During the past two decades one PR consultancy has been conspicuous by its absence from the PRWeek Top 150 report. Financial and corporate specialist Brunswick has played a part in many of the City's landmark deals and vies with Roland Rudd's Finsbury as the most active PR adviser in mergers and acquisitions, yet steadfastly declines to participate in our fee income rankings.
Brunswick founder Alan Parker is noted for his charisma and comms expertise yet rarely grants interviews and is uncomfortable when he becomes the focus of a story. ‘It's bad manners to get between the client and the footlights,' is a favourite aphorism.
However, this year PRWeek decided to include Brunswick in the Top 150 table using the same formula used for agencies affected by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act (see p4 of the Top 150 supplement for explanation). The agency's fees for 2007 are estimated to be in the region of £44m, placing it second behind Lord Tim Bell's Pottinger Group.
Parker formed Brunswick in 1987 after six years at Broad Street Associates, the famous financial consultancy run by Brian Basham. He came to City PR after brief stints managing a rock band and working on North Sea oil rigs. At Broad Street, Parker worked hard, rarely taking weekends off, and realised there was a massive opportunity to develop financial PR into a professional service to rival the top management consultancies and accountants.
His plan was to make Brunswick a ‘leading firm', making sure it had the prestige to ensure it was in the front of mind of potential clients and recruits.
With some initial financial backing from his father, Parker got Brunswick off the ground with partners Louise Charlton and Andrew Fenwick. Today the business has more than 70 partners - Charlton and Fenwick still among them - and more than 400 staff spread across 14 fully owned offices around the world.
The agency made a name for itself in 1991 when it was hired by ICI to thwart Anglo-American conglomerate Hanson's takeover move. Parker orchestrated a merciless campaign that revolved around the claim that racehorses ostensibly owned by Lord White, then the US Hanson boss, were being paid for by the company.
A private letter from Lord Hanson critical of his PR advisers, led by Lord Bell, complained that Parker was ‘running circles around us'. The letter was leaked to the press, vastly enhancing Brunswick's reputation.
‘It's very rare for a major transaction to occur in the City without Brunswick being involved with one of the parties - its people are everywhere,' says Evening Standard City editor Chris Blackhurst. ‘Parker is a formidable communicator. He cuts to the chase, puts people at ease and changes the way he talks to suit the individual.'
Parker is the personification of Brunswick and his greatest triumph is arguably the skilful development of an international network. For instance, after establishing a strong presence in New York, Brunswick cracked the US West Coast by opening a San Francisco office and picking up clients of the calibre of Gap, Google, Sun Microsystems and Cisco.
Another Brunswick coup was the recruitment of David Brewerton, now retired, who was one of the first top City journalists to make the move into PR - Brewerton had been City editor of The Independent. Some other prominent hires proved more short-lived.
Aide to President Clinton, James Rubin, departed after three years; while more recently Stephen Carter, who joined as CEO in January 2007 from Ofcom, where he had been its first chief executive, left after only one year. However, as Carter has moved to chief of strategy and principal adviser to Parker's friend Gordon Brown, it is a loss that may conceivably be viewed as a gain, given the cachet of the position.
Other departures have been viewed less equably by Parker, notably when Rupert Younger left in 1994 to establish Finsbury and Andrew Grant exited in 2000 to set up Tulchan - both now strong competitors to Brunswick.
‘He's an incredibly energising and personable kind of guy when he wants to be,' says one former Brunswick employee.
Neither Parker nor the partners have shown any inclination to release equity through an IPO or trade sale. Brunswick is intentionally structured as a cash business, and the model suits Parker's growth strategy. Rumours that he turned down a £200m takeover offer from Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP group several years ago are firmly denied, but as a self-confessed ‘opportunist', sensible offers may well be listened to, even if they are politely declined.
But after years in the top echelons of the industry, the only time Parker's hands aren't firmly on the wheel is when he is being chauffeured to meetings in the back of his Bentley. Enter your main article text here. You may paste from Word by using the 3rd icon in on the 2nd row.
-- Helped airport operator BAA secure a good price during its £10bn takeover in June 2006 by a consortium led by Spain’s Grupo Ferrovial.
-- Worked with Standard Life, at the time mutually owned, in 2000 to see
off a campaign run by Australian ‘carpetbagger’ Fred Woollard to pressure the financial services company into a flotation.
-- Assisted Barclays in its unsuccessful bid in spring 2007 to buy
ABN Amro, which eventually fell to a consortium headed by RBS. Brunswick painted Barclays as the ‘winning loser’ for its decision
not to overpay for the target bank.
-- Advised on the de-merger of pharmaceutical business Zeneca out
of ICI in 1993 and on Zeneca’s subsequent merger with Sweden’s Astra.
-- Played a role in thwarting Aviva’s £17bn bid to acquire Prudential in 2006.
-- Gave strategic advice to Banco Santander during its successful £9bn pursuit of Abbey National in November 2004.
-- At the time of writing, advising mining group BHP Billiton on its takeover bid for rival
-- Acted for steel group Corus last year when it was auctioned off for £6bn, with Tata Steel
of India eventually triumphing over Brazil’s CSN in an unusual late-night bidding battle.
-- BP’s embattled former chief executive Lord Browne turned to Brunswick for personal PR support in spring 2007, receiving input from consultants Alan Parker, Susan Gilchrist and David Yelland.
-- In February 2008 Franco-German aerospace company EADS asked Brunswick to aid its global corporate positioning. Offices in Frankfurt, London and Paris worked on the brief.
THE BOSS ALAN PARKER
Brunswick founder Alan Parker was born into a family of over-achievers. His late father, Sir Peter Parker, was the chairman of British Rail, while younger brothers Oliver and Nathaniel are a film director and actor respectively.
Sister Lucy set up online financial broadcaster Cantos, and helped Gordon Brown with an image makeover.
Parker is enormously well-connected. Both David Cameron and Brown attended his wedding last year to former colleague Jane, and the PM is godfather to Parker’s young son William. Sarah Brown is also a long-standing friend and runs her charity from Brunswick’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields offices.
‘Alan is a man full of ideas and thinks he can usually see a better way of doing things,’ says former colleague David Brewerton, author of the novel Impeccable Sources.
Having held on to the lion’s share of the equity in Brunswick (he owns around half of the business), Parker has amassed a multi-million-pound personal fortune.
Parker’s first wife Caroline is an artist – they split reasonably amicably in 2001 after more than two decades (and four children) together. Parker is passionate about the arts, enjoying theatre, collecting Henry Moore works, Oscar Wilde first editions and works by William Blake. With his track record and trappings of success, Parker can today consider himself the equal of the powerful FTSE 100 company bosses he so ably advises.