29 UNDER 29: Bright young things

Many of the biggest talents in the PR industry are still in their twenties. Alex Black profiles some of them.

Mark Southern: Press officer, Fire Services National Benevolent Fund
Mark Southern: Press officer, Fire Services National Benevolent Fund

Recruitment may be an increasingly fraught issue in the PR industry, but judging by the number of excellent PR professionals under the age of 30, the future of PR is safe.

Earlier this year, PRWeek embarked on its second quest to shine a light on some of the brightest young things in the industry. The only criterion for entry was that candidates had to be under 29 on 31 May this year.

The response was exceptional, and it took a panel of four judges to come up with a refined list.

The final 29 were chosen purely on their submitted entries (which listed the three reasons why they should be regarded as one of the UK’s 29 best PROs under the age of 29), but the final 29 have among them a rich mix of skills and talents.

Their roles span in-house and agency, corporate and consumer, public and not-for-profit sector, public affairs and healthcare. And these individuals are agency heads, divisional heads and heads of departments, but also account directors, board directors, freelancers and even a lecturer.

The gender split is almost equal (13:16, male:female) – food for thought for those who grumble about PR being a female-dominated profession.

The four judges were PRWeek features editor Alex Black, Beatbullying’s director of comms Niall Cowley, Burson-Marsteller UK CEO Jonathan Jordan and the University of West­minster’s visiting professor of PR and former CEO of the Chime group’s public relations division, Trevor Morris.

Here, over the following five pages, we look at the careers and aspirations of what should be the next generation of senior managers in the sector.

With thanks to the University of Westminster for the use of its Regent Street Campus.


(Names in alphabetical order)

# 16. Daljit Bhurji, Age 28
Independent consultant
Bhurji was one of agency Hotwire’s first members of staff and rose through the ranks to become associate director and head of the agency’s digital practice at the age of 26. With a passion for online technology, Bhurji spearheaded the pitch to win internet giant Tiscali. He was also given the title ‘graduate tsar’, having been instrumental to the company’s graduate recruitment programme. Bhurji is now leading the PR operations of a suitably trendy, yet-to-launch mobile communities company, as well as co-authoring a guide on the impact of social media on PR practice for PR students and executives.

15. Eileen Boydell, 29
Associate director, Bite PR
Boydell joined Bite in 2002, originally as an account manager overseeing speaker opportunities for EMEA clients. Her portfolio of clients included McAfee, DHL and Sun, and her role was to get their key executives on the right platforms at industry events. She grew the service offering to include events, analyst relations and influencer relations, and by 2006 she was leading a portfolio of accounts worth £700,000. Last year she became Bite’s youngest associate and now leads the agency’s international team, handling European and emerging markets briefs.

1. Crissie Bushell, 28
Head of celebrity PR and events, EdenCancan
As head of consumer lifestyle shop EdenCancan’ celebs and events team, Bushell handles PR for showbiz clients such as model Caprice and Liberty X star Michelle Heaton. Indeed, such is her reputation that EdenCancan dir­ector Nick Fulford admits Bushell’s guaranteed involvement was a deal-breaker when the agency was negotiating with Caprice. Fulford adds Bushell has ‘a contact book that PROs twice her age can only dream of’, and ‘every paparazzo worth his or her salt is on first- name terms with her’.

25. Rachel Cameron, 29
External comms manager, Hewlett-Packard

Cameron is responsible for managing UK and Ireland media and analyst relations at electronics giant HP. Since joining HP a year-and-a-half ago, she has managed two of the company’s most widely reported press announcements. One was the company’s partnership with the BFI (British Film Institute) and the other was ‘The Grand Tour’ – a joint project with the National Gallery to bring works of art to the streets of London.

7. Fran Chambers, 27
Head of internal communications, Tube Lines
Taking charge of internal comms at one of the UK’s largest transport PPP operators means Chambers is responsible for keeping 3,500 employees abreast of developments as they work on the London Underground’s massive improvement programme. Chambers joined Tube Lines as an internal comms officer and was promoted to internal comms manager within 18 months. Eighteen months later she rose to become head of internal comms, making her the youngest senior manager in the company. A recent staff survey found the number of staff who said the firm kept them up to date with what it was doing had doubled to 64 per cent in the past two years.

