Corporate or consumer agencies with a similar headcount and fee income looking to merge might find it worthwhile putting in a call to the affable American.

It is on the issue of changing the agency's name - dumping the RJH moniker was floated by Cassidy as a way of marking the transition his firm has now made - that, despite his experience in non-PR sectors, Cassidy proves himself a PR man at heart: 'It demeans the industry to think that changing the name would achieve anything. Even if we changed it to Jack & Co it would always be known as "The former RJH".' Too right.

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