Chris Hopson proves that PR people are the stuff that directors are made
Chris Hopson is a case of substance over style. At 33, he has convinced
Granada Group’s recently created division, Granada Media Group, that his
new role of corporate affairs director deserves a place at the boardroom
table. It is a position few in the PR industry achieve and one which
carries its fair share of challenges.
Granada has made little secret of its ambitious plans for expansion both
organically and by acquisition. It already owns Granada TV and LWT, has
a stake in Granada Sky Broadcasting - which launches seven channels
later this year - the Granada motorway service stations, TV sales house
Laser and Forte hotels. Hopson, who was involved with the 1994 LWT and
this year’s Forte acquisitions, also has a group role working to Granada
Group chief executive Charles Allen.
Although the bulk of his 42 staff are involved in programme publicity,
Hopson has another new area of responsibility with regulatory affairs -
dealing with licence renewals and lobbying for the Channel 4 funding
formula to be maintained.
Hopson’s own background is in politics as a former stalwart of the SDP.
Starting out as a constituency agent, he worked his way up to
parliamentary researcher for MP Rosie Barnes and later director of
elections and campaigns. At the still tender age of 26 he was made party
chief executive working directly to David Owen.
Born in Newbury Berkshire, the second son of a family which owns the
Camp Hopson department store in Newbury, Hopson got an early taste for
politics. As an exchange student in the US he worked part time for
Republican senator Bill Roth, whose main claim to fame was the part he
played in pushing through Reagan’s tax bill.
Back in the UK at the University of Sussex he was branded an extreme
right winger for his involvement with the SDP.
Despite completing an MBA at Cranfield four years ago, because he wanted
to ‘develop business skills to complement his political experience’, he
went straight back into politics as special advisor to David Mellor,
during his short spell at the Department of National Heritage. He denies
that it was his idea to get Mellor to pose for the much derided photos
with his family after his affair with the would-be actress Antonia de
Sancha hit the headlines, adding ‘had I been in his role I would have
played it very differently’.
Still, his six-month stint with Mellor gave him a good grounding in
broadcast legislation. It was to stand him in good stead for his role at
Granada which he joined in 1993 as director of public affairs after a
brief six-month sojourn with Granada’s agency at the time, The
‘I have learnt more in the last three years than in all the previous
years put together. But I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without
the MBA. Many people in PR only know the disciplines involved with their
function. One of the requirements for senior PR people is a range of
business skills which allows them to look at strategy and understand the
language of different functions,’ says Hopson.
The MBA did more than help him with his business strategy - he also met
his wife on the course. Hopson is not a typical ‘mee-ja luvvie’. Nor is
he a clothes horse. But he is eminently likeable. He’s got a wry sense
of humour, intelligence and a healthy knack of talking to you - rather
than at you - and not in soundbites.
But he is coy about his own political aspirations which he has
deliberately put on hold while working for Granada. He believes it would
be ‘unfair to be lobbying a political party while standing against it’.
But the interest is definitely there and his job with Mellor leaves
little doubt about which party he would want to stand for. Given his
credentials, he probably stands a good chance of success.
1989 Chief executive, Social Democrat Party
1989 Consultant, Corporate Communications Strategy
1992 Special adviser to David Mellor, Secretary of State for National
1993 Director of public affairs, Granada
1996 Corporate affairs director Granada Media Group