PROFILE: Deborah Botwood-Smith, Coutts & Co; Coutts’ mark of perfection’

Deborah Botwood-Smith is set to raise the profile of the Queen’s bankers

Deborah Botwood-Smith is set to raise the profile of the Queen’s bankers

Coolly sipping Earl Grey in the Cafe Royal tea-room, Deborah Botwood-

Smith, newly appointed head of corporate communications at Coutts and

Co, looks very much the perfectionist her contemporaries, describe her


However Botwood-Smith, who is clearly relishing starting later this

month at the ‘frock-coated bankers to the Queen’, admits to mellowing

slightly since leaving Visa International last May, for the birth of her

first child. Motherhood, she muses, is ‘probably the best cure for

control freaks’. Her move from Visa International came after six years

with the company, before which she was group account director at

Manning, Selvage and Lee.

Botwood-Smith, 37, doesn’t come across as one easily deterred by the

traditionally male banking domain. This, after all, is the operator who

grew Visa’s corporate affairs department from two people to nine,

quadrupled its budgets and co-ordinated nine agencies across Europe. In

1990 she held the first ever press conference by a European company in

Moscow launching credit cards in the Soviet Union. Her first AGM took

place in Berlin as the Wall came down and she was responsible for

heralding the introduction of electronic cash registers in Prague.

Did all this jet-setting dominate her life? ‘Well I managed to get

married in 1993,’ she says ‘Although I did sometimes find myself having

breakfast with my future husband in Heathrow’s Terminal 4.’

Travel taught her about barriers in European culture and how to handle a

brand in different markets. This should prove useful at Coutts and Co

where part of her remit its to market its international profile more

aggressively. On the other hand, she says she learnt much about business

ethics at Burson-Marsteller, which she joined as a graduate trainee,

particularly through working for the British Egg Industry Council. ‘I

learnt that you can’t and shouldn’t try to whitewash an issue. Sooner or

later you’ll get found out,’ she says.’

At B-M, as a law graduate from Cambridge, she joined six months before

the agency’s current chief executive, Alison Canning. ‘Alison’s first

day was my birthday and I’m sure my exceptionally long lunch that day

gave her a very favourable impression of the industry’, she says.

Her move in-house after seven years with agencies may be explained by

her enthusiasm for corporate affairs. ‘Today’s senior PR adviser is the

manager of the corporate brand and in-house you have to live that brand.

The established culture and integrity of the company are therefore

essential,’ she insists. An echo from January 1985, when PR Week

interviewed a B-M account executive called Deborah Botwood. She said

then, ‘In the years to come, PR will be rated more highly and

practitioners will be more professional.’ Today, she still thinks she

was right.

So how does the former consultant treat her agencies? Peter Halladay,

now head of corporate relations at Visa International, first experienced

Botwood-Smith as a client while at Cohn and Wolfe. ‘She gave her

agencies a hard time,’ he recalls, ‘But did make an effort to understand

our position.’

Others confess to having felt the sharpness of her tongue, she concedes

an inability to suffer fools gladly and that she can arouse ‘strong

feelings’. But she counters this with proof that she grows her

agencies’ budgets.

She says a major factor in joining Coutts and Co was her respect for

chief executive Herschel Post and group CEO David Went, both of whom she

describes as dynamic personalities to work with. The new job itself was

clearly an incentive to Botwood-Smith, as she says: ‘So many people do

boring, repetitive jobs just for money that I feel privileged if I’m

doing something rewarding.’


1982 Graduate trainee, Burson-Marsteller

1986 Project manager, Scope Communications Management

1987 Group account director, Manning, Selvage and Lee

1989 Vice president corporate relations Europe, Middle East and Africa,

Visa International

1996 Director of group corporate communications, Coutts and Co

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