Chris McLaughlin departs from the television industry in a puff of smoke
Talking to ex-colleagues of Chris McLaughlin, Philip Morris’s new
Europe, Middle East and Africa public affairs director, is like hearing
an exchange between two equally credible, but completely opposed
debating teams. It seems impossible they could be speaking about the
To some, McLaughlin, who has held top communications jobs at the BBC,
Carlton and British Satellite Broadcasting, is an exuberant visionary, a
great team player who loyally defends and develops his staff; but others
have described him as egotistical and temperamental.
To certain commentators, he is a strategic thinker, a straight talker
and the best PR in the broadcasting business. To others, he is a loose
cannon who misjudges situations and is over-familiar with journalists.
Only one thing seems certain, as Murray Buesst, Carlton senior press
officer, says: ‘He’s someone who elicits strong reactions and is never
Before moving into broadcasting, McLaughlin spent his PR apprenticeship
with Grayling and Charles Barker. In 1988, he was poached from Charles
Barker, where he worked on the BSB account, to become the satellite
broadcaster’s PR manager. Following BSB’s merger with Sky he moved, pre-
launch, to Carlton as head of PR. After two years with the ITV
franchise, he took the job of director of PR at BBC Enterprises, only to
leave 11 months later when the it merged with BBC Worldwide.
Since then, he has worked as a independent consultant, involved in
projects for various companies, including Larkspur Communications.
To some, McLaughlin’s move to the tobacco industry can seem a surprising
leap - although a rumoured pounds 150,000-plus salary, a European-wide
communications brief and a contributory role in the evolution of one of
the marketing of Philip Morris, the force behind Marlboro, one the
world’s most famous brands, would tempt many. Typically, views are mixed
on why he made the leap. His supporters, and there are many loyal ones,
say broadcasting’s coffers could no longer finance the salary an
operator of his calibre rightly demands. Others say that, as he cares
passionately about British broadcasting, he no longer wants to work in
an industry which, he perceives, is being ruined by liberalisation and
in which programme budgets are being slashed.
Others are less generous. They think his personality has made
himunemployable in the broadcasting industry, hence his failure, despite
being perfectly qualified for the job, to beat Sally Osman this June to
the post of Channel 5’s head of corporate and public relations.
Whatever the reasons for the move, his ability to operate in a pressured
environment - he has worked through a launch with Carlton; a merger with
BSB and Sky - well equips him to be a spokesman for the tobacco
However, with his reputation for straight-talking and for taking the
centre-stage, it will be interesting, to see how he fits into Philip
Morris, a company whose spokespeople are known for being tight-lipped.
Jane Gash, who worked for McLaughlin at Charles Barker, as his PR
assistant, and at Carlton, as his marketing and PR manager, predicts he
will prove invaluable to Philip Morris. ‘Chris is good at building and
melding a team around him, he has lots of drive and enthusiasm and he
loves to challenge conventional thinking. There are not a lot of people
like him around,’ she says.
Another former colleague is not so convinced: ‘If Philip Morris wants
someone who will very carefully develop a party line and not talk, at
the first opportunity, on everything, they’ve probably got the wrong
Whatever the outcome, McLaughlin’s new employers can be sure - to
paraphrase Murray Buesst - his tenure will never be dull.
1983 Account executive, Grayling
1985 Account manager, Charles Barker
1988 PR manager, BSB
1992 Head of PR, Carlton
1994 PR director, BBC Enterprises
1996 EMEA public affairs director, Philip Morris