PROFILE: Christopher McDowall, PRCA; At ease in the top PRCA job

Ex-military man Christopher McDowall steals a march on PRCA rivals

Ex-military man Christopher McDowall steals a march on PRCA rivals



After only three days in the job Christopher McDowall, director of the

PRCA, stands in his functional new Pimlico office and cracks another

joke. He looks relaxed and self-assured.



A small, neat man of 51, McDowall exudes health and charm.

Unsurprisingly perhaps for a Royal Marine of 30 years, a qualified ski

instructor and an experienced sailor.



Since leaving the Navy two years ago, McDowall has worked for the Inter-

Parliamentary Union - ‘the UN of 130 parliaments’ - organising and

greeting foreign dignitaries.



His low-key appointment by the PRCA board, under new chairman Jackie

Elliot, has caused controversy as some would have preferred the position

to go to an industry figure.



‘I’m astonished,’ says the chief executive of a major PRCA member. ‘We

needed a top PR person to act as a spokesman.’



Kestrel Communications chairman Roger Haywood, a former PRCA vice-

chairman and now one of its harshest critics, says: ‘Organisations like

the Chartered Institute of Marketing have a director who is a

professional marketer as well as an administrator.’



Elliot points out that previous director Colin Thompson was an

accountant by trade and that diplomacy and leadership are what is

required.



McDowall shrugs off his ‘outsider’ status: ‘My strengths are in

leadership and organisation and I have the advantage of arriving without

the ‘baggage’ of people who have been in the industry for a long time.’



PRCA board member Peter Hehir is adamant that the director’s job is

running the organisation, but hints that McDowall could in time adopt a

more vocal role: ‘Modern military people like him make good

spokespeople.’



Indeed McDowall spent three years directing the Royal Navy, Royal

Marines and WRNS recruiting team and has been professionally media

trained. Like many officers in the field, he often found himself acting

as spokesman, particularly when he was overseeing the decommissioning of

arms in the former Soviet bloc. ‘I was interviewed on subjects from

weapons destruction through to the operation of capitalism,’ he says.

‘Once, in post-Ceauscescu Romania, I had to explain on air how to run a

county council budget because the local mayor clearly had no idea.’



McDowall insists he will only be an industry spokesman if he is

comfortable with the subject matter. More immediately, his role will be

administrative. He says: ‘We’re a small body with limited staff. The

priority is providing good service to our members.’



He will also be expected to interface with marketing institutes, quangos

and Parliament, something which Michael Urwick, a former colleague at

the IPU, says McDowell will take in his stride. ‘He is unflappable’ says

Urwick.



This, after all, is a man who has travelled the high seas, greeted prime

ministers and shared an officer’s mess with Prince Charles.



One tries to avoid cliches about military steel, but McDowall, rather an

unknown quantity, drops hints that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He

talks more highly of businessmen than MPs and hasn’t any time for

‘people who don’t answer the question.’



McDowall recalls his military days with fondness - he left the service

at 50 only because he had reached retirement age. So is he going to find

the new job a bit tame? McDowall is non-committal: ‘I’m getting too old

for mountains. PR people are very interesting.’



Even at this early stage McDowall seems comfortable talking about

industry issues. But Haywood questions his real ability to empathise

with the industry: ‘Even when this guy is up to speed, at the end of the

day he has not earned his living winning clients.’



Hehir defends the appointment: ‘The industry is characterised by

enthusiasts who don’t deliver, creatives who get bored too quickly. ’



Elliot adds: ‘The industry is a disparate bunch and McDowall will help

us go forward as a strong single force.’



HIGHLIGHTS



1989 Deputy chief executive, Multi-discipline Special Forces Base

1991 Royal Marine Lt Colonel UK Arms Control Implementation Group

1994 Assistant Secretary General Inter-Parliamentary Union

1996 Director, PRCA



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