PROFILE: Chris Genasi, Eloqui PR - Genasi maps out his strategy as IPR head

IPR president-elect Chris Genasi wants more recognition for showbiz PROs

With his sensible suit, dark tie and sober haircut, Chris Genasi has the air of a friendly accountant. Yet, the new president-elect of the Institute of Public Relations has an eye to the bright lights and believes the organisation has failed to reach out to the people who help keep Heat readers titillated week after week.

PROs in TV, film, fashion and music are under-represented by the IPR and that needs to change, he says.

'There is a bit of snobbery in our industry,' states Genasi. 'Corporate and financial PR or public affairs people perhaps look down their noses a bit at showbiz PROs. That's totally bonkers.

'Our industry is really diverse, and all those people are building brands and trust and making a great commercial difference. You might say it's ephemeral, or fluff, or whatever you want to call it. But they're doing great business. Their work is just as legitimate, just as impressive.'

This may not sound particularly revolutionary. But his attitude appears to contrast strongly with that of John Aspery, the self-confessedly 'old school' current IPR president. Genasi will not actually take over that role until 2005, but is now locked into a sort of IPR leadership apprenticeship scheme, where he will act as deputy to Professor Anne Gregory next year.

Genasi's election was unopposed, and he seems a bit miffed about this: 'I was really disappointed. It's nice to win.' Perhaps other activity will compensate Genasi for the lack of opportunity to prove himself on the hustings.

He has pledged to publish the first-ever CSR review of the PR industry in 2005. 'We want the industry to think about the impact it has on society,' he says. 'Public trust in PR is not high.'

And there is another, perennial problem for all presidents-elect: attracting busy people to the top echelons of the IPR continues to prove a struggle.

Genasi believes that the body's structure holds an inherent problem. 'To make the IPR work for you, you have to get involved in committees. That is offputting. The IPR needs to make it easier to get involved, because a lot of people pay their membership subscription and then don't really do much.'

Genasi, who was global strategy director for Weber Shandwick until this year, has been active in the IPR for years. Best known for his work on the institute's evaluation toolkit, now in its third edition, he remains positively evangelical about the merits of measurement. 'There should be standards, so we can develop a language that clients would understand,' he says.

Meanwhile, it is not as though his day job as CEO of start-up Eloqui, which has recently won the corporate PR brief for General Electric in the UK (PRWeek, 2 May), leaves him with a great deal of time. Yet, he has a refreshingly blunt approach to the question of why people should put themselves out for the IPR.

'There is a lot of worthy talk about joining for the sake of personal development and doing your bit for the industry,' he begins. 'But there are also the benefits of networking, raising your profile, business referral - there are thousands of pounds worth of income I wouldn't have got if I hadn't been a member. People are nervous about being so blatant about the commercial benefits, but I think we need to talk about it more.'

Financial Dynamics head of issues management Jon Aarons was once beaten to a job at what was then Wellbeck by Genasi and was IPR president in 2002. Aarons says: 'Chris is easy to under-estimate. Outwardly, he doesn't come across as a big bon viveur or one of the great characters we're used to in the industry. But he has a very sharp brain and is one of the more thoughtful people in the industry.'

Genasi comes from a family of entrepreneurs - his paternal grandparents moved to Scotland from Corsica to run an ice cream cafe - and this persuaded him to set up on his own this year. He plumped for the name Eloqui after leafing through his son's Latin book, but Mouth, Hullaballoo and Legend had all been considered. He now admits the latter sounds more like a dodgy nightclub, yet, along with his determination to get more showbiz PROs into the IPR, this perhaps masks an unconscious desire for more glitz in his professional life.

'I'd like to manage a high-profile person,' he says. 'To see their profile and earnings grow would be quite rewarding.' It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is more to Genasi than meets the eye.

HIGHLIGHTS

1984: senior press officer, British Safety Council

1986: Associate director, Countrywide Porter Novelli

1995: CEO of European corporate practice, Weber Shandwick

2001: New York-based global director of strategy, Weber Shandwick

2003: CEO and founder, Eloqui PR

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