29 under 29: The next generation

PRWeek has identified 29 young PR professionals who have already made a major impression on the industry. Here, we meet them to find out how they scaled the ranks and what their plans are for the future.

Who says youth means inexperience? The results of PRWeek's inaugural search for the industry's top ‘29 under 29' reveals a group of professionals who, in addition to their energy, all share entrepreneurship, diligence and commitment as qualities that mark them out for special attention.

Of the 29 we selected - all were aged under 29 at the time of entry - six have established and successfully built up their own agencies, and a further three have launched, or currently head, agency divisions.

Three are already heads of PR for major high-street brands, while the top 29 also contains PR managers from groups such as WM Morrison, the Financial Times, Time magazine and digital network Homechoice. PROs were invited to nominate either themselves or their colleagues by completing an entry form detailing their achievements and career progression. The final list of 29 names was decided by a judging panel comprising public affairs professor Jon White, Fuse PR MD Jay O'Connor, and PRWeek features editor Peter Crush.

White is a visiting fellow at the Henley Management College and an honorary professor of PA in the University of Birmingham's School of Business. His books include How to Understand and Manage PR, and Excellence in PR and Communications Management. O'Connor won the CIPR's Young Communicator Award in 2001 and chairs the group's Education & Training Committee.

Candidates were judged according to  three factors: the extent to which they have risen through the ranks; their proven skills in managing budgets, people and clients; and their ability to cope with situations ‘beyond their years'. PROs were also judged on how well they are contributing to the industry outside their normal 9-5 day, be this through networking, conference speaking or improving their own skills and education.

Their level of responsibility, creativity and proof of strategic thinking were also deemed important, as was evidence of individual flair, creativity and the testimonials of clients and staff.

Louise Angel, 25
Account director, Geronimo Communications
CV 2003, Geronimo; 2002, trainee account exec, Weber Shandwick

Few PR execs can boast that they started their career by preparing briefings for the prime minister, but this is exactly what Louise Angel did - for Tony Blair - while studying politics at Leeds University. Today, Angel is on a full-time secondment as a Geronimo consultant to the Office of the Children's Commissioner, as its interim associate director of communications. She is working to set up the press office, public affairs and marketing function of the new organisation.

Her board director, Laura Oliphant, says Angel ‘embraces any challenge, even those that stretch her beyond her estimations'. Angel has proved this by writing and delivering some of Geronimo's training content. She is a member of the PubAffairs network and the Jewish Association of Business Ethics groups. She is also a trustee of a small Israeli welfare foundation, and plans to spend the summer there on a volunteering sabbatical.

Drew Benvie, 28
Account director, Lewis PR
CV 2005, account director, Lewis PR; 2003, account manager, Bray Leino PR; 2001, account exec, Hotwire PR; 2000, PR exec, Acequote.com

Benvie is a self-confessed geek, but his tech interest has brought him rapid career progression and a reputation as an industry authority on blogs, podcasts and wikis. He runs a team of three and heads Lewis's recently formed blogging division. In the past six years, he has helped dotcom startup Acequote.com set up a PR function, and headed Hotwire PR's applications and services team.

Within eight months of joining Lewis, he was on its UK management committee. As well as speaking at industry events, Benvie networks at events such as Second Chance Tuesday, which brings together London's top entrepreneurs and investors. His says his formula for success is ‘passion and enthusiasm'.

Kim Blomley, 24
Issues management consultant, Shell Chemicals
CV 2006, Shell Chemicals; 2005, consultant, Precise Public Affairs; 2003, consultant, Trimedia Public Affairs

At Shell Chemicals, Blomley prepares issues management papers, conducts crisis briefings, lobbies for its interests at the European Chemical Trade Association and arranges face-to-face briefings with pressure groups - all at the tender age of 24.

Blomley's ability to win the confidence of senior leaders was evident in consultant roles at Precise Public Affairs and Trimedia Public Affairs, where he advised Scottish & Newcastle and supported British American Tobacco's press office. According to Shell's external affairs manager Rob Colmer, ‘Kim's skill in relationship-building is far beyond his years'.

Blomley is currently writing a PhD on the impact of corporate political PR on politics, and belongs to the Association of Parliamentary Political Consultants, Business in the Community and the CIPR Government Affairs Group.

