PROFILE: Jennifer Garratt, incoming MD, Burson-Marsteller healthcare practice

Jennifer Garratt took a long time to realise that she did not want to be a scientist. Next month the Manning, Selvage & Lee director will become the managing director and chair of Burson-Marsteller's healthcare practice - but rewind a decade or two and she was happiest in a lab coat, poring over experiments on the central nervous system.

After protracted studies (first-class BSc in pharmacology at Leeds University, PhD at Nottingham, post-doctoral fellowship at Yale), Garratt became a scientist at pharma group Wyeth.

Her move into PR came quite gradually. From Wyeth she moved to pharma and biotech database specialist Current Drugs, where she started editing journals. She had begun to realise that communicating with scien­tists, rather than simply being one herself, was what she wanted to do. ‘I had been to marketing meetings and saw a different side to it,’ she says. ‘But it was a steep learning curve.’

By the time she reached Avenue HKM, via medical comms shop Blackwell Healthcare Communications (which merged with another agency, Bullet, to form Avenue in 1999), Garratt says she had found her feet.

While her academic skills are direct­ly relevant to her work, laboratory ­science is very different to comms. ‘It took me a long time to learn not to go chasing that small fact in the haystack,’ she says with a self-deprecating laugh.

She also takes herself to task for giving people ‘appalling’ briefings early in this new phase of her career: ‘They were too fast, too many facts. It comes from being in a lab culture – terrible jargon!’ she says guiltily. ‘That’s taken a bit of unravelling. When I started managing people, I realised I needed to give them the time and space to feel comfortable about asking questions if they didn’t understand something.’

MS&L, which she joined two years ago, has not been the happiest ship of late. Garratt had been head of UK business until January, when she was moved on to global work. Was she disappointed? ‘No, I like learning new things.’ That sounds rather diplomatic and there is a longish pause. ‘You have to sometimes do what’s best for the ­organisation,’ she says finally. Garratt is now going to BM; draw your own conclusions.

At BM she steps into experienced shoes, replacing Amie Malkin, who in June moved to AstraZeneca as head of comms after 12 years with the agency. It will be a daunting task for Garratt, a self-confessed ‘jack of all trades’.

‘That’s typical Jennifer,’ says freelance healthcare consultant Joanna Wilson, who was Garrett’s chief ­executive at Avenue HKM. ‘She doesn’t push her qualifications and experience in your face but I’d call her an expert in all trades. She’s extremely bright, the consummate professional.’

Asked why she thinks BM CEO Jonathan Jordan hired her, Garratt talks about her med ed and PR ­experience. But she thinks soft skills may have had something to do with it too. ‘I love nurturing a team, seeing ­people develop,’ she says. ‘I like to think their welfare is being looked after.’

Garratt’s cultural hinterland ­includes regular visits to ballet and theatre (the last thing she saw was ‘something terrible at The Lyric’). She has been walking to work at MS&L from her home in Hammersmith, but now the tube journey to BM’s Holborn base will enable her to ‘get back into reading novels’.

Garratt and her husband also have the travel bug. Recent trips include Thailand and trekking to Peru’s Incan mountain city Machu Picchu. ‘When we arrived it was evening and the place was shut up,’ she says. ‘I thought it was magical. But in the morning it was full of people and looked like the grass had been mowed. It was a bit Disney for me.’

This observation fits with the straightforward air that she exudes. In hiring her, Jordan has obviously seen qualities that chime with his vision for BM: Garratt is a rounded business person with a social life, a PRO who understands complex science and a scientist who talks like a human being. A jack of all trades well worth having.

MD and chair of healthcare practice, Burson-Marsteller

Director, Manning, Selvage & Lee

Account manager, Avenue HKM

Account manager, Blackwell Healthcare Communications

Managing editor, Current Drugs

Senior electrophysiologist, Wyeth

Post-doctoral fellow, Yale University

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