Profile: Tory hack bounces back - Nick Wood, managing director, Media Intelligence Partners

Nick Wood is starting anew. Iain Duncan Smith's former press aide is freshly married, is attempting to quit smoking and has just launched his own PR consultancy, Media Intelligence Partners.

A break from the Conservatives is absolutely not on the cards for this die-hard Thatcherite, though; Wood, axed by Michael Howard last autumn, is already representing an IDS-backed think-tank and advising selected Tory parliamentary candidates on PR in the run-up to the next election.

Wood, who held senior political roles at The Times and Daily Express during a 20-year journalistic career, served under both IDS and William Hague during one of the most inter- necine periods in Tory history.

Wood, 54 this week, doesn't seem unduly scarred. His respect for IDS, a guest at Wood's wedding last month to Daily Mail diarist Katherine Bergen, is reciprocated by the former party leader, who says: 'No one knows more about how print journalism is put together than Nick Wood. '

He adds that Wood - 'a 24-hour-a-day man, I could call him at midnight, at 4am and he'd be available' - possesses terrific ability to 'look at a speech or statement, know what the headline would be and strike a red line through bits.'

Wood has set up MIP with former Central Office staffer Penny Mordaunt and Nick Longworth, the broadcast PR specialist also axed in the PRO cull that ended Wood's five-plus years running Tory media operations.

After an education at grammar school in Kent and Warwick University, Wood's first break was 'swinging a job' as a reporter on medical title Pulse, on which he was later deputy editor.

He joined the ill-fated Times Health Supplement before 'bailing out' on to the Times Educational Supplement. His second big break was, he says, joining the Daily Express in the early 1980s.

He is full of anecdotes from those years, quoting a story from the autumn of 1992, when he was with then-PM John Major in Cairo.

He remembers Major's press aide Gus O'Donnell (now permanent secretary at the Treasury) being 'buttonholed' to comment on rumours Major would call a snap election if he lost a vote on Europe.

'We (hacks in Cairo) were very pleased with ourselves on the plane back but we were worried (the story) would fall down like a pack of cards.

We took a real punt on it. Major won the vote in the end,' he recalls.

Turning to his PR career, he says: 'One huge advantage as a PR man who has been a journalist is that you intuitively understand what they are up to. There's always a hidden agenda.'

Given this, what does he make of the New Labour-inspired PR techniques developed to better ensure politicians avoid straying off-message?

'Well, you have to hand it to Labour,' he says, grudgingly. 'But it's possible to be on-message without being a robot.'

When asked to name his all-time spinners' dream-team, he name-checks Tory grandees such as Lord Bell and Bernard Ingham ('in terms of handling the lobby, Ingham was the best'). But things have changed since Ingham's days in Number 10. Wood says: 'People don't feel there are big, exciting political issues any more. Life is more focused on entertainment.'

As to his own distractions, Wood shares a season ticket with IDS and fellow Tory Mike Penning at Tottenham Hotspur (they have two seats between the three of them). He also plays golf off a handicap of 18.

How does he assess the state of his former employer? 'What the Conservative Party has failed to do is what Margaret Thatcher did - articulate what sort of Britain she wanted to create, he says.

As to how the party should best promote itself, given the looming election, Wood replies somewhat wryly: 'Advertising is expensive. Get media relations right and it's free advertising, isn't it?'

The consensus is that it's a shame Wood is no longer at the helm of the Tory war-room to test the theory.

HIGHLIGHTS

1978: Deputy editor, Pulse magazine

1986: Chief political correspondent, The Times

1996: Political editor, Daily Express

1998: Media director,Conservative Party

2004: Managing director, Media Intelligence Partners.

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