Frances Browning, 28   
Head of PR, Churchill Insurance
CV 2001, Churchill Insurance

Everyone knows the car insurance firm's nodding dog, but Browning has been busy behind the scenes, ‘fundamentally changing the way it does PR', says her boss, marketing and PR director Peter Corfield. Reporting directly to the marketing function, Browning rose from a senior PRO to head of PR at Churchill in a mere 18 months, after convincing bosses to direct media relations at mainstream news journalists.

During her five years, she has developed integrated PR and ATL campaigns that have culminated in record levels of press coverage. Browning has also found time to create and implement a specialist media awareness programme for 200 insurance-field staff, as well as study for her CIPR diploma.

Thomas Bunn, 27
Managing director, Mission
CV 2002, Mission; 2001, Freud Communications

At the age of just 24, the multi-lingual Bunn bravely ditched his senior account executive position at Freud Communications to co-found consumer shop Mission with former Freud colleague Nicola Quayle. Since then, he has taken staff numbers at the New Bond Street agency into double figures, and attracted a portfolio of prestigious clients including Premier Model Management, Furlong Hotels and O2.

For the past 18 months he has been managing director. He still rolls up his sleeves for clients (including launching Art Review magazine's Power 100), but also makes time to train other PROs.

Tom Cartmale, 27
Head of PR, Oakley
CV 2006, Oakley; 2004, account director, Lexis; 2002, senior account manager, Radiator PR

At 23, Cartmale was already responsible for Nike, Radiator PR's biggest account. By 25, he looked after Barclays' £57m sponsorship of the Premier League at Lexis Public Relations. Since March, he has been head of PR for sunglasses brand Oakley UK, reporting directly to its head of marketing, Alistair Franks.

As well as his rapid career progression, his networking is also prolific: he attends CIPR and European Sponsorship Association forums, and breakfast briefings. Recently, he showcased Barclays by securing the involvement of Mensa member and comic David Baddiel in a project to find a football mastermind. The campaign saw Barclays-branded coverage in seven national newspapers. Cartmale is due to start an International Brand Management MBA.

Chris Clarke, 29
Director, Clarke Mulder Purdie
CV 2004, Clarke Mulder Purdie; 2002, global campaigns manager (corp affairs), Orange SA; 1998, Hill & Knowlton

Chris Clarke founded his own reputation management agency two years ago with ex-Hill & Knowlton colleagues Sarah Mulder and Amanda Purdie. It now has nine members of staff and a number of impressive accounts, including a thought leadership brief with Orange.

Clarke made an impression early in his career. At H&K he won the agency's Most Effective Corporate Communications Campaign of the Year award in 2002. He then moved to become global campaigns manager, corporate affairs, at Orange SA, helping to plan a rebranding campaign in the Netherlands. He says he aims to ‘raise the quality of PR in the UK and generate respect for it in the boardroom'. To this end, he has set up Hothouse, a panel of specialists who advise the agency on leading market issues. He also runs events with think-tank Spiked to debate topics such as the rise of Asian influence on business and tech.

Lawrence Collis, 28
Senior account director, Shine
CV 2002, Shine

Collis is one of Shine's brightest stars, juggling a portfolio of jobs that sees him overseeing creativity, as well as directing its Youth and Music arm, which invites students to update PROs on youth culture. Launched in 2003, the unit now has a fee income of £480,000 a year from clients including Ministry of Sound, Loaded and Vodafone.

Collis also founded the agency's web services division, Shine Online, and is one of the agency's ‘brand custodians'. He has worked on major accounts, including AOL. Most recently, he devised its plan to encourage debate about whether the internet is good or bad, sourcing essays and interviews from people such as Alastair Campbell, Piers Morgan and Will Self. This has been instrumental in AOL's ‘ATL' advertising campaign.

Zaki Cooper, 29
Director, Business for New Europe
CV 2006, Business for New Europe; 2004, office of the Chief Rabbi; 2000, public affairs manager, T-Mobile

Zaki Cooper's contacts book is an eclectic mix, following time spent in the corporate and charity sectors - and  with Business for New Europe, he is now in the campaigning sector. At T-Mobile he lobbied government on issues such as the 2003 Communications Act. As the Chief Rabbi's external relations adviser, Cooper honed his diplomatic skills, helping to manage responses to the London bombings and the tsunami disaster.