4. Simon Cohen, 28
MD, Global Tolerance
Cohen is MD of “values-driven” PR agency Global Tolerance. He is a flag-bearer for the ethical role of the PR ind­ustry and has spoken all over the world on the subject, including at the Economic Forum in Poland last year. After starting the agency in 2003, Cohen’s client base now includes Gandhi’s grandson, The Wallace & Gromit Foundation, The Gallup Organization, and the ‘living Buddha’ Karmapa Thaye Dorje. Cohen claims his campaign last year involving two ‘Jedi Knights’ who pushed the UN for an ‘Interstellar Day of Tolerance’ reached in excess of 700 million people at a total cost of £30.

14. John Coventry, 27
Senior media officer, ActionAid

Coventry joined ActionAid from War on Want 18 months ago. It was his brainwave to go to the media with the story of South Africa fruit picker Gertruida Baartman, who took on the might of Tesco with her one share at their 2006 AGM, winning huge amounts of media coverage as well as building contacts for the charity. Coventry was the charity’s contact at the German G8 this summer, resulting in more than 60 pieces of coverage in the UK media alone.

22. Ben Dutton, 28
Associate director, Lexis PR
Lexis CEO Margot Raggett describes Dutton as ‘one of the most outstanding operators I have worked with in my car­eer’. Dutton, who was lured to Lexis from The Red Consultancy, is one of the consumer shop’s ‘most senior and sought-after creatives’, adds Raggett. His clients include Boots, Coca-Cola – with whom he launched Coke Zero – listings website Gumtree and its award-winning Sheila’s Wheels campaign. ‘Ben is just the sort of ambassador that our industry needs,’ says Raggett. ‘If he is not running Lexis or some other high-profile agency in the future then I will eat my hat.’

23. Manisha Ferdinand, 25
Account director, Idea Generation
Idea Generation MD Hector Proud credits Ferdinand with a series of ‘near-faultless’ campaigns, including running PR for the inaugural Manchester Int­ernational Festival. That included publicity for 30 productions, managing 25 staff across six departments within Idea Generation, and acting as the central point of contact with more than 120 producers, directors and festival staff. ‘I have just returned from Manchester having received eulogistic praise on our work from almost everyone I met, including the minister for culture, the director of the festival, the head of Manchester City Council, the head of the tourist marketing board, the headline sponsors and all principal producers, as well as 20 journalists. Rare praise indeed,’ says Proud.

27. Lisa Forni, 27
Account director, Tonic Life Communications

Forni joined Tonic Life nearly 18 months ago after a stint at Euro RSCG Biss Lancaster. At Biss she handled, among other things, the agency’s Reckitt Benckiser work, but she is now a key component of Tonic’s Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline acc­ounts. Tonic MD Oliver Parsons, who worked with Forni while they were both at Fleishman-Hillard, describes her ability to work across ethical health, consumer health and consumer business as a ‘rare commodity’. Parsons also cites Forni’s leadership of her team and her ability to mentor junior colleagues as one of the reasons for the agency’s low staff turnover.

3. Suzanne Griffiths, 27
Associate director and head of service delivery, The Whiteoaks Consultancy
Griffiths is credited with growing one of Whiteoaks’ biggest-billing clients by 100 per cent, largely due to her talent for client relationship management, as well as a flair for organising events. Press events and product launches involving 500 guests upwards are her forte. She also mentors others in the agency and is admired by clients. One, Laura Barber-Miller, vice-president of marketing and communications, Thomson, Systems Division, says Griffiths can be relied upon to generate extensive and ‘high quality’ press coverage.

21. Suzy Insley, 27
Director, Catalysis

Insley’s ability to ‘simultaneously manage the company, hold down a client portfolio and win new business’ is part of the reason Catalysis MD Peter Sive is able to spend most of his time on client work. Insley, who handles day-to-day running of the 23-strong agency with fellow director Emma Walker, has a knack of thinking up new ways of working to reduce Catalysis’ costs and help it win new business. Says Sive: ‘At 25, Suzy was tasked with consolidating seven of our BT accounts into one while improving results. Within six months, she had improved the media results four-fold, improved profitability and morale across the BT team and the client marked us 8/10 for satisfaction.’

17. Lucy Jackson, 28
Director of communications, Teenage Cancer Trust
After three years in the public affairs team at BSMG (now part of Weber Shandwick), Jackson joined the trust as its first ever in-house comms person. Her role has expanded as the charity has grown, and she is now looking for two more PROs to take her team to four. Jackson’s PA experience (previous clients include BNFL and Severn Trent Water) has served her and the trust well, and she recently organised a rec­eption with Gordon Brown on the eve of the then Chancellor’s accession to Prime Minister. Teenage Cancer Trust chief executive Simon Davies says Jackson has ‘single-handedly turned this great charity into a cool brand’.

