As the former group PR director of GrandMet, Neil Garnett has just
helped steer through Britain’s biggest ever merger. ’I’ve still got a
full head of hair and it’s not too grey,’ he laughs. Yet the Garnett
barnet bears no mark of the months of toil, nor the end result which was
to put him out of a job.
Now Garnett is about to become head of the corporate division at
financial PR firm Ludgate Communications.
He has a record of unflappability. GrandMet and its partner Guinness
faced a barrage of problems: mutiny from a very vocal shareholder,
Bernard Arnault of LVMH; regulators queuing up to gouge chunks out of
the combined business; the logistical nightmare of 65,000 staff finding
out about their future in the daily papers; and then the blanket, and
confidence-sapping, derision at the new company’s consultant-born name
Garnett says it was an exciting time and colleagues have nothing but
praise for his performance. Charles Anson, former group corporate
relations director at GrandMet, says he is very professional, and has a
thorough understanding of business. Garnett studied accountancy as part
of a business and management degree, although he never went on to be a
Colleagues describe him as a very good manager, a team player with an
excellent sense of humour. (He must have: the man is still tippling on
Bailey’s even now his GrandMet discount has gone).
His next role, heading the coporate division at Ludgate Communications
promises to be just as challenging. Last year, communications giant
Interpublic decided to beef up its McCann-Erickson PR business and
swallowed up Ludgate.
It folded the firm into US consultancy Weber Public Relations Worldwide,
another acquisition and now the umbrella for all the group’s
Four directors quit in January, on top of the eight who have departed
over the previous 15 months. And the corporate division’s staff numbers
have fallen from 24 in its heyday to 15. Although the aim is there to
recruit two more consultants, as one observer remarks: ’it has taken
quite a lot of heart out of the business’.
The corporate division brings in 22 per cent of fee revenue but has not
worked on a big City deal since the flotation of former building society
Northern Rock and regional newspaper publisher Newsquest’s share offer,
both last October. No wonder director Nick Fitzherbert says the firm was
’looking for a star’.
Fortunately, Garnett knows how bankers think, having worked at TSB
during its flotation, later, he advised the bank’s new chairman, Sir
Nicholas Goodison, on communicating his management team’s strategy to
Garnett is well-equipped to deliver on Ludgate’s aspirations to provide
a global service now that it is part of an international network.
Between TSB, where he first moved into PR, and GrandMet, he spent two
years as head of corporate communications at multinational energy
There he campaigned, successfully, for more openness and information,
and re-focused media programmes to centre on innovation.
Part of his challenge at Ludgate Communications will be to explain how
clients can benefit from being part of the Weber network. ’Not everyone
would be aware how we fit into the group,’ he ventures.
However, Weber is now beginning to act like one company: last week, in
Florida, all the constituent parts got together for the first time ever,
including the recently-acquired German agency B&L. There is already talk
about using Weber’s hi-tech expertise both to communicate internally and
to service clients. Whatever happens, there is little doubt that Garnett
will thrive. And there will be no point at all in looking for the real
story in the state of his resilient ’do’.
1977 - Sales representative, Elida Gibbs
1987 - Chief press officer, TSB Group
1989 - Head of corporate communications, Texaco
1993 - Group PR director, GrandMet
1998 - Head of corporate division, Ludgate Communiccations