Profile: Big Apple to Orange - Scott Jacobson, PR director, Orange

Orange, the home-grown mobile phone brand that told us 'the future's bright', has turned to an ex-Coca Cola director from New York to lead group PR.

As marketing communications director, Scott Jacobson helped launch Coke's Dasani bottled water brand in the US, five years prior to its fiasco-riddled UK entry. But after his first month at Orange, he struggles to describe how he will direct PR to differentiate the firm from equally trendy rivals such as O2.

'The challenge is to keep the focus on the brand, to emphasise the brand and what it stands for,' he says before quietly apologising. 'I know I haven't expressed that very well.' Jacobson, 43, belies the brashness associated with New Yorkers. His flat drawl is punctuated by plenty of y'know?s - signalling a constant search for affirmation.

With more than 14 million UK subscribers, Orange, nowadays the biggest mobile phone operator by customer numbers, has been criticised for losing much of the alternative, almost new-age appeal it had when it launched back in 1994.

Having been acquired by state-owned company France Telecom in 2000, Orange is now part of an international corporation. FT hopes to use the brand's leverage for the launch of TV-over-broadband in the UK next year. The Orange name will also swallow FT's Wanadoo marque, previously the highly successful ISP Freeserve.

Prior to joining Orange last month, Jacobson worked at Pretium Consulting in Atlanta, a firm he co-founded with former Ketchum colleague Jeffrey Peebles. He says Orange staff should expect Jacobson to be 'very strategic'. He points to their work on the 'Be Sensible' campaign for Cingular Wireless in 2000 as an example of where 'Scott brought discipline to the whole process'.

Jacobson entered the industry after a stint at department store Bloomingdale's while studying for a psychology major. He failed to get the grades he needed so went full-time at the New York outlet, selling and promoting the store's Aramis brand.

From there he joined Golin/Harris in New York where, among other things, he promoted Swiss Army knives before joining Ketchum in 1992. Jacobson says that devoid of formal PR training, he relied on advice from industry veterans.

His only UK experience was in 1997 when he spent four months on secondment from Coke with UK comms chief Louise Terry. She says he quickly grasped the 'quintessentially English' project of Fanta's sponsorship of that year's Blackpool Illuminations.

Terry describes Jacobson's appointment as a 'shrewd move' by Orange, pointing out that his strength is in 'negotiating his way through the corporate jungle with charm rather than ruthlessness'.

Jacobson has a team of 11 PROs - eight in the UK and three at group level. But most brand direction is led by brand marketing director Pippa Dunn, and Paris and London-based V-P of external comms Marie-Christine Rouland, both to whom he reports.

Jacobson even admits that he does not expect to get too involved in day-to-day media relations. 'I see myself like the conductor of an orchestra who doesn't get involved in the playing but keeps the orchestra going,' he says.

Orange is particularly sensitive to media interest in its relationship with its French parent. Jacobson half acknowledges this in saying that the name of the game will be brand, rather than corporate, communications.

But some might query whether his largely US experience can cross the Atlantic effectively enough for a brand like Orange.

Jacobson is characteristically vague on this point but comes closest to answering it when talking about the UK launch of Dasani last year: 'Coke was guilty of bringing an American-Atlanta bias to certain situations.

If people in Britain and Europe had greater input it might have turned out better.'

Jacobson may not be the greatest talker, but he is a unifier. Perhaps that is just what Orange needs.

CV 1991: Senior account manager, Golin/Harris Communications (New York) 1992: Account supervisor, Ketchum (New York/Atlanta) 1995: US PR manager, then global sports comms manager and marketing comms director, Coca-Cola (Atlanta) 2001: Account director, then director of brand marketing, Ketchum (Atlanta) 2003: Co-founder, Pretium Consulting 2005: PR director, Orange (London)

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