Biggest public affairs and political comms hires – and senior departures of 2021

PRWeek looks at some of the biggest appointments and departures in public affairs over the past year, from major agency shake-ups to senior hires by some of Britain’s biggest companies.

Clockwise, from top left: Sarah Brown; Jeremy Swan; Nick Williams with Leila Ager; and Josh Hardie
Clockwise, from top left: Sarah Brown; Jeremy Swan; Nick Williams with Leila Ager; and Josh Hardie

Jeremy Swan, chief executive, Cicero/AMO

Earlier this month it emerged that Jeremy Swan is leaving Cicero/AMO after more than 20 years to pursue his own projects.

“We've had a record financial year and he has just decided now is the time to move on,” according to the agency's executive chairman, Iain Anderson. “He leaves us with a lot of affection and his contribution has been incalculable.”

Swan, who started out in banking and spent 12 years at Citibank and JP Morgan, has been chief executive of Cicero since 2002. His role will not be replaced.

Cicero/AMO is ranked second in the public affairs rankings within PRWeek UK’s Top 150 Consultancies in 2021, with estimated revenue of £6.2m in 2020.

Nick Williams, group managing director, corporate and public affairs, BCW

Nick Williams and Leila Ager
Nick Williams and Leila Ager

Nick Williams was promoted to head the new division after BCW merged its London corporate and public affairs practices. Leila Ager has been moved up to deputy managing director of the division. Will Spratt, who previously led the London corporate team, left the agency.

The new unit specialises in corporate reputation, media relations, public affairs, international affairs, crisis comms and business transformation.

Williams said: “Our CPA team will be a driving force at a time when clients need to be able to look at not just what is happening now but plan ahead of the curve as to what will be next. The team provides access to all of our skills and expertise, creating a seamless experience for all our clients.”

Jack Doyle, director of comms, No. 10

Jack Doyle, who is currently in the spotlight over an alleged party in Downing Street last Christmas, left his job as associate editor of the Daily Mail’s politics team in early 2020 to join Downing Street as press secretary. Doyle rose to become deputy director of comms and was promoted to the top job after Slack’s departure.

In contrast to his predecessor, Doyle is holding the job as a special adviser rather than as a civil servant.

A senior Downing Street comms source said earlier this year: “He will be the PM’s ‘go-to’ comms person.” They added: “The bigger challenge for him now is the strategic negotiation of Whitehall… Will he be able to lift his head up and do horizon-scanning and then start to plan six to 12 months ahead, in terms of comms, and with an eye to the next election?”

George McGregor, former managing partner, Interel

The Interel Group announced in April that its long-serving managing partner, George McGregor, had left the business
and was being replaced by his deputy, Katherine Morgan. It was the end of an era, bringing to a close McGregor’s 17-year stint at Interel – where he was managing partner for a decade.

McGregor, who was also chair of the Interel Global Partnership, said he was leaving the agency to “start a new chapter in my life”.

He added: “I could not be more proud to have led the most brilliant team who have delivered excellence time and time again for clients. I wish the company every success. Interel will always have a very fond place in my heart.”

Jamie Lyons, head of Engine MHP's public affairs team, and James Gurling, executive chair

James Gurling, left, executive chair, and Jamie Lyons, head of Engine MHP's public affairs team
James Gurling, left, executive chair, and Jamie Lyons, head of Engine MHP's public affairs team

At the start of the year Engine MHP announced that Jamie Lyons had been made the sole head of its public affairs team, with James Gurling appointed executive chair of the practice.
Gurling, who built up the public affairs practice with Lyons, has been tasked with expanding Engine MHP’s pool of senior client advisors.

He said: “In a year dominated by Brexit and COVID-19, public affairs has come of age. Establishing an advisory function will add further value to the vibrant mix of communications counsel already available to our growing client base.”

And Alex Bigg, chief executive of Engine MHP, commented: “Jamie and James have built a hugely successful practice in a very short time. This move will ensure that this progress continues, both within the practice and for the company as a whole."

