From life insurance to the ITC is just a change of perspective for Paul Smee
Paul Smee, who joins the Independent Television Commission this week as
director of public affairs, can claim at least one good qualification
for the job: he likes television.
‘I do watch television,’ he says, ‘although it tends to be more for
entertainment than education. I like sport, particularly cricket, and
detective programmes. My favourite is Inspector Morse. But now I imagine
I’ll be much more conscious of the various contractual obligations being
placed on the people who are providing programmes.’
Previously ensconced at the City offices of the Association of British
Insurers (ABI) where he held the job of head of life insurance, Smee may
seem an unlikely recruit to the glittering world of television luvvies.
Although he is affable and humorous, most commentators agree that Smee
is probably not one of the PR industry’s most colourful characters. But
the pin-striped exterior can be deceptive.
‘He’s a very good operator and knows exactly how the systems works,’
comments one former financial journalist. ‘He tries to act dumb and
gives the impression he doesn’t know what is going on when of course he
does. He is very much a behind the scenes person rather than a poncey PR
type. His City experience should stand him good stead because there is
going to be a lot of movement in the television industry in terms of
takeovers and mergers.’
Smee’s career began as an administrative trainee at the Department of
Trade and Industry. ‘That was in the days when we had something called a
Labour Government and the DTI was a central ministry,’ he remembers.
‘The civil service is a superb training ground, particularly for
communications and it teaches you how to adapt quickly to different
areas. I was also in a position to see how the financial services sector
interrelated with government.’
Despite a swift rise through the ranks and a hectic period guiding the
1986 Financial Services Act through Parliament, Smee began to see
‘limited career opportunities’ in the civil service. In 1988 he joined
the London Stock Exchange as head of public policy and international
relations where one of his tasks was to organise a visit by President
Yeltsin in 1992.
‘Yeltsin wanted to make a speech about rescheduling debt at what he saw
was the heart of western capitalism,’ recalls Smee. ‘His entourage was
substantial. We expected six and got 36 and realised that one of them
was probably carrying the nuclear code.’
At the DTI and Stock Exchange Smee also learned the importance of
effective communication between business and government - a skill that
was often in short supply. ‘I thought public affairs was lacking in the
City,’ he says. ‘People tended to react too little too late to
government and one could see missed opportunities. Now the general
standard has improved. People understand that shouting at the government
and regulators doesn’t work and that constructive dialogue is more
‘The PR profession scores well when it has sorted out the message and
the substance of the debate and then communicates it. I’ve never been
one for the sort of froth that tries to conceal the facts. That’s the
role of an in-house public affairs specialist: to make sure the
substance is in place for effective communication.’
Although he has spent the last two years lobbying on behalf of an
industry association, Smee is comfortable about moving to the other side
of the fence at the television regulator. ‘I’ve already done the
transition once from the Stock Exchange to the ABI, so it isn’t like
moving to a different planet,’ he says.
‘I also think industries benefit from having somebody with a slightly
different perspective. There’s so much expertise at the ITC about TV
that I will be able to make my own contribution.’
And how does he feel about rubbing shoulders with television luvvies?
‘It’ll be different from mixing with actuaries,’ he remarks wryly.
1978 Administrative trainee, DTI
1988 Head of public policy and international relations, London Stock
1994 Head of life insurance, Association of British Insurers
1996 Director of public affairs, Independent Television Commission