His current role sees him campaigning with business leaders and groups including the Foreign Policy Centre to articulate the positive case for reform in Europe. He has lured Charles Dunstone (CEO of Carphone Warehouse) and Martin Sorrell (WPP) to Business for Europe's advisory board.

Cooper lectures to students at Brunel and City universities, but also makes use of his PR skills in charity work with the Council of Christians and Jews.

Jo Crosby, 24
PR manager, EMEA, Time
CV 2003, Time magazine

Jo Crosby does not believe that her task is daunting. But that may be the best way to describe promotion of the world's most famous magazine - at just 24 years of age, Crosby has had a rapid rise to the top since joining as a two-week temp in 2003.

Since 2005, she has managed all of its European PR, reporting directly to the international editor. The magazine's recent flagship issues include the ‘Time 100' poll of the world's most influential people, for which the list was not finalised until two days before publication. Crosby puts her success down to ‘a lot of bloody hard work' and ‘too many sacrificed Sunday dinners' - this year she helped the Time 100 receive 70 per cent more coverage than when it was first launched in 2004.

In January 2007, she will receive her CIPR Advanced Certificate.

Gareth Davies, 27
Director, Rainier PR
CV 2003, Rainier

Rainier MD Steve Earl describes CIPR associate member Davies as ‘a pitbull with an iPod' and ‘one of his best hires to date'. Shortly after his 26th birthday, and in just five years, Davies not only rose to director level but also helped Rainier launch its consumer division, Custard PR, in 2005. He is responsible for a variety of consumer and digital media clients, including iPod:Essential, Mercury Interactive and Toshiba's Storage Device Division.

He has also demonstrated an ability to bring in high-profile clients, such as the Walt Disney Internet Group. Earl adds: ‘Gareth is a tech-head. We need people like that.'

Lucy Ellison, 26
PR manager, Financial Times
CV 2002, FT

Ellison says she ‘barely has time to breathe' on a busy news day, where one of her main responsibilities is getting FT journalists to comment on stories for international and national TV and radio stations. Key to this is her skill at ‘massaging the ego of sensitive journalists,' says Katy Hemmings, head of corporate communications at the FT.

Crunch-time is the Budget, when the FT traditionally has its biggest-selling edition of the year. This year, Ellison secured 15 broadcast interviews for FT journalists on Newsnight, Radio 4's Today programme, Sky News and even Classic FM.

Ellison began her career with the FT in 2002, joining as a PR assistant and rising to PR executive in 2003.

Andrew Escott, 26
Associate manager, APCO
CV 2001, APCO

Having decided at the age of 15 that public affairs was the career for him, Andrew Escott (a former PRWeek Young PR Professional of the Year finalist) has progressed from trainee to associate manager at APCO in under five years. Since 2005, Escott has managed the agency's Research and Intelligence Unit, and recently updated its evaluation processes. He runs high-profile accounts for clients, including corporate PR for Gate Gourmet and media relations for the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Disappointed at the lack of networking groups, he formed his own, The Health Network, which hosts think-tanks, royal societies and government and charity officials. APCO managing director Simon Miller says Escott demonstrates ‘a high work ethic and commitment to client service, allied to flair and humour.'

Samantha Fearn, 29
Managing director, Fearnhurst PR
CV 2001, Fearnhurst PR; 2001, account director, Hill & Knowlton (New York); 2000, account manager, Shandwick International; 2000, placement, Bridgehouse PR

Getting yourself noticed is important in fashion, and Fearnhurst MD Samantha Fearn attends nearly all fashion trade events, including Drapers Retail and Footwear Awards, Elle's Style gong-fest, and Marie Claire and Vogue's ‘key looks' presentations. Her work has covered everything from finding Ireland's sexiest feet for Pied à Terre to boosting footfall at London's Leadenhall Market by 20 per cent.

