Simon Quarendon projects the kind of blokeish charm consistent with his rugby background. And although he has given up county-level playing to coach his four sons at weekends, the next secretary-general of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is full of energy and ideas.
The 46-year-old is affable and straightforward. A business studies graduate from Kingston Polytechnic, he began in PR at Good Relations in 1982, followed by Valin Pollen, then still the PR division of BMP. At Good Relations, he learned an important lesson from an editorial competition for client Atco lawnmowers. After receiving a faxed cutting, the client phoned Quarendon enraged. Why? 'Because the headline read "Spoil your lawn with an Atco lawnmower",' he laughs, saying he had not realised his headline had a double meaning, but that it taught him to be careful over words, and influenced the name for his first specialist agency, Words Etc, in 1991.
At Words, Quarendon joined the PRCA - a member of ICCO (which represents the industry internationally through 24 member states' trade associations).
He became active in the PRCA on its best practice committee and later as chairman of the international committee.
A stint as UK managing director of the tech practice at Ogilvy PR Worldwide followed in March 2000. 'I learnt an awful lot,' he says. 'Within the WPP Group, there are a lot of systems and procedures to do with cash-flow, reporting and time-recording - fantastic stuff a lot of agencies would do well to learn.'
He took part in international pitches and developed an extranet for Dell with Ogilvy's EMEA managing director Rob Shimmin. Quarendon became interested in extranets, allowing clients access to agencies' internal networks so they could see the progress of work done for them, at Words.
Despite having replaced the lost IBM business - Big Blue stripped Ogilvy of its £1m PR account in early 2001 - with Dell, EDS Consulting and BT, Quarendon left that December. After the dotcom bubble burst, he says of senior management, 'there was a definite shift in attitude towards technology'.
'We'd been very successful in implementing extranets and using them to win business. I felt the agency could be doing more to use that technology,' he adds.
His passion for efficiency through technology found an outlet at Pembridge Business Services. This division of The Pembridge Partnership was established to advise PR agencies on outsourcing business such as accounting and IT.
Then, in late 2002, Quarendon founded the Lean Agency, to help clients improve returns on investment in PR through technology or by consolidating suppliers.
His experience brings him to ICCO - which acts as a discussion forum for ideas and best practice and aims for consistent standards - with bags of ideas. 'ICCO has the potential to be this massive clearing house of intelligence and expertise,' says Quarendon. 'But we've got to use the internet more aggressively and transfer knowledge. Services that are probably of low importance in western countries may be of enormous importance and value to emerging countries. Let's decant that knowledge into the clearing house and let these other guys develop it.'
He also wants to help ICCO members prepare for an economic rebound, with national associations given 'real teeth', ensuring clients see agencies' membership as a 'quality kite-mark', and agreement on common standards for judging PR's impact.
'If we're not careful, and only meet once a quarter, we can lose momentum,' he adds. 'I see part of my role as ensuring that if we agree to something, we see it through.' He aims to put this into practice after the ICCO summit in Berlin in October. 'We've got to find a way of ensuring that people who didn't attend can pick up some of that learning. We've got to give it a longer shelf-life.'
GCI Europe chairman Adrian Wheeler, who sat with Quarendon on the PRCA's management board from 1999 to 2000, says of his friend: 'He has an original mind and is very brave. The logistics of running an organisation like the ICCO would make most quail. Not him. Once he knows he has a good idea, he goes full-on after it.'
Shimmin says: 'We very often pitch, talk about transition to new networks and the complexities of moving messages. Simon has a really good grasp of the art of the possible in implementation across Europe.
'There are some new models for how to run PR that can produce great savings, but if you cut too much fat, you lose some of the human element of the work and its quality goes down. He knows that too. He's an enormously sociable, likeable guy, which is another important skill set for a secretary-general of ICCO.'
1984: Account manager, Valin Pollen
1991: Founder, Words Etc
2000: UK tech MD, Ogilvy PR
2002: Founder, Lean Agency
2003: Secretary-general, ICCO