2. Sujit Jasani, 27
Associate, Burson-Marsteller

Jasani set a precedent by linking a corporate partner with the BBC Question Time brand, creating the Schools Question Time Challenge, a BT CSR initiative. His skills did not go unnoticed by Question Time chairman David Dimbleby, who says: ‘Sujit combines communications skills and terrier-like ten­acity with an abundance of youthful charm.’ He is also heavily involved in sports sponsorship marketing, and works on Visa’s global sponsorship portfolio including the Olympic Games, IRB Rugby World Cup and FIFA. To capitalise on B-M’s international experience in Olympic brand marketing, Sujit has independently created an Olympic new business initiative for the London office ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

10. Ben Mason, 28
Head of F-H Digital, Fleishman-Hillard UK

While he was head of F-H’s entertainment team, Mason came up with the idea that what F-H needed was a digital group in the UK that could work across global clients. The digital team grew more than 200 per cent in 2006 and is already on track to surpass this figure in 2007. It now has three project managers, one online outreach expert who works with a creative team of three, and ten digital ambassadors representing teams in the London office and a further 18 offices across Europe.

11. Susan McMartin, 28
Head of food, Beattie Communications

McMartin had stints at Nexus PR and Harrison Cowley before joining Beattie and boosting its food and drink PR division from two to eight PROs in two years. She has brought in nearly half a million pounds of business, helping the agency triumph against established riv­als and win accounts for Edam cheese, Mattessons and Wall’s. McMartin, who cites fellow Scot Alan Twigg – also formerly of Nexus and Harrison Cowley, and now at Seventy Seven PR – as a ‘key influence on my career’, has ret­ained 100 per cent of her Beattie team.

20. Kunal Mehta, 27
PR lecturer, researcher and freelance consultant
Mehta currently holds four comms jobs. The 27-year-old teaches MSc students on corporate communication at Thames Valley University – a role that is set to expand next month as he takes charge of the university’s CIPR diploma. He is a director for the university’s annual Pharmaceutical Responsibility and Reputation conference. Mehta also works as a part-time consultant for CCD Healthcare and is an editorial board member for the Prison Service Journal. Mehta is currently writing a PhD in corporate comms and PR.

28. Charlotte Morris, 27
Senior media relations manager, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Last year, Charlotte Morris read an int­erview in which Jon Snow admitted to finding it difficult to say ‘no’ to requests, so she wrote to him and ended up shadowing the news anchor for a week on Channel 4 News. During almost seven years of PR experience, Morris has worked on projects ranging from convincing schoolgirls to consider a career in surgery, to winning coverage in Hello! for celebrity attendance at international development charity International Service’s Human Rights Awards.

24. Joe Phelan, 27
Account director, Good Relations Political
As part of Good Relations’ political practice, Phelan’s clients include multi­nationals such as AMEC and Airbus. But as well as working in the multi-billion pound defence procurement ind­ustry, Phelan also gets the chance to promote worthier clients such as October’s Woman of the Year Lunch. After stints working on The Sunday Times’ home news desk and a few months working for a US congressman, Phelan joined Hill & Knowlton’s graduate trainee scheme. After three years he moved to Good Relations in 2005.

9. Nerys Roach, 26
Consultant, Regester Larkin
Many PROs do not have so much as a whiff of a crisis during their first few years in the industry, but at crisis specialist Regester Larkin, Nerys Roach is often called upon to provide advice at the highest level. Roach’s experience includes dealing with NGO activism, controversies around new products, workforce unrest, high-profile litigation and industrial accidents. She has also been inv­olved with internal projects including managing the launch of the agency’s aff­iliation with an Italian PR consultancy.

6. Olly Scott, 29
Account director, Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial

Scott began his PR career six years ago at LLM Communications. Since then he has had stints at Grandfield, College Hill (where he worked on the agency’s PRWeek Award-winning marcoms campaign for the British Chamber of Commerce), and Edelman, where he co-founded the agency’s Strategic Media Unit. While at Grandfield, he worked on the Railtrack Private Shareholders Action Group account. The campaign resulted in the resignation of Stephen Byers and a cash settlement for the company’s shareholders. Scott says his speciality is when a specific business issue must be addressed, ‘whether helping an activist investor to attack the board of an underperforming portfolio company, or managing negative sentiment surrounding a troubled company’.

29. Katie Simpson, 27
Head of youth media, Media Trust
It was The Times editor Robert Thompson who nicknamed Simpson ‘Katie the Catalyst’. The pair worked together on a youth mentoring campaign, in which Simpson convinced Times political editor Phil Webster to mentor Lee McConville, 22, and to take him to Germany to cover the G8 summit. McConville attended a Bush and Blair press conference on his own and received a joint byline for the paper. Katie also works on other charity projects, heading marketing and distribution for Medi­abox. She secured £250,000 of funding from youth volunteering charity v and The Vodafone UK Foundation to set up Charge – a digital youth platform on the Community Channel.

