Alison Canning has resigned as chief executive of Burson- Marsteller UK,
the country’s fifth largest PR consultancy. She will leave the company
on September 30.
Her decision was prompted by the introduction of B-M’s new practice-led
management structure which takes effect in Europe from October. The new
structure does away with the role of UK chief executive, leaving Canning
without a job.
Burson Marsteller offered her other roles, but Canning turned them down
because she felt none had the same level of responsibility. She also
declined overseas posts because she did not want to move away from
Her decision is a blow to B-M. Canning is considered one of the
brightest prospects of her generation. She grew B-M’s fee income by nine
per cent to pounds 11 million in 1995 and is said to have set it on
course for growth of over 10 per cent in 1996.
From October, her internal management and external marketing
responsibilities will be handled by corporate and financial divisional
MD Paul Philpotts and UK chairman Alan Watson respectively. At the same
time, Watson becomes European chairman.
European CEO Ferry de Bakker said he very much regretted Canning’s
departure. ‘But in the new structure there is no real CEO type of role,’
he said. ‘That is the role that Alison aspires to and it is just not
De Bakker said the new structure had worked well for B-M in the US,
encouraging the agency to bring forward the change in Europe. But he
admitted it would not come without upheaval. ‘I have told staff to
expect it to be 50 per cent better and 30 per cent worse at the same
time,’ he said.
Canning is stoic. ‘Some casualties are inevitable,’ she said. ‘You
either live by the new structure or you don’t. They tried to find me
another job, but I know what I like doing and what I’m good at, and
that’s not available.’
She has no firm plans, except to ‘hang out for the next good job’ either
in a rival agency, a start-up, an in-house role, or another business
She said she fully supported the new structure which uses much the same
principle she adopted in the UK. But she is sceptical about agencies
ignoring geography altogether.
‘The pendulum will swing across and then come back a bit,’ she said.
‘People underestimate the importance of country managers. They are both
ambassadors and the corporate glue in local markets.’