EDITORIAL: Onus is on Sutton to avoid IPC conflict

You can imagine the tension in the air as Weber Shandwick's UK chief executive Colin Byrne and the agency's European boss Lutz Meyer were told that a new tier of management was being imposed between them and the global chief exec Harris Diamond in New York.

Former BSMG Worldwide chairman Tim Sutton, it was confirmed this week, is to be European chairman of Interpublic's Constituency Management Group.

This is the division of IPG that encompasses PR firms WS and Golin/Harris, as well as FutureBrand and live events group Jack Morton Worldwide. Globally, this business turns over $650m, $140m in Europe.

But the return of Sutton to active service in the public relations business raises concerns beyond the confines of Fox Court - and in any case, Byrne and Meyer have been assured they will continue to report to Diamond.

Since leaving WS two-and-a-half years ago, Sutton has spent much of the intervening spell running Orpheus Group, an investment vehicle that has yet to invest in anything but that is still ostensibly on the prowl for PR sector acquisition targets in Europe. Somewhat disconcertingly, Sutton is still financially involved, albeit in what he terms a 'passive' way.

Diamond is happy to address the issue of how far the PR business has learnt to manage potential conflicts of interest, but he is robust in his insistence that there is no conflict here. The management of WS - and of IPG - credit Sutton with having disclosed his ongoing interest in Orpheus at an early stage, and see his recent close quarters work in the European market less as a reputational risk and more as a business intelligence advantage.

It is - of course - both, and it's worth stating that if there are managers on the international PR scene more capable of overcoming the potential here for conflict, it is hard to imagine who they may be. But with Orpheus 'looking at investment opportunities in many sectors including public relations' around Europe and IPG and WS still keen to grow business in that neighbourhood, the onus is on Sutton to prove the claim he makes this week that he knows what side his bread is buttered.

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