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
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.