Profile: Simon Dornan, head of consumer PR, Virgin Mobile

In 1979, at the age of 16, Simon Dornan was a White Man in Hammersmith Palais, falling in love with The Clash, as the punk icons played their London Calling tour. Twenty years ­later, via his role as Virgin Mega­store PR and events manager, Dornan met lead singer Joe Strummer. No wonder he is a fan of the Virgin brand.

For the past 14 years - except for a six-month stint this summer as marketing promotions and events manager for T-Mobile - Dornan has held various positions across the Virgin Group, recently landing his current role as Virgin Mobile head of consumer PR (PRWeek, 10 November).

Dornan is charged, alongside Virgin Mobile head of media relations Jo Baker, with ‘keeping the mobile brand alive'. This is an interesting task as it is now linked with one of the UK's most unpopular brands - NTL (the City press have claimed the brand is in great need of a boost). ‘There's a lot of work to do with NTL, but being associated with the company is not a death knell. Telewest has maintained its reputation for good service,' insists Dornan.

NTL took over rival Telewest for £3.4bn in 2005. Earlier this year, the merged company bought Virgin Mobile for £962m and will, as of February 2007, become Virgin Media. It is against this complicated backdrop of change, and NTL's mooted £5bn pursuit of ITV, that Dornan now operates.

‘There are a lot of NTL detractors who remember "NT Hell". But the business has turned around in the past two years and will benefit from Virgin's trusted brand status,' says Dornan.

NTL is to wait until next year before it undergoes its rebrand, ­because, he says, the company wants to ensure it does not make the same mistake as Virgin Trains, which he says suffered from unrealistic customer expectations.

Dornan says the aim  for Virgin Mobile will be to maintain the sexy image it has developed since it launched ­seven years ago.

‘Virgin Mobile is a shining light that leads the way among mobile brands. We were the first to sponsor a music festival and the first to run our own. Everyone is doing that now,' he says.

Dornan's first experience of Sir Richard Branson's brand was working as a manager at Virgin Megastore. He applied for an internal PR and events manager job in 1996, and was given the job despite not actually talking about PR during his interview.

‘They said not to worry; we'd cross that bridge when we got to it,' Dornan recalls. ‘I think I was initially viewed as a bit of an "oik".'

His PR skills were soon put to the test, when a Virgin Megastore Christmas poster of a scantily clad woman in the pose of the biblical Madonna created a holiday season furore.

‘I thought it was just a nice image,' he says, ‘but members of the clergy disagreed. I had to argue against a bishop on a northern radio station that the ­image reminded people what Christmas was really about'.

Dornan learned his trade on the job, and cites as his role models Mike Mathieson and Mark Borkowski, Cake and Borkowski PR founders respectively, which Virgin used for its consumer PR. Dornan moved on from the Mega­stores to become campaign manager at Virgin Unite, Virgin's charitable arm, before joining T-Mobile in April this year.

Travelling to, and from, the German company's head office meant that Dornan saw little of his two young daughters. So when he learned that Virgin Mobile's previous consumer head Alison Bonny wanted to leave (PRWeek, 22 September), he courted the role.

Dornan and his wife are good friends with Bonny - she performed a reading at their wedding. Dornan's children ­currently have control of his car stereo, to his chagrin. ‘You can take only so many songs from the Disney Princesses,' he jokes.

Music will never be far away from Dornan at Virgin Mobile. The centrepiece of his year is set to be the V festival.

‘Music is where it [Virgin] all began,' says Dornan. ‘We have a great history.'It seems he is relieved to be back in the Virgin fold.

CV - Simon Dornan

2006 -
 Head of consumer PR, Virgin Mobile

2006 - Marketing promotions and events manager, T-Mobile

2005 - Campaign manager, Virgin Unite

1996 - PR and events manager, Virgin Megastore

1992 - Manager, Virgin Megastore Coventry

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