Since 2001, she has increased revenue and profits from existing clients by 300 per cent. Not surprisingly, she has no shortage of admirers. ‘The best PR professional I've ever worked with,' says Shoe Studio Group CEO Don McCarthy, whose brands include Pied a Terre and Nine West. ‘Aggressive, dynamic, diligent - one of the best comms specialists I've worked with,' agrees Peter Middleton, director of Sharp International.

Barney Hooper, 27
PR and events manager, Homechoice
CV 2004, Homechoice; 2003, liaison officer, Music Matrix; 2000, management consultant, Accenture

The former Accenture management consultant admits that when he saw the ‘bright lights of PR', he ‘escaped' to join Fleming Media in South Africa - to help to raise the profile of Aids through the 46664 brand (named after Nelson Mandela's prison number). But his role at TV network Homechoice is his first dedicated PR role, where his brief is to help the marketing director build the consumer brand. Hooper is already revealing his creative side. He recently attracted 150 journalists to a pub quiz hosted by ex-Bullseye presenter Jim Bowen, and worked with Henry's House to host a celebrity kids' party, where Liam Gallagher was among the attendees.

Hooper, a regular attendee at media-related select committees, is refreshingly honest. ‘I don't have any additional qualifications; I've learned everything by continually asking questions of those I work with,' he says.

Ben Howes, 28
PR manager, Morrisons
CV 2006, Morrisons; 2004, PR consultant, Ptarmigan; 2003, account manager, Touch PR; 2002, freelance journalist; 2001, marketing exec, Super League (Europe)

Since December 2004, Howes has been responsible for the PR budget and activities of 370-plus stores under the Morrisons umbrella - including designing the comms strategy for the Safeway-to-Morrisons conversion programme in 2005. Day-to-day work includes anything from arranging sponsorship activities (it supports the Scottish national football team) to internal comms and charity partnerships. He also handles campaigns, such as the launch of BioEthanol fuel.

He cites persuading store managers to play Mozart through the Tannoy on the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth - and the £1m raised by Morrisons for Breast Cancer Care - as major achievements.

Positive coverage has increased seven-fold in the past year. ‘Howes is diligent, with a keen nose for news,' says PR director Gillian Hall.

Katie Jamieson, 27
Account director and office head, Lewis PR (Manchester)
CV 2006, head of Lewis, Manchester; 2003, Lewis PR (London); 2002, media relations exec, PR Newswire

After three years with Lewis in London, rising from account exec to director, Jamieson soon set her sights on senior management at Lewis Manchester. Since March, this wish has been granted. Jamieson now heads the three-strong office - with revenues of £350,000 - and was responsible for the agency's first legal client, Dickinson Dees.

She recently won two European accounts: Iron Mountain Digital and Pillar Data Systems. Keen to get the agency on the map, Jamieson networks at ConnectMedia and Thirsty Thursday, which is aimed at professional females.

Lewis UK general manager Kath Pooley (PRWeek's Young PR Professional of the Year 2004) praises ‘her no-nonsense, down-to-earth, results-oriented approach', adding: ‘Clients and team members flourish under her leadership.'

Enda Joyce, 28
Senior consultant, Media Strategy
CV 2005, Media Strategy; 2001, comms officer, Westminster City Council; 1999, campaigns unit, Conservative Central Office

After winning the contract at 10am on a Friday morning, Joyce got a story about Barts hospital on the front page of The Times the following Monday. It is impressive results such as this that have given the ex-Westminster City Council comms officer - and former campaign leader for Conservative Central Office - such a reputation. Joyce was the youngest member of the CIPR Local Government national committee from 2003-2005, and with youth comes boldness. In a bid to encourage telecoms firms to bar the numbers that prostitutes use on their calling cards, he had 20,000 mock cards printed - with the names and phone numbers of the chief executives of non-barring telcos. NTL and Telewest subsequently agreed to block prostitutes' numbers.

Joyce holds a CIM postgraduate diploma in marketing, and has been shortlisted for the 2006 CIPR Young Communicator of the Year Award.

Naimh Mac Mahon, 26
Head of public affairs (interim), General Social Care Council (GSCC)
CV 2003, GSCC; 2001, comms assistant, University of Sussex

‘I believe I am one of the future leaders of the PR industry and business community,' says a confident Mac Mahon, who manages seven people with a comms budget of £500,000. She could well be right. Her role is one that requires exceptional command.

