Profile: Paul Abrahams, UK MD, Waggener Edstrom

MASTER STORYTELLER: 'It must be difficult interviewing ­people who make a career out of spinning the media,' observes Paul Abrahams. Not that he appears to be spinning much during our interview.

Waggener Edstrom's UK MD is an affable, schoolboyish-looking 44-year-old; his earnest but gentle manner belying a fierce intellect.

A former hack, Abrahams was the first-ever Financial Times journalist to be entered for a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for an article on Chiune Sugihara, the ‘Japanese Schindler,' a diplomat who saved 10,000 Jews.

Abrahams joined Wag-Ed three years ago, at the San Francisco office. He had been living there since 2000, working as bureau chief for the FT, where he toiled for 15 years before making the switch to PR.

‘I was on the verge of being insti­tutionalised,' he says of his decision to leave the Pink 'Un after so long. ‘I wondered if I would be employable anywhere else and I needed a new ­challenge.'

Founded in Seattle in 1983, Wag-Ed is a $91m (£48m) independent business with 15 offices across the US,  Europe and Asia. It offers the whole gamut of PR services, with growth strongest in public affairs, bio-science and healthcare.The London office Abrahams oversees has grown from eight staff in 2003 to 53, with revenues of £3.1m. Abrahams leads global contracts with Glaxo SmithKlein's vaccine arm and Microsoft. 

Yet, despite these credentials, Wag-Ed - in the UK at least - is something of an enigma. One of Abraham's challenges is to strengthen the agency's brand and profile. ‘I think the industry here is at an interesting point', he muses. ‘It is still very much relationship-based, but is becoming more professional and strategic in its approach to the business. We see ourselves as a driver of that development.'

Former FT colleagues say they were not surprised by his career change. ‘I think he's perfect for it,' says Jane Fuller, who worked at the FT for 18 years, first coming across Abrahams when he was a graduate.

‘He's very charming yet stupendously clever and has an excellent grasp of business issues.'

The attraction of PR was also an intellectual one for Abrahams, who has a history PhD from Cambridge. ‘I've always been interested in the way companies present themselves,' he explains, carefully.

He applies an equally considered approach when describing his passion for his main hobby, fencing: ‘It's a tactical, intellectual game, like chess, where you are trying to out-manoeuvre someone.'

On living abroad (he lived in France during his student years and worked in Japan and the US, for the FT), he says: ‘All cultures have visions of themselves, master narratives if you like, and it is very interesting to look at how they are constructed,' he says.

This philosophy has underpinned Abrahams' work developing Wag-Ed's trademarked ‘Innovations Communications' methodology. This, in a nutshell, is a system of creating stories that are compelling to journalists and ­contain a strong underlying PR message. ‘Lots of PROs have great ability to [convey the story] but when you ask them how they manage it, they can't explain,' Abrahams says. ‘We just took literary-theory concepts about what makes a great story and applied them to PR. The system means that everyone in our organisation is able to ring up journalists with a story and those journalists are going to find it interesting.'

Abrahams decided to relocate to the UK so that his 80 year-old parents and two children (six and eight) could see more of each other.

Though Abrahams enjoys being back in the city in which he grew up, his only complaint is the amount of travel he is still required to do.

In his spare time he enjoys the cinema - not the art-house flicks one might expect, but Hollywood blockbusters -Superman Returns is especially eagerly anticipated.

‘I do find myself analysing the story structure and the way it's being told,' he laughs, only half-joking.


CV

2004 - UK MD, Waggener Edstrom

2003 - director, account strategies, Waggener Edstrom

2000 - San Francisco Bureau Chief, FT

1997 - Tokyo Bureau Chief, FT

1991 - Pharmaceutical correspondent, FT

1988 -Technology Correspondent, FT

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