PROFILE: Stephen Jolly, Guild of Public Relations Practitioner - Jolly champions need to embrace change - Comms adviser Stephen Jolly on the challenge of taking on the Establishment

'What many people don't understand is that modern PR is born out of military propaganda after World War Two,' says Regus comms chief Stephen Jolly.

With a CV including a stint as a special ops reservist covering psychological warfare, Jolly seems as well placed as any PR professional to comment on the military roots of PR. Thus what could sound like a pseudo-intellectual soundbite is founded in experience - enough for him to reiterate that the use of force and the resort to spreading falsehoods are all that distinguish PR from military propaganda.

Jolly is a far from average PRO. As master of the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners, he fronts a body he accepts is perceived as rooted in a bygone era, despite coming across as a modern thinker: 'It has a reputation for being a bit roast beef and Olde England.

I have no time for that self-congratulatory glad-handing. I agreed to become master of the Guild as it was an opportunity for PR professionals in the City of London to pull together as they don't tend to be that well represented.'

Almost inevitably he is forced to defend comparisons between the Guild and the Freemasons, and does, citing its four goals of promoting the profession, commitment to education and training, good works, and achieving its goals through 'good fellowship', particularly in the way it raises money for charities.

One of the most striking features of the Guild's foundation dinner in April was the ceremony of 'the Loving Cup,' a 1,000-year-old drinking game based on the theme of protecting a vulnerable monarch from a knife-wielding villain. Jolly warns not to set too much store by the Guild's ceremonial aspects: 'It's a way of breaking ice but it's not taken too seriously. The main purpose is to raise money.'

The participation in the medieval ceremonies appears somewhat at odds with the platform on which Jolly stood for IPR president last year - he admits to putting some industry grandees' noses out of joint with his 'Vanguard, not the Old Guard' ticket. But he insists he is a moderniser: 'I am not a fan of fusty City traditions. One of the things I am looking to achieve with the Guild is that it is modern.'

And Jolly does appear to have learnt from his defeat in the IPR election, which saw John Asprey emerge a narrow victor, admitting: 'One of the reasons I didn't get the IPR presidency is because I bit the establishment and it bit me back,' he says, warning that he will 'certainly' run for the presidency again.

Current IPR president Jon Aarons, who in his role as a Financial Dynamics partner numbers both serviced office supplier Regus and Jolly's former employer Nomura as clients, offers feint praise to the man who could have been his successor.

'I would have been very happy to work with either candidate. I invited Stephen to join the executive when the election was close and I felt his voice deserved to be heard, as I did with John (Asprey, the eventual victor).

The difference is that John will be president next year and Stephen won't,' he says.

The unsuccessful election bid does not detract from a CV that has taken in work for the likes of Nomura, Coopers &Lybrand and HSBC. Yet despite the diversity of corporate, public affairs and financial work, Jolly considers there to be a solid theme throughout his career. 'What links all my work is that I advise people at the most senior level on a personal basis. It's hard as you are punching above your weight a lot of the time and have to be tough,' he adds.

He does not shy away from mentioning his successes, though. Of investment vehicle Nomura, he says: 'Guy Hands was virtually unknown before I went there. We created this image, though it was admittedly helped by the fact that he did £15bn deals,' he concedes.

After four years at Nomura, Jolly says, he felt like a change. A year with Luxembourg-based consultancy Clearstream International gave him a break, before he was approached by a third party to lead the comms function at Regus.

He is evidently a man who enjoys a challenge. Of Regus - which he joined at a time of financial turmoil, and which lost 94 staff in the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center in his first week - he takes a robust view of his role. 'I regard myself as guardian of the share price and the brand,' he claims.

As an admitted 'free market Thatcherite' during the 1980s, whose progressive disillusionment with the Conservatives left him 'apolitical,' Jolly's love of a challenge and willingness to embrace change leave him well placed for the future.

1992: Stategic comms manager, Coopers & Lybrand
1996: Corp comms director, Nomura International
2001: Group comms adviser, Regus and, from 2002, Master of the Guild of
Public Relations Practitioners of the City of London

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in