It took seven years of lobbying by a professional persuader for
Jane Howard to agree to sell her agency. GCI UK chief executive Adrian
Wheeler first approached Howard in 1992, but it was not until January
this year that she began to seriously consider offers from a handful of
Two weeks ago, the agencies entered exclusive negotiations. Jane Howard
PR, which counts brewer Scottish and Newcastle and Carphone Warehouse
among its clients, will bring almost pounds 900,000 worth of consumer
fee income to the GCI Group.
A biochemistry graduate from Bristol University, Howard entered the PR
fray in 1980 when her concern over the damage being done to the
environment led her to join Friends of the Earth as a press officer.
’I do not have many gloomy days but when I do, these are the sort of
issues which really worry me,’ she admits. Her concern led her, among
other publicity stunts, to chain herself to the railings of the
Norwegian Embassy in London to protest against whaling.
Howard left the organisation after three years because she was
disillusioned when it decided to reject a no strings attached donation
of pounds 10,000 by a major oil company, money which could have saved a
threatened UK environmental area. ’I didn’t think we should have been
alienating these people - it is only by working with them that we can
change things,’ she says.
She picked up many of her PR skills in what she describes as her first
’proper job’ at Jones Rose Associates, where she handled clients
including glue brand Pritt Stick and electrical giant GEC. She followed
the agency’s joint founder Gareth Jones when he set up Jones PR in
In 1989, still at Jones PR and two years after divorcing her first
husband, Howard had a lifestyle epiphany. ’I woke up and, for the first
time in a while, felt good again, but realised I had the same friends,
same job and same house. I just needed a change,’ she says.
So she bought a ticket to Manila and travelled around Asia for a month
with Karen Robinson, now an assistant supplements editor of the Sunday
Times, who describes Howard as well-organised without being bossy. She
praises Howard’s cool in extreme circumstances, recalling that she had
remained unflappable even when prevented from seeing Imelda Marcos’
infamous shoe collection because the presidential palace was undergoing
Before Howard left on her travels, Jones PR client Martin Birch, at
battery maker Ever Ready, had suggested she set up her own agency and
guaranteed the company would come with her. On returning, she decided to
follow the idea through. On the day she opened for business she met her
soon-to-be husband, journalist Adrian Brewer, at a friend’s birthday
Howard’s family is very important to her. She spends just four days a
week at work and lives minutes from her office in Clapham, which ensures
she has at least four hours each day with her children - Mattie, four,
and Rose, two.
Wheeler rates her skills highly. ’I think she is a PR wizard and imparts
that wizardry to a bright, hard-working team,’ he says.
In the last two years, five of the top 20 UK firms have knocked on
Howard’s door to boost their consumer divisions but were spurned because
she could not see her business moving wholesale into a top 20 agency and
still being able to offer the same level of service.
But three things changed her mind. First, the agency’s clients,
particularly on the retail side, increasingly needed pan-European
coverage as they expanded. Second was the need to invest in technology -
with just 20 people, the agency could not properly keep up with a media
breaking into the digital age. And lastly, she wanted to spend less time
managing and more time with clients.
Howard is already rolling up her sleeves: ’I want to get my hands
dirty,’ she says.
1980 Press officer andfundraiser, Friends of the Earth
Account executive, Jones Rose Associates
Founder and MD, Jane Howard PR
Negotiates sale of Jane Howard PR to GCI