PROFILE: David Gallagher, the quiet American

On the day of our meeting, Texan David Gallagher, chairman of the PRCA and chief executive of Ketchum, had been a resident in the UK for eight years and two days - a landmark that he celebrated by gaining UK citizenship for himself, his wife and three kids.

David Gallagher
David Gallagher

‘I wanted to stop feeling like a tourist,' says the 42-year-old thoughtfully. ‘When I got here it was a three-year commitment, but it kinda grew...'

Despite becoming a bona fide Brit who has also just started as president of a British institution (the Public Relations Consultants Association, PRCA), the softly-spoken Ketchum CEO still fosters links with his home country.

In particular, Gallagher was inv­olved in fundraising for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, which saw him hold a bash at the home of another Obama supporter, Matthew Freud. Gallagher is characteristically humble about his inv­olvement.

‘To be honest, it's relatively modest, I just talk about it a lot on Facebook,' he smiles. ‘Obama's campaign has an international community and I sit on that. I've had no connection with Matthew Freud before this.

It is just a way to feel I'm still participating in the affairs of my home country.'
Gallagher officially became chairman of the PRCA on 12 June, but he has been act­ive in the organisation for four years, and was vice-chairman last year. He rec­ently hired Patrick Barrow, former PRCA MD, to head Ketchum's corporate practice.

David GallagherAs he steps into the top spot, Gallagher reckons the role of the PRCA is going to become a lot more important as UK PR consultancies deal with increasingly global accounts.

‘It can be a pretty lonely business,' he says of the PR industry. ‘I tell people it is good to get out there and share problems - dealing with procurement, finding good people, handling tricky situations. You can compete outside the meeting room, but ins­ide you get opportunities to collaborate. A globalised economy will force us to work like that.'

Collaboration is certainly a watchword for the man from Round Rock, Austin, who says he runs his agency with a carrot rather than a stick. ‘The feedback I get is I'm a pretty good person to work for; I'm positive and open.

‘Some people would like me to be more direct, which is something I have been considering for 20 years. I guess I could be more authoritative, but that is not our culture. Ketchum is a consensus-driven agency.'

With 136 employees and accounts such as Procter & Gamble, FedEx and Nokia, the Omnicom-owned (a ‘hands-off parent', he says) agency has grown steadily under Gallagher's tutelage. He brought balance to Ketchum by developing strong corporate and healthcare practices alongside the successful consumer offering - a sector he says he is most worried about in light of the credit crunch.

Mark Cater, the UK CEO of GCI, who headed up Ketchum's healthcare practice until 2005, says that Gallagher has managed to add depth and consistency to the agency by adapting what it does well globally - servicing big clients across many markets - and making it relevant to the UK market.

However, the agency does have a reputation for being a tad ‘vanilla', and Gallag­her admits that Ketchum can be slow to res­pond to market opportunities. ‘But the numbers are good,' he adds.

Gallagher often refers to ‘the numbers' as proof of the success of the agency, but admits Ketchum is not as visible as other agencies of comparable size.

‘Some would say we keep our light und­er a bushel,' admits Gallagher. ‘But I like where we are now. Prospects know how to find us. We're happy to talk to PRWeek, but we're never going to be a
celebrity agency. That's just not who I am.'

Cater adds: ‘Ketchum does some very good work for high-profile clients, it just doesn't always talk about it. Ketchum has a strong culture in London, and is a fun place to work.'

PRWeek suggests that Gallagher and Ketchum are both very careful animals. Does he agree? He considers for a mom­ent: ‘No I wouldn't, actually.' OK, cautious? He pauses: ‘Thoughtful.'

He talks about the agency's involvement with NGOs to prove to clients that they can put their money where their mouth is when it comes to CSR - even to the point of organising an away day for acc­ount handlers, which saw them painting a local youth centre. Good citizenship is high up Gallagher's agenda, something which he says can be missing in the PR business. ‘There is some courage in that. We don't do stunts, but we do show courage in other ways. ‘

Gallagher admits that Ketchum tends to be ‘insecure about its creativity', and that the agency's main selling point is that it can offer ‘the most precise solution to a client's business needs'.
‘I don't want to have the most creative solution that didn't get selected or the biggest idea that is out of their budget,' he says. ‘I want the idea that will get picked.'

A phrase that often pops up during our conversation is ‘I reflect the culture here, it doesn't reflect me' - and he is clearly a more modest head honcho than frequently fills these profile pages. But he is also one of a select number who have been profiled here twice - having sustained an enviable track record since he hit the UK eight years and two days ago.

So no sign of being a superstar CEO just yet then? ‘It's got to be about it being right for you. It would be artificial to me,' he says. ‘The whole agency would feel uncomfortable.'

2008 Chairman, PRCA
2003 Chief executive, Ketchum London
2000 Managing director, Europe healthcare, Ketchum London
1994 V-P healthcare, Ketchum Washington DC
1992 PR manager, American Diabetes Association
1988 Writer/editor, US National Mental Health Association

What was your biggest career break?
The opportunity to move to the UK. I would like to think I'd still be working in Washington DC, but this opened my eyes to how much I didn't know about the world and myself. I think you have to get out there to see for yourself. It showed me what I am good and not good at.

What do you prize most in new recruits?
Generosity. I do ask people if they are generous. I do not ask them where they see themselves in five years. I want to know what they want to get out of the experience.

Who is your most notable mentor?
Mark Hume, my European communications director. He is so well balanced between the people side and the business side of his brain. I learn from him in almost every email. Also, James Maxwell, who died a few years ago. He gave me a break and he had an idea of how international the PR business would get.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?
Sometimes I do talks at universities and they ask me for advice. I would say get into this business if you really want to do it. Don't try it on. Don't treat it as an experiment. Do it because you really want to be there. Once you're here, give it all you've got. And leave your ego at home.

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