8. Mark Southern, 27
Press officer, Fire Services National Benevolent Fund
Southern has a reputation for creativ­ity. In recent project ‘The 999 Challenge’, Southern convinced a firefigh­ter to live a Big Brother-like existence in the shop window of a Debenham’s store for nine days, nine hours and nine minutes. The stunt generated acres of media coverage and £30,000 for the charity. Southern also has fantastic contacts with a range of journalists, even hosting some of their children on PR work experience. He is credited with raising the profile of the charity’s previously small-scale annual awards show to become the ‘most important event in the emergency services calendar’, according to business development director Chris Burghes. It is now sponsored by The Sun and has a Downing Street reception for nominees.

5. Elen Thomas, 26
Account manager, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide
Thomas worked at National Savings & Investments as a media relations manager until June 2007. NS&I head of media and PR Mark Brooks says: ‘Elen was highly regarded at NS&I up to CEO level and was promoted into a senior PR role at just 25 because of it.’ Thomas was often involved in high-profile PR campaigns and worked well at times of pressure. It was common for her to appear on TV and radio as a NS&I spokesperson, says Brooks, bec­ause she ‘fitted perfectly with the image that NS&I wanted to portray to listeners and viewers’.

12. Jace Tyrell, 28
Head of communications, New West End Company
Aussie Tyrell joined the New West End Company three years ago and was handed a brief to position London’s West End as the world’s top shopping destination. Since then, he has generated positive UK and international media coverage worth more than £22m for the company, and taken charge of PR for three traffic-free events, and three Oxford Street Lights ‘switch-ons’. He has also hired six marcoms agencies, two of which – Fleishman- Hillard on public affairs and Rain Communications UK on consumer and corporate – are PR accounts.

13. Vicki Wallin, 26
Vice president, Financial Dynamics
Property specialist Wallin is FD’s youngest vice-president, and has carved out a reputation as a PRO who can handle big international briefs. As part of FD’s property arm FD Tamesis, she played a key role in the sale and leaseback of HSBC’s Canary Wharf Headquarters – the largest single property deal in UK history – and this year led the PR team responsible for launching the first World Retail Congress earlier this year in Barcelona. Wallin also leads FD’s accounts for the £100m SouthGate retail development in Bath, and a new complex at London’s White City.

18. Benjamin Webb, 28
MD, Deliberate PR
Twinning the Mali town Timbuktu with Hay-On-Wye, launching an online racism-tester and locating descendants of Pocahontas in Huddersfield, are all in a day’s work for Benjamin Webb – one reason he has a reputation for creating attention-grabbing ‘leftfield and creative’ stories. Webb launched his own consultancy, Deliberate, earl­ier this year with the aim of focusing entirely on generating news stories as an add-on to a company’s existing PR arrangements. The company now has five staff and Webb’s creative juices show no signs of drying up.

19. Emma White, 27
Comms officer, Royal Liverpool Children’s NHS Trust
White came to the RLC NHS Trust two years ago after working at Radio Merseyside, The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times and West Lancashire District Council’s comms team. Almost immediately she had to take charge of comms for a high-profile legal case involving the withdrawing of treatment from a terminally ill child. Since then she org­anised an efficiency campaign that resulted in the Carbon Trust awarding Alder Hey Children’s Hospital the top score for energy use. ‘Despite having a “chequered past” we are besieged by requests for filming of sensitive and highly emotive situations involving our patients,’ says head of comms Pat McLaren. ‘Emma’s skill with the media never ceases to amaze me.’

26. Owen Williams, 28
Press and publicity officer, House of Lords

Williams has the arduous task of dealing with the parliamentary lobby, which his former colleague Elliott Grady – now a consultant at Fishburn Hedges – describes as ‘perhaps the most sceptical journalists in the UK’, as well as convincing peers that they should talk to the media. He manages these tasks with ‘natural enthusiasm, charm and considerable grace under fire’, says Grady, who worked with Williams when the duo were at the Liberal Democrats during the 2005 general election. Recently, Owen helped the Lords Committee’s criticisms of the Government’s plans for ‘super casinos’ and Home Information Packs (HIPs) to win a raft of media coverage. The Government shelved its plans for the casinos, while the HIPs proposals were reassessed, a result Grady bel­ieves owes a debt to the Lords’ media campaign.

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