Profile: David Yelland, senior vice-chairman, Weber Shandwick - Murdoch's man turns to PR

David Yelland accepted UK chief executive Colin Byrne's offer to join Weber Shandwick in Covent Garden Italian eaterie Orso on the day Trinity Mirror fired his old foe Piers Morgan. It was also Yelland's birthday. As one Sun pundit famously put it: 'You couldn't make it up.'

Our interview at WS's Fox Court offices follows a number of soundings over heavyweight PR jobs. On quitting The Sun 17 months ago, News Corporation sent Yelland on Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program (AMP). Yelland says it 'changed the way I see myself' and brought the realisation that he 'wanted to work for an organisation that advises on strategy at a deep level'.

Post-AMP, Yelland came close to becoming PR chief at ITV plc and News Corp director of comms in Sydney, but resolved to be based in the UK for family reasons.

Talks took place with 'good friend' Alan Parker of Brunswick, and Burson-Marsteller chief Allan Biggar, but neither materialised into an offer.

And so Byrne got his man.

Yelland is an incisive thinker but he is not the slickest of communicators.

His points often meander; sentences tail off. His demeanour is of a man slightly perturbed, but he is earnest and always probing.

Born in Harrogate, Yelland wound up at The Sun's City desk after six years reporting in the 'provinces', and returned as editor after a six-year stint at News Corp in New York.

Despite five and a half years at the helm of Britain's biggest-selling daily, Yelland, 41, admits: 'I wasn't a natural tabloid editor. I cared too much.' He claims a prime achievement was to 'liberalise the paper in terms of tolerance to gays, non-whites and women'.

One of his biggest mistakes - and greatest PR lessons - came in 1999 when he published topless pictures of Sophie Rhys Jones with Chris Tarrant weeks before her wedding to Prince Edward: '(The Dutchess of Wessex's former boss) Brian MacLaurin absolutely took me to the cleaners. He got wind we were running the story and had that magic thing - a statement from Sophie and Edward attacking me, which very rarely happens.' Their retaliation led the news bulletins before The Sun had even published.

But Yelland's passion for business, politics - and contemporary art - always seemed at odds with the bulk of The Sun readership. 'Neither WS nor I are interested in the showbiz end of the business,' he says. 'I am a natural for what I am going to be doing, and I discovered that through the AMP.'

'I have a unique perspective on the way Britain works, having been at the nexus between Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair, one of the most important relationships in British life,' he adds.

While keen to avoid dwelling on the personal feud with Morgan, which Yelland insists is 'past', he says: 'Everything (Trinity Mirror) could have done wrong, it has. The Daily Mirror's image has been dented massively by the false picture (of British troops apparently abusing Iraqis). But Piers's sacking was a PR nightmare. Trinity has killed morale and looks indecisive and weak because it hasn't appointed an editor.'

On the quest for new business, Yelland is writing to a hit list of 100 people, 'which is pretty much like a Who's Who of Britain. And I have existing relationships with most of the key players in business and politics, which makes me of value to clients'.

Byrne wants Yelland to play an 'ambassadorial role' for WS. This includes broadcast appearances that will raise WS's profile. But some subjects, such as the euro, will be off limits: 'The days of me having great political rows on TV have gone because it is not in the interest of clients for me to do that.'

And a 'lifelong loyalty' to Murdoch means he won't work directly against his former employer's interests.

Yelland's contacts are such that he looks set to make a formidable contribution to WS. Having cut it in the cut-throat climate of Murdoch's Sun all those years, anything less would amount to failure.

RESUME

1990: City reporter, The Sun

1992: New York correspondent, The Sun

1993: Deputy business editor, New York Post

1996: Deputy editor, New York Post

1998: Editor, The Sun

2004: Senior vice-chairman,

Weber Shandwick UK & Ireland.

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