Over the past 12 months, Simon Warr's world has been turned upside down. Thanks to the deep economic gloom that has enveloped the automotive industry, the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) PR chief has been given a first-hand introduction to 'adversity comms'.
The result has been a fundamental reassessment of everything that a veteran communicator might take for granted. 'It flips everything around,' says Warr. 'What is ordinarily bad news becomes good news.'
So JLR's job losses, according to Warr, 'become far less sensitive'. Perversely, they even helped the car maker prove the case for why it needed financial support from the Government: 'We didn't artificially create the situation, but being seen to lose money or struggle did help support our case.'
The Jaguar marque's surging sales, meanwhile, complicated matters. 'Growing sales in a period when you are cutting jobs and negotiating with the Government for financial guarantees doesn't line up,' he points out. 'How do you handle that one?'
It has certainly been a rollercoaster ride. Warr has fought hard to position JLR as the last bastion of British motor manufacture, design and innovation, just months after the firm was bought by Indian conglomerate Tata.
Shortly after the interview, it was announced the company had finally secured the commercial funding it had been seeking for several months - a multi-layered comms challenge that has called on all of Warr's 18 years of PR experience.
In person, the 42-year-old seems neither exhausted nor energised by the challenge. He is poised, a little earnest and evidently unflappable. Editorial Intelligence founder Julia Hobsbawm, with whom he has a close commercial relationship, calls it a potent combination of 'skill and charm'.
'He is very engaging and generous,' says Hobsbawm. 'Diplomatic skills are as vital as the daily trench warfare of the job.'
Warr is an unlikely warrior, but he has effected some profound changes in how Jaguar Land Rover is perceived. He hired Portland last year to finally give the company a clear corporate position after years of obscurity under previous owner Ford, eventually selling the idea that JLR was a blue-chip British brand that required help.
'I feel very proud of that,' he says. 'We wanted to get to places where we didn't mix before, like the City. Industrialists haven't had a voice for quite some time.'
Warr is too modest to take credit for the improvement in JLR's reputation: 'It was the truth, rather than anything to do with the comms positioning.'
That is hard to believe. It all sounds almost as serendipitous as his descript-ion of the seamless transition he made into PR from journalism. After studying German and Arabic, Warr envisioned a life as a foreign correspondent. 'I found I actually enjoyed PR more than journalism,' he says of his initial move into the Government Information Service. That may have put paid to his reporting ambitions, but the global component of his vision stayed.
Not only is Warr the only UK comms chief in a global automotive role, but he spent lengthy stints working in Germany and Japan. This world view means he can offer some appealingly pithy judgements on the media mindsets in many countries.
'In Germany it was much more formal, and more fact- and data-driven,' he reveals. 'Americans are a bit more clubby - you go to people's houses and have dinner.' He praises the UK, meanwhile, for its 'guerilla spirit'. 'People have different relationships with journalists here - a lot more trading goes on behind the scenes.'
An intimate understanding of that landscape has proved vital in his attempts to navigate the scrutiny that followed Tata's buyout. 'There was an assumption that Indian ownership would not sit well with premium brands,' he admits.
After some sensible communication, those fears appear to have dissipated. Warr now has his hands full restructuring his comms team and attempting to build a product profile that better uses digital and experiential media.
The recent Jaguar XJ launch at the Saatchi Gallery, which resulted in plenty of lifestyle and fashion coverage, illustrates where Warr wants his firm to go next. It also hints that the next 12 months may proceed on more of an even keel.
'We've gone from one extreme to another,' he notes. In Warr, JLR appears to have found someone who can meet either challenge with more than a measure of equanimity.
SIMON WARR'S TURNING POINTS
- What was your biggest career break?
My first job at City of Westminster. It was not a big role but it got me out of journalism, which I wasn't enjoying, and into PR, which proved a more natural habitat for me. I remember the voicemail that said I had got the job - I jumped round the room.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
Many. You have to learn from as many people as you can. Mentors can be the people you share an office with or the leaders of your business. The key is to recognise that you do not know everything and ask lots of questions.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Passion, energy, commitment and accountability. It also helps enormously if they can think and write. Most of all, you look for people with spark and common sense in equal measure.
- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?
Be flexible in your career path and be prepared to do the assignments that others will not. This combination can open many new paths for you.
Tell PRWeek about your career turning point,
2007: Board director, comms and public affairs, Jaguar Land Rover
1998: Ford Motor Company, variety of roles including: director of comms, Premier Automotive Group and Ford Europe, London; deputy GM, comms, Mazda Motor Corporation, Hiroshima, Japan; Global news manager, Ford Europe, Cologne, Germany
1997: GM, TRS Public Relations
1994: Press officer, Home Office, UK Government Information Service
1991: Freelance journalist/City of Westminster publicity officer