As David Brain leads a guided tour of his new employer’s offices,
flinging open doors and enthusiastically interrogating his new
colleagues about their roles at Burson-Marsteller, you sense he has the
energy for the task ahead.
This is confirmed by the people who know him and were initially
surprised that he took the job of managing director of the marketing
practice at B-M, an agency which in the UK is not best known for its
Most say they expected him to land at a strong consumer agency such as
B-M’s sister firm Cohn and Wolfe.
Martin Thomas, managing director of Cohn and Wolfe, worked with Brain at
Paragon Communications in the late-1980s. ’David’s a highly motivated
individual with a strong personality. He’s a good account man and very
competitive. Anyone who survived during that period at Paragon had to
After leaving Paragon in the early-1990s Brain then worked in the Far
East for six years before returning to the UK three months ago. He came
back with no firm job offer on the table. Brain returned because his
wife, whom he met in New Zealand while working as managing director for
public relations firm Baldwin Boyle Shand, became pregnant and they
decided to settle in England.
Brain says he chose the B-M job because ’there is an intellectual
infrastructure here I haven’t seen before in a PR agency’. He will drive
forward B-M’s consumer practice but says the division will never become
a publicity house churning out press releases - ’we’re too expensive and
I want to work higher up the value chain’.
Nevertheless he has much to do at a more fundamental level. Brain’s
division relies almost solely on one client, Unilever, and he says the
first task is to win work for the Unilever brands it doesn’t currently
Brain has widespread experience outside consumer PR. He speaks with
enthusiasm about the skills he learned during a two-year stint at Batey
Ads in Singapore.
He has also worked in-house at Visa International in Asia, a role which
was government relations-oriented, and at previous agencies has worked
on large-scale corporate accounts for clients including Prudential
Assurance and Singapore Airlines.
Tim Sutton, chief executive of Charles Barker BSMG and a friend of
Brain’s, says: ’David is bright. He’s an agile thinker who is also
He has all the virtues of a hard worker but is extremely focused on
results and quality. He was talking about the importance of evaluation
back in the late-1980s.’
However, Brain also knows how to enjoy himself. ’Socially he seems
extrovert and used to love the bar scene. But marriage has probably
calmed him down,’ says one friend. Brain agrees with this analysis and
can’t wait for the arrival of his first child and the pleasures of
However, there is still something of the ’man about town’ lurking within
him: ’I’m definitely a city animal. The bigger, the dirtier and noisier
the place, the happier I am,’ he says.
At B-M Brain reports to Eric Gerritsen, the agency’s European, practice
chairman for consumer marketing and will run a 30-strong team. Outsiders
feel that he will fit in at B-M while offering a healthy contrast. ’He’s
the antithesis of the old-school PR man,’ says Sutton. Brain himself
feels that the structure of B-M, with its emphasis on global accounts
and strategic planning, will suit him perfectly.
His move to the agency certainly wasn’t an obvious one and is the
latest in a sequence of surprise career choices. Previously he has
jumped from a UK consumer agency to cover a corporate role in Asia then
left the comparative security of this job at Visa to buy an equity stake
in a New Zealand PR firm. ’I’m something of a serial risk taker,’ jokes
Though in the final analysis there is nothing risky about Brain’s
decision to join B-M. Those who know him think his battling nature will
win through. ’David will fly there, if given the freedom,’ predicts
1990: Board director, Paragon Communications
1992: Corporate affairs director, Visa International, South-East Asia
1994: Managing director, Baldwin Boyle Shand
1996: Group strategic planning director, Batey Ads
1998: Managing director of UK marketing practice, Burson-Marsteller.