Flack on Friday: Swearing, purple suits, Peter Mandelson - all the gossip from Colin Byrne's leaving do

In Flack this week: Taking the piss at Byrne's leaving do, the big man says goodbye (and 'f*ck), agency owner's (half) naked ambition, and which agency has been fooling around with its name?

Taking the piss at Byrne's goodbye

The words 'wet the bed', 'fuck' and 'scary' (not, thankfully, in connection to each other) came to the fore the Thursday before the Easter weekend at the Ivy Club, the venue for the Leaving PR Party of outgoing Weber Shandwick EMEA boss Colin Byrne.

Attendees at the small gathering included Hanover's Michael Prescott, Lansons boss Tony Langham, FTI's celeb Brexiteer-cum-comms guru Alex Deane, the PRCA double act of Ingham and Cartmell, CIPR president Sarah Hall and industry diversity champions Sarah Stimson and Elizabeth Bananuka, respectively the leaders of the Taylor Bennett Foundationa and BME PR Pros. Oh, and a couple of PRWeek-ers who managed to slip past security.

Byrne's former protégé Jo-ann Robertson, now CEO of Ketchum UK, paid tribute to "the guy I still call 'the boss'". She recalled a time early in her Weber days when she, Byrne and others went to pitch (successfully) for an account with the University of Central Lancashire. The institution's chancellor asked Byrne why she should opt to be a small fish in a large client pond at a big firm of Weber's ilk, rather than being the jewel in the crown of a local boutique, Robertson described.

"I’m sat there thinking, 'I'm going to learn a lot here', and the boss speaks, and he says: 'Well Angela, it’s a bit like this; you know when you wet the bed? At first it’s quite warm, comfortable and actually you feel good. But very quickly it gets wet, sticky and you just want to get out of that bed. That's what it would be like working with a boutique," she recounted.

She also passed on tributes from former colleagues including Byrne and Robertson's old (New) Labour colleagues Hazel Blears and Peter Mandelson, commenting on the latter: "[He] is very sorry he couldn’t be here, but he did say to me 'who the fuck has a party on Easter weekend?'"

Robertson also revealed that rather than having a traditional mid-life crisis through marital infidelity or fast cars, Byrne had left Labour and joined the Green Party - although as longtime Weber colleague Jon McLeod said: "That is a crisis."

Also speaking was Byrne's successor at Weber, Tim Sutton, who said: "My analysis of Colin goes like this; that he's one third very shy, and very private... The second thing is he’s rather scary, and 18 years on he’s still scary. And the third part is he's one third an amazingly kind human being."

Sutton also commented of the Salford boy: "He's not a great football fan, but it's the right part of England at least. He’s the Sir Alex Ferguson of PR – and I can tell you, there have been a lot of boots thrown around the changing room in his time."

Bye from 'the boss'

Byrne himself reflected on the industry: "The great thing about PR is that a Northerner who wears purple suits, has big ears and says 'fuck' a lot can get to run a major company, and there are probably very few industries who can say that... it is a really exciting time to be in PR. That said, Emma and I have said to our son Gabriel here that if he ever thinks of going into PR, we will shoot him"

He paid tribute to those who had helped him in his career, and looked forward to the next chapter in his life as a "penniless writer".

Byrne concluded his address: "We all have our own stories to tell, I'd encourage everyone in this room who's not doing it, to think about your own creativity and not just talk about other peoples' creativity, because there are some terrific talents in the industry, in this room tonight, and we’ve got our own song to sing, not just our clients, so sing it, do well and thank you very much."

(Half) naked ambition

Which agency owners inserted a clause into the contract of a handsome young male recruit stipulating that he must take his top off once a week? Flack understands it was done entirely in jest, but his lips will remain sealed...

Fool gold

Flack loves a good April Fool – and was tickled by this from one comms consultancy. "Midlands PR agency Stone Junction would like to address a recurring misunderstanding over the pronunciation of its name," read a press release issued on 1 April. "Over the last decade of PR success, most of the company’s clients and media contacts have referred to the business as 'Stone Junction'. However, the correct pronunciation is St One Junction."

Stone Junction isn’t the first PR agency to undergo a temporary name change to make a point. Consumer shop Tin Man was recently rebranded Tin Woman for International Women’s Day.

Flack wonders what’s next: FTI becoming FIT for International Fitness Week? (That is a thing, apparently).

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