PROFILE: Toby Nicol, director of communications, BAA Stansted - Nicol builds up aviation nous

When Toby Nicol departs from easyLand in mid-May, he will be taking the easyWay out of the 'upturned orange biscuit tin' at Luton Airport.

That is the daffy name of the driveway leading to easyJet's headquarters, where he has been head of corporate affairs since 1999.

But he won't be taking the easy way professionally when he becomes director of communications for BAA at Stansted airport. His main task will be the tricky one of communicating the need for a new runway, already challenged by Essex County Council.

'Runways are emotive because they do infringe on people's houses,' he says. 'The challenge BAA faces is creating the right political and publicity environment to get approval. It's the biggest aviation PR job in the UK.

BAA also has to persuade the likes of easyJet and Ryanair to pay for it through higher landing charges.'

This is all part of the attraction for Nicol. He says: 'I was looking for a way of using my ten years of aviation knowledge and applying it in a different area.'

As we speak, Nicol, 33, likes to point out easyJet's airliners every time they taxi by on the runway. As with industries such as oil, gas and technology, aviation has plenty of scope for juggling different issues, so once people are in it, they tend to stay there.

Nicol began life in journalism, joining trade magazine Airport Business as assistant editor after completing Cardiff University's journalism training course in 1994. But he saw this as a route into other professions. His uncle, Scope Communications co-founder James Maxwell, who died last June, sparked Nicol's interest in PR.

'When I was a journalist, I realised I was on one end of companies' brand and communications strategies,' he remembers. 'I wanted to be at the centre of it, deciding what to tell, to whom and when.'

His first PR break came in September 1995, when he was hired as an account executive by then Charles Barker principals Angela Heylin and Tim Sutton.

Early the following year, he started work on the British Midland account, under divisional director James Hunt. When the latter left for Ketchum in 1998, Nicol became senior account director responsible for British Midland's consumer and corporate PR, media relations and lobbying.

In 1999, he took the PR manager's job at easyJet after an interview with Stelios (everybody at easyJet is strictly on first-name terms with its founder, jokes Nicol, because nobody can pronounce his surname, Haji-Ioannou).

So what lessons will Nicol take to his new job that can help him find a path between the many groups interested in Stansted's second runway?

He pauses. 'The thing I value most is people's advice,' he decides. 'Not enough agencies can give advice. I need people who can tell me where I've gone wrong.'

Thinking strategically is also crucial, he adds. 'I've learned a great deal from Tim Sutton and James Hunt. They had a great strategic view of what PR is intended to achieve. I've learned to establish objectives.'

Nicol also believes in being opinionated - something that may, at least in part, stem from a love for football, Manchester United in particular.

'Journalists like opinionated people and companies,' he says, and, unable to resist a jibe, adds: 'So if the sun doesn't rise in the East tomorrow, and you ask easyJet, it's British Airways's fault.'

So how will the polo shirt-wearing DIY lover with a passion for Italy's Umbria (and a dream of buying a B&B there when he retires) cope in his new job? 'I think Toby is quite flexible,' says Hunt, now managing director of international corporate communications at Hill & Knowlton's Brussels office. 'He took advantage of the easyJet structure, which allowed him room to express himself. He's very action-oriented - I'm sure that will have a great effect on BAA, particularly with the challenges it faces now.'

Airport Business publisher Paul Hogan, Nicol's former editor, says: 'He's confident in front of the cameras. More importantly, he speaks from the heart, which makes him more believable than the polished control freaks.

'Frankly, he's not a lot different in private, apart from the swearing. It's only a matter of time before he's back on screen, articulating the tricky message that we need a bigger Stansted. I only hope they make him wear a tie.'


1994: Assistant editor, Airport Business magazine

1995: Account executive, Charles Barker

1998: Senior account director, Charles Barker

1999: PR manager, easyJet

2001: Head of corporate affairs, easyJet

2004: Director of communications, BAA Stansted

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