Managing press interest at the hearing of a social worker accused of moonlighting as an escort, she faced added pressure when the hearing went into a private session. ‘Journalists were very angry and there was the risk they would take it out on the GSCC,' she recalls. But Mac Mahon remained calm, reminded them that the possibility of a private session was mentioned in the original press release, and spent three days telephoning and emailing them to keep them up to date. None of the coverage showed the GSCC in a bad light.

‘Every so often someone comes along who screams talent at interview. Naimh is such a person,' says Mark Oakes, director of corporate comms at the GSCC.

Julian Mears, 27
Media comms manager, Britvic
CV 2004, Britvic; 2003, media manager, Highways Agency; 2002, media manager, HSBC; 2000, account manager, BMB Group

Few 27-year-olds are responsible for overall media communications at a plc, and even fewer are business-savvy and confident enough to lecture on PR overseas. But this is all in a day's work for Julian Mears, who since 2004 has been responsible for corporate and brand comms for brands such as Pepsi, Tango, J20 and R Whites.

Previously at HSBC and the Highways Agency, it is at Britvic where Mears's PR skills have been at their sharpest - media interest in obesity has been unabated. Mears was responsible for the recent listing of Britvic on the London Stock Exchange, and successfully dealt with a Sun exposé on potentially dangerous ‘exploding' Tango cans last summer.

He has been invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce, and judges the PRCA Frontline awards.

Julia Mitchell, 29
Director, Toast PR
CV 2004, director, Toast; 2001, PR manager, Boots; 1999, marketing graduate, Boots

Entrepreneurship is in Julia Mitchell's blood. She launched her own magazine, Silver Star Club, at the age of ten and sold ad space to local shops. More recently, in 2004, after a 12-week business course, she set up her own B2B and consumer agency, Toast PR. It is the culmination of six years' PR and marketing experience with Boots, where she handled its 3for2 strategy and PR for the store's first ‘detox' campaign in 2001.

Toast clients include discount retailer underfivepounds.com. She holds a business degree from Warwick Business School, and Mitchell's ultimate aim is to ‘become an ambassador for the industry - lecturing, speaking and writing books'.

Michelle Noschese, 29
Account director, Radiator PR
CV 2003, Radiator, 2000; account exec, The London PR Company; 1998, press officer, Brake Brothers

She may have launched the new face of Wonderbra, but Noschese says managing a team of eight at Radiator PR is one of the most satisfying elements of her job. Noschese studied for her CIPR diploma while at Brake Brothers, and her dedication has not gone unnoticed by her boss, joint MD Gaby Jesson, who says: ‘Her passion and ideas have helped the agency derive much deeper relationships with clients.'

These include global sports and lifestyle brands Nike, Timberland and Billabong - all have benefited from Michelle's hard work, creativity and daring. For Nike's successful Dance Spring 06 campaign, for example, she learned how to dance, with a Daily Telegraph journalist. ‘I love what I do,' she enthuses.

Nita Shah, 29
Director, Shahrp PR
CV 2004, Shahrp PR; 2002, corporate affairs manager, Henderson Global Investors; 1999, account exec, Citigate Dewe Rogerson

‘I wake up and can't wait to see what the day will bring,' says Nita Shah, who at the age of 27 set up her own PR firm, Shahrp, having earned her stripes at Citigate Dewe Rogerson and Henderson Global Investors. Clients range from estate agency Petermans to the Indian Wedding Exhibition 2006, which she helped position as a two-day extravaganza, attracting media and more than 9,000 visitors.

Shah is a furious networker, attending CIPR Corporate & Financial and Diversity Committees, and other client-building events. As one of the few Indian PROs in the UK, she says she is ‘pleased to be part of the profession's move away from its predominantly white, middle-class roots'.

Susanna Simpson, 28
Founder and MD of Limelight PR
CV 2002, Limelight PR; 2000, account manager, Eulogy; 1999, PR exec, Clockwork Marketing Company

Determination and boundless enthusiasm are just two of the qualities that clients attribute to Susanna Simpson, who was PRWeek's Young PR Professional of the Year 2003. After remortgaging her home, Simpson set up her own agency, Limelight PR, at 24.

