Abbie Sampson was until recently chief press officer at the Department for Transport. She entered Downing Street this week, taking a senior role based in the revamped Strategic Communications Unit (SCU).
At the same time, the Prime Minister is still hunting for an Alastair Campbell-style supremo and is said to have offered a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum to Google’s European comms chief D-J Collins.
The seven-strong SCU is a vital cog in the Downing Street comms machine, focusing on long-term comms strategy. Sampson is the third addition this month to the unit (see box). A Downing Street insider said: ‘This completes the remodelling of the SCU.’
Sampson, 30, made her name working on the foot-and-mouth outbreak as a senior press officer at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Portland PR partner Steve Morris, who previously headed the SCU and subsequently worked with Sampson at Defra, said: ‘The SCU always attracts great talent and Abbie is no exception – she’s a rising star in Whitehall.’
Number Ten is still lacking an overarching head of comms. Weber Shandwick’s Colin Byrne is now believed to be out of the running following a recent promotion at the agency. Collins is the latest frontrunner, despite his links to Foreign Secretary and potential leadership challenger David Miliband (PRWeek , 29 August). But he is said to be reluctant to give up his Google stock options.
Downing Street sources said that various options had been explored, including hiring Collins on a six-month secondment. But it has yet to be decided whether an interim placement is a viable
option. ‘The ball is now in D-J’s court,’ said one insider. Collins could not be reached for comment, but friends suggested he would stay put.
The SCU: Ins & Outs
October Former charity CEO Claire McMaster joins as strategic comms adviser
October Downing Street head of digital comms Mark Flanagan is made head of strategic and digital comms
August Strategic comms adviser Lauren Flanagan quits for Freud
July Head of strategic comms Martin Sheehan quits for Portland PR
March Which? comms director Nick Stace joins as strategic comms adviser