Profile: Kleshna Handel, Manning Selvage and Lee - Handel gets a grip on MS&L/MS&L has cast a rising star as a leading player in its London office

Manning Selvage and Lee’s new managing director, Kleshna Handel, is passionate. Passionate about the PR industry, passionate about her family. ’I know it’s a luvvie thing to say, but I’m passionate about people.’

Manning Selvage and Lee’s new managing director, Kleshna Handel, is

passionate. Passionate about the PR industry, passionate about her

family. ’I know it’s a luvvie thing to say, but I’m passionate about


A few luvvie tendencies should not surprise us - Handel started her

career in the theatre. ’I wanted to go on the stage from the age of

five, when I saw a pantomime at London Palladium.’ At the age of seven

she went to a theatrical boarding school and subsequently spent eight

years in drama - from a handmaiden in Up Pompeii to roles in Last of the

Summer Wine and Steptoe and Son. ’I’d play the leggy broad in the - how

can I put this - ’tight costume’,’ she says wryly.

By the time she reached her mid-20s Handel decided that the scope of a

theatrical life was limited and went to work for an ad agency. She

stepped sideways into in-house PR when she joined design outfit Michael

Peters Group just as business was booming in the mid-1980s. The

attraction of PR was the opportunity to be more self-contained than the

advertising world’s structured roles allowed. ’You are the creative, the

copywriter, the media expert. I find that empowering and exciting.’

Handel decided to set up her own agency practically overnight, after a

brief stint as a director at Philip Barrow Communications, and Handel

Communications was born in late 1988. It was acquired last week by


The deal means that Handel will be taking over chief executive Jackie

Elliot’s managing director role in the London office, and will report to

Elliot who jokes that she’s not sure who will boss who.

Handel says she and Elliot hit it off while they were brokering the deal

and she sees Elliot as a great ally.

’It was really odd, because before I’d even met Jackie, a couple of

people who know her said that I really reminded them of her,’ Handel

says. She seems undaunted at moving from running a small, independent

agency, employing a team of 12, to managing the 50-plus staff at MS&L

and being ultimately answerable to MS&L’s New York management. ’I know I

come from an unorthodox background and I’ve managed to do well because I

work bloody hard,’ she says.

But the fact remains that MS&L has some hefty ambitions in the medium

term and has made no secret of its desire to get into the UK’s top


Handel will have to deliver some serious results, both on the new

business front and in integrating her own people and accounts into the


Handel also has the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of the

well-respected Elliot, but she maintains that she has the clout to carry

it off.

She does acknowledge that the task of getting to know the new people and

clients will take time. ’I’m the conductor of this wonderful


I have studied the score, but they know their parts better than me.’

Claiming to be very much a team player, Handel says she is not difficult

to work with, although ’my desire for perfection can be a pain in the

backside’. This sense of discipline is one of the theatrical skills that

Handel clearly transferred into her PR role. ’When I first started I

couldn’t get over how late people were. I have a paranoia about it - you

can’t be late in the theatre.’

She also does a lot of speaking at conferences, but denies that she

needs to be at the centre of attention. ’I can be the one who sits back

and observes,’ she insists.

It is partly via these activities that she thinks Handel Communications

has had a relatively high profile for a small agency. ’I know an awful

lot of people. I’ve made it my job to get to know people.’

Although still a regular theatre-goer, including taking her five year

old son, Archie, to children’s theatre on Saturday afternoons, she

doesn’t regret leaving the stage for the world of PR. For now Handel

will be adapting to being in the spotlight on a far bigger PR stage than

she has played before.



Trainee account planner, SSC&B Lintas


Director of communications, Michael Peters Group


Founded Handel Communications


Managing director, Manning Selvage and Lee, London

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