Malcolm Gooderham has a mischievous glint in his eye as he responds to the question of whether or not he is a hard worker. 'I tend to get in around 11am, have a long lunch, then slack off around five. Then I hang around with a few old-hat hack types, tell them how amazing I am, and how many people I know in the industry, and then go home.'
PRWeek is not convinced. Gooderham smiles and pauses, then finally capitulates: 'Unfortunately for people who know me, the emails start and finish at ungodly hours - but to the benefit of people who hire us.'
Others go further in stressing the TLG chief's capacity for hard graft. BT group director of comms Peter Morgan was a colleague of Gooderham's at Weber Shandwick and says: 'In a hard-working industry, he works harder than anyone I've ever met.'
It is no surprise to learn that Gooderham, 36, is occasionally up at the crack of dawn. Since quitting Weber Shandwick to set up on his own two years ago, he has worked tirelessly to get his agency off to a flying start. His efforts have seen TLG net big-name clients such as Nestle, Asda and Kingfisher, and pick up a PRWeek award for best new agency.
Now the 12-strong consultancy is set to begin a new chapter, moving into new premises just off Charlotte Street, in central London. The new office is just down the road from Roka, the trendy Japanese restaurant where our interview takes place, and opposite the Charlotte Street Hotel.
The area is virgin territory for PR agencies but is the heart of adland, home to the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA. 'It's no accident,' says Gooderham. 'I think there is a total dearth of creativity and good ideas in corporate PR. I want to really fire up the corporate affairs sector. Creativity is usually associated with advertising, not corporate affairs. That is the gap in the market for me.'
Gooderham might have a soft spot for the ad world and an intimate knowledge of the corporate PR scene, but his background is in political PR. It is nine years since he started working as press secretary to Michael Portillo, when the high-profile Conservative politician sought to become leader of his party. Asked what Portillo was like to work with, he replies bluntly: 'Challenging.'
Gooderham is more forthcoming about the media circus that surrounded the Tory leadership contest back in 2000. 'It was a complete frenzy at that time,' he recalls. 'I remember a journalist saying to me "if we can't get Blair in the headline, we want Portillo in there".'
On one occasion, Gooderham was catapulted into the headlines himself as the Daily Mirror ran a breathless exclusive claiming he was plotting against Portillo's rival William Hague. The story was front-page news but Gooderham is indifferent when PRWeek dredges up the past. 'The Mirror wanted to disrupt the Tory campaign,' he says. 'Piers (Morgan) twisted it into a splash, because he wanted to cause a stir ... The party was, like: 'That's the sort of thing you expect from the Mirror.'"
As David Cameron knocks on the door of Downing Street, Gooderham's links to the Conservative Party's modernising tendency can only stand him in good stead. But Gooderham, who lives in Notting Hill, refuses to be drawn on his Tory connections, saying he finds it 'unappealing and quite revealing' when lobbyists boast about political contacts.
He adds: 'We don't trade on it. There are a bunch of eighties throwbacks in the industry who think it's all about contacts. Actually there's a new school that is going to show them it's actually not about who you know, but what you know.'
Current senior staff at Weber Shandwick wish Gooderham well, but are reluctant to speak on the record, hinting that his departure may have ruffled a few feathers. Their silence could also be explained by the fact that Weber Shandwick and TLG are now arch rivals in the public affairs arena.
Having left Weber Shandwick in 2004, Morgan is less compromised. The BT comms chief says Gooderham has what it takes to go far: 'We're not in an industry that is rocket science. If you are clever and focused, which he is, and you work your nuts off, which he does, then you're going to get somewhere.'
Just how far will he go? Gooderham insists he has no blueprint, but his reference points reveal the grand scale of his ambition. 'Freud has been going for 25 years,' he says. 'Tim Bell started in 1985. Saatchi and Saatchi launched in 1970 and took nine years to get the Conservative Party account. We have only been going for two years. We are on track.'
MALCOLM GOODERHAM'S TURNING POINTS
- What was your biggest career break?
Becoming a producer for Jonathan Dimbleby. I learned the skill and importance of framing an issue and defining a debate: critical lessons for organisations building their brand reputation.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
Archie Norman and Charles Saatchi. The former, as chief executive of Asda, showed us how to revive a business and build a 'challenger brand'; the other, as head of the eponymous advertising agency, taught me how to challenge convention and build a world-class brand.
- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?
Think different and don't compromise. Simply set your own standards and do not follow the herd, if you want to establish a leadership position for yourself in whatever you do.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Creativity, candour and commitment. Key qualities that clients respect and will distinguish the stars of the future.
Tell PRWeek about your career turning point.
2007: Founder and MD, TLG
2006: Deputy MD, corporate communications and public affairs, Weber Shandwick
2004: Director of strategic media group, Weber Shandwick
2002: Associate director, Bell Pottinger
2000: Press secretary to shadow chancellor Michael Portillo MP
1998: Producer, Jonathan Dimbleby show
1995: Desk officer, Conservative Research Department