Profile: David Heal, Harrison Cowley - A PR man for all regions/The ambition of Harrison Cowley’s David Heal knows no boundaries

Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Southampton, London - David Heal’s diary must read like an Intercity train timetable.

Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Southampton,

London - David Heal’s diary must read like an Intercity train


The 45-year-old Harrison Cowley chief executive will have to add Leeds

to the list when the company opens another consultancy there at the end

of the month.

The launch of its tenth UK agency is the latest chapter of ’Focus 2000’,

Harrison Cowley’s plan to triple the business before the Millennium.

Heal is quietly confident that the company will reach its goal,

boasting: ’I challenge any other PR company to prove it is represented

in more locations than us.’

The figures are also looking healthy. The network is likely to break

into PR Week’s top 20 agency rankings this year with an estimated 1996

fee income of pounds 3.45 million.

But Heal admits that it has taken blood, sweat and tears to get


The former Liverpool Daily Post news editor was one of four directors

involved in a management buyout of the network from Saatchi and Saatchi

in 1994. The businesses consisted largely of separately run advertising

agencies with PR divisions.

’We didn’t really know what we had bought,’ he explains. ’We didn’t know

the substance of each other’s businesses and were coming from different


For the next 12 months Heal sold off or closed down the non-profitable

advertising businesses, fought off creditors and worried about money.The

year ended with losses of pounds 750,000. But, despite the heartache,

Heal’s efforts now appear to be paying off thanks to a no-nonsense

northern recipe of ’hard work and common sense’, and of course, great


Heal’s close friend and company chairman Charles Keil, who dropped out

of the negotiations, thinks Heal is being too modest. ’He’s a fighter,’

says Keil. ’It was clear the other three directors could not handle the

group. If it wasn’t for David it would have crashed.’

When not telling jokes and having belly laughs over a bottle or two of

Chablis, Heal and Keil are working to re-brand Harrison Cowley.

Rather than a group of isolated agencies, the pair are anxious to

portray it as a single company with regional expertise or, as Heal puts

it, ’a building with very long corridors’.

’We are not that slightly boring out of town part of an advertising

agency group which is reliable, but not very creative,’ says Heal. ’We

are a young, exciting business.’

Heal claims Harrison Cowley is taking on, and regularly beating, London

agencies to win clients such as Barclays or Camelot, who are attracted

by the local element. Camelot’s recently retired marketing director

Norman Hawkins originally hired Harrison Cowley as a ’complementary’

addition to The Rowland Company, its London agency. He later handed the

network the entire account.

’David is running a good business very effectively,’ says Hawkins. ’He

is effective but not unnecessarily verbal.’

’He just gets on with the task,’ adds Hawkins. ’He is positive, friendly

and has a lot of confidence. He’s a ’can do’ sort of person.’

’You’ve got to walk the floor or it all becomes remote and meaningless,’

Heal comments. ’I’m concerned about getting too remote from the

practical stuff.’

Heal, who lives in Southport with his wife and two children, has got his

two feet firmly on the ground. But the English literature graduate still

appreciates the finer things in life, such as escaping the world of

public relations via his role as chair of the advisory organisation

Business in the Arts, North West.

He is also one of the UK’s few rugby playing poetry buffs, having once

co-edited the poetry magazine Stand.

Despite enjoying the fast life, Heal is clearly happy to see the end of

his fire-fighting days so he can focus on the future.

’We are really beginning to develop,’ he says with excitement. ’We’ve

only just begun.’


1978: News editor, Liverpool Daily Post

1989: Managing director, Hall Harrison Cowley PR Manchester

1992: Managing director, Hall Harrison Cowley PR Birmingham and


1995: Chief executive Harrison Cowley.

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