Despite three clients reneging on assurances of giving her work on her first day, she has not only survived, but prospered, currently boasting 16 retained clients and eight staff. She has just set up a target of recruiting one ‘cold-called' client a month, and with fee income growth this year at 45 per cent, Simpson's next target is to increase turnover to £2.5m within five years.

She is a past finalist in the London Chambers of Commerce Young Business Person of the Year 2002 and Orange Female Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

Neil Spring, 25
Account manager, Edelman
CV 2003, Edelman

‘A driving force not afraid to challenge or change' is how Edelman account manager Neil Spring is described by boss James Lundie. The public affairs specialist has not shunned accountability. Declaring himself ambitious for ‘higher levels of responsibility', Spring now manages three of Edelman's largest accounts: Microsoft, PepsiCo and T-Systems. He also organises new-business events, most recently inviting Times columnist Matthew Parris to attend a breakfast seminar. To build contacts, the Oxford graduate founded his own networking organisation, Village Drinks, which attracts more than 400 gay professionals to its monthly events.

In recognition of his achievements, Edelman is rewarding Spring with a training placement at its Washington DC office later this year.

James Taylor, 28
Corporate press relations manager, Experian
CV 2006, Experian; 2002, Bite Communications; 2000, account assistant, Nelson Bostock

Two months ago, Taylor left the busy world of technology PR at Bite Communications to join data provider Experian, but according to his new boss, PA director Peter Brooker, he has already shown himself to be ‘resourceful, direct and prepared to challenge the status quo'. During his time at Bite, Taylor was the company's Account Executive of the Year 2003, and ran high-profile campaigns for BT, Sun Microsystems and Gartner. He also brought in new business (Samsung and BT) and helped develop the firm's graduate training scheme.

One of his most successful campaigns at Bite was ‘Cornwall Business Week' for the Cornish Economic Investment Agency, for which he persuaded the BBC to broadcast from the region.

His task at Experian is to build its reputation among the people who matter. Taylor says he will draw on his experience of advising several senior business figures, including former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Edward George.

Caitlin West, 27
Senior consultant, Regester Larkin
CV 2001, Regester Larkin

After one week's work experience at Regester Larkin, the Cardiff University School of Journalism graduate was offered a job, and by 26 became its youngest senior consultant. West now provides strategic advice during high-profile crises for firms such as Shell, BT and McDonald's. Her workshops take her to Venezuela and Colombia, but when she is not abroad West manages the agency's Thursday Club networking event, bringing in speakers such as journalist Kate Adie. Recently, she played a key international expansion role, setting up a relationship with Brussels-based Interel.

West lectures at her former college, and helps the Centre for Risk Management develop industry and academic events. ‘Few 27-year-olds have advised multinationals on sensitive subjects at such a senior level,' says director Mike Regester.

Liz Williams, 24
Account manager, Threepipe Comms
CV 2005, Threepipe; 2004, account manager, Firefly; 2003, account exec, Kaizo; 2001, marketing assistant, 3M

Success often rewards risk-takers, and having etched her career in the world of tech PR, Williams took the brave decision to try something different and join sports sponsorship agency Threepipe in 2005. Director Jim Hawker is already impressed, saying Williams shows a maturity beyond her years. Her new role sees her dealing with sports celebrities, a skill she honed  while handling Motorola at Firefly.

She recently managed to persuade Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver and Gorillaz to support new dyslexic charity Xtraordinary People.

Williams, who counts winning the Google account as one of her top professional achievements, belongs to several private members' clubs. ‘I want to push myself beyond the realm of PR,' she explains.

James Wright, 27
Executive director, Harrison Cowley
CV 2003, Harrison Cowley

‘I'd climb mountains for my clients,' says Wright. And he has done - scaling the Himalayas as part of a BT effort to raise money for Childline. Wright was Harrison Cowley's youngest executive director, and the telco was the agency's biggest client. His powers of persuasion were tested to the full in 2003, when he directed the project that turned London's BT Tower red for Red Nose Day. The project required the approval of nine organisations, including two councils and the Civil Aviation Authority. It was shown live on the BBC's Six O'Clock News, and was the subject of a documentary.

HC board director Sally Habergham says she has worked with some talented individuals, ‘but James surpasses them all'.

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