Profile: Chris Cartwright - The professor with punch

True to form, the new MD of Burson-Marsteller's CIT practice is taking the challenge in his stride, says Gemma O'Reilly.

My wife's just gone into labour, but I've got a few minutes.' Not the kind of response one expects on ringing an agency boss for a line on a story. But that was what PRWeek was told last year by then Harvard PR MD Chris Cartwright.

Only slightly flustered, Cartwright then proceeded to handle the enquiry in its entirety, before signing off and returning to the birth of his child.

It was probably this level of commitment that gained Cartwright his position as newly installed MD and chair of Burson-Marsteller's corporate, issues and technology practice. He joined the global PR powerhouse two weeks ago from his role heading up Chime-owned technology specialist Harvard for two years. True to form, Cartwright, aged 38, is unfazed when PRWeek catches up with him.

B-M's CIT practice was formed last year, integrating a handful of departments, including crisis management and internal comms. The role was previously occupied by CEO Jonathan Jordan. While Cartwright's clients have yet to be decided, the practice advises firms such as De Beers, Sony Ericsson and Barcardi.

Tech PROs will be the first to admit the sector is often 'straight media or analyst relations', but Cartwright has high hopes for his new role. He is looking forward to getting his teeth into more stakeholder engagement campaigns and CSR-focused initiatives. While his main responsibilities will be leading the team and developing business, Cartwright says he will still be doing hands-on work.

'PR is the kind of job where you write every day, but you also put a certain amount of creativity into your thoughts,' he says.

Unpretentious and modest, he visibly cringes when asked what strengths he has that make him good at PR. 'It's quite hard to talk about yourself without sounding like you're bragging,' he says.

Former colleague and current Brands-2Life director Tony Smith says Cartwright's professionalism and knowledge in pitches helped to secure wins with Cisco and PeopleSoft during their two years working together: 'He wins the trust of clients quickly. He doesn't oversell and isn't brash.'

Sue Harker, who worked with him when she was PR manager at Oracle and he was at Bite, says she felt reassured and confident with him leading the company's PR support. And freelance journalist Mike Dempsey credits him with being able to sell client stories into the nationals by making them relevant to the bigger picture.

Dempsey credits Cartwright's 'intellectual curiosity' with helping him climb the PR ladder, but his analytical brain - Bite colleague Bruce Dodsworth reveals Cartwright was nicknamed 'The Prof' because he was so studious - nearly took him on a different path. He considered a career in journalism, but decided 'I wanted a creative role that allowed me to be business-focused'.

He is happy on his side of the fence though, and getting on the phone to journalists while trying to get a story into the press is what gives him the 'real buzz'.

'No matter how long you've been in PR you should always get that thrill of getting some ink,' he says, before confessing to 'running around the office and telling my partner' whenever he sees his work in print.

His joy at collecting press clippings is matched by the pride he feels when members of his team achieve coverage: 'When I first got into management, I got a kick out of seeing really good people develop. Hopefully I had a role in helping them get there.'

Cartwright concedes his crisis comms experience is not extensive, and is therefore cagey when questioned about previous crises he has worked on: 'My clients probably wouldn't appreciate me talking about how successfully I kept them out of the press.' However, he says what he lacks in knowledge the rest of the team can make up for with their experience. 'I'm not going to read a big book about how to do PR for oil companies because the person who runs B-M's energy accounts knows way more than I do,' he explains. 'One of the big challenges for me is to pull out those strengths of all the people here.'

To relax, Cartwright says he enjoys 'the usual stuff you stick on the end of your CV'. A family man, he likes skiing and even did a few ski seasons in the Swiss Alps before starting his career. He has also dabbled in boxing, and is considering taking it up again.

Chris Cartwight may not have a welter of experience in crisis comms, but one suspects anyone with an ice-cool demeanour, an analytical brain and the ability to throw a decent right hook would be a good man to have on your side.

2008: MD & chair, corporate, issues & technology, Burson-Marsteller
2006: MD, Harvard PR
2004: Director, Brands2Life
1998: Account director, then director, and head of corporate, Bite
1997: Account director, Firefly Communications
1994: Account executive, GBC


- What was your biggest career break?

Joining Bite to head up the Oracle business and run the B2B practice. I took both over from Clive Armitage, who had just become Bite's MD. Oracle was a fascinating account to run. I got to work with some great PR people on the client side but also was exposed to senior management very early on, doing media work with Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Working hard and exceeding expectations are much more important than politicking. Delivering real value to your clients and actively helping to grow the agency's business will consistently make you a candidate for promotion.

- Who was your most notable mentor?

Kevin Murray, chairman of Bell Pottinger. He is calm, wise and insightful.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

Curiosity, passion and a 'can do' attitude.

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