Jess Frost, partner, Brunswick

Teneo’s former co-head of public affairs, Jess Frost, joined Brunswick in March.
In her new role she focuses on public affairs and crisis comms, helping Brunswick develop its London office’s public affairs offering.

Neal Wolin, chief executive of Brunswick, said: “Jess brings a wealth of experience and will meaningfully strengthen our public affairs and crisis capabilities in the UK and globally. We are delighted that she joins at such an exciting time for our firm.”

Prior to Teneo, Frost was an associate director at crisis consultancy firm Regester Larkin, where she was responsible for reputation management and strategic communications. She has also worked at public affairs and corporate communications consultancy Open Road and Lexington Communications.

Ben Sundell, head of policy and public affairs, The Scout Association

Sundell was appointed as The Scout Association's first head of policy and public affairs in June.
He reports to Chloe Kembery, director of comms and marketing.

He has been tasked with developing high-profile campaigns and lobbying to further the organisation’s reach and impact.

One of Sundell's key priorities is supporting Matt Hyde, the charity's chief executive, in securing policy changes and additional funding from the Government.

Sundell will “play an important part in leading strategies that support thousands of Scout volunteers to help young people to reconnect with those around them and build their skills for life”, according to Kembery.

Prior to joining the Scout Association, Sundell had spent seven years working in a variety of public affairs roles for charities such as the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, NSPCC and Teenage Cancer Trust.

Sir Craig Oliver, former senior managing director, and Amber Rudd, former senior advisor, Teneo

In October it emerged that Sir Craig Oliver and Amber Rudd had resigned from Teneo and will be joining Finsbury Glover Hering (FGH) in 2022. Oliver will be head of integrated strategic comms at FGH. He told PRWeek: I’m very excited about working for this impressive firm after five great years at Teneo.”

Rudd is set to have a senior advisory role at FGH, where her brother, Finsbury founder Roland Rudd, happens to be the global co-chairman.

Oliver and Rudd are among a series of high-profile departures from Teneo in recent months – most notably the swift exit of founder and global chief executive Declan Kelly after he admitted behaving inappropriately at a charity event.

Paddy Hennessy, senior adviser, London Communications Agency

Sadiq Khan’s former comms chief and veteran political journalist Paddy Hennessy joined London Communications Agency as a senior advisor in August and works with the consultancy’s media and public affairs clients.

Hennessy was previously director of comms for Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, for five years until he stepped down following the London Mayor’s re-election in May and was replaced by Sarah Brown.

He said: “This is a time of great opportunity for London as it recovers from the pandemic, which is why I am thrilled to join LCA, an agency whose culture, team and clients I have always hugely respected.”

He added: “After five intense but rewarding years working alongside Sadiq Khan as his director of communications, this will be a new but very exciting challenge.”

Sarah Brown, director of comms, The Mayor of London

Sarah Brown was promoted from deputy director of comms for The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to the top job of director of comms.
She replaced Paddy Hennessy and is leading on a media, comms and marketing strategy that reflects the objectives of the mayor and the Greater London Authority.

She said: “This is an extremely challenging time for our city and our country, and communications will play a vital role in supporting our city’s safe recovery – providing crucial public health messaging and encouraging Londoners and people from across the UK to safely enjoy all our city has to offer.”

Brown was one of three women appointed by Khan to be among his most senior advisers, along with Felicity Appleby, director for political and public affairs, and Ali Picton, director of operations.

Josh Hardie, director of corporate affairs, LetterOne

Josh Hardie, the former deputy director-general of the CBI, had announced that he’d be joining Airbus in June.
He was to replace senior vice-president Katherine Bennett, who had been appointed chief executive of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a specialist organisation developed to support UK manufacturing in the commercialisation of cutting-edge technologies.

However, Hardie had a change of heart about the role and decided to take up a job as director of corporate affairs at financial services firm LetterOne instead.

“My decision was in no way a reflection on the Airbus job, but sometimes other opportunities come along and you have to do what is right for your future," he told The Times earlier this year.

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