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PR Face2Face: Lord Chadlington, Chief Executive, The Huntsworth Group

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PR Face2Face is a special series of interviews with the top public relations and publicity professionals in the country, as well as with people involved in the public relations world.

The seventh installment is Lord Chadlington, Chief Executive of the Huntsworth Group.

Lord Chadlington is the chief executive of the Hunstworth Group. He has spent his entire working life in communications, as a journalist after graduating from Cambridge University and later in public relations both in-house and consultancy. He founded Shandwick in 1974, establishing it as the largest PR consultancy in the UK within seven years and holding that position without interruption for the next 17 years. He built the firm overseas and it was sold to The Interpublic Group of Companies in 1998, forming the group that became the largest PR consultancy in the world. Lord Chadlington is a former director of Halifax plc and has written and lectured extensively on communications, politics and public relations. He was created a life peer in 1996.


Lord Chadlington, Chief Executive, Huntsworth PLC

You have had a storied career in public relations, first founding Shandwick and growing it to the largest PR firm in the world, and now building up Huntsworth PLC. What do you credit for the secret of your success? How did you get into PR?

No question at all in my mind for the reason of success – never giving up. Everyone in PR gives up way too easily. You have to be resilient, always moving forward, push, push, push.

I am a huge believer in never giving up. My motto on my crest and shield in the House of Lords is “Never Give Up.”

I started my career in journalism, and was asked to help write for a trade press department, and enjoyed it very much. So, I made the jump from journalism to public relations.

Because of Shandwick, you have practiced PR in both the US and the UK. What are the differences between the two disciplines – is US more proactive, while UK is more reactive?

There were very significant differences when I started in public relations, but not anymore.

Today, the main differences are that the people in Europe are very good, and tend to be more global in their thinking than the PR professionals in the US.

But, if you have a huge home market like the US, you don’t need to think about overseas and International. You have to be very small in the UK, if you feel you don’t have to develop business in the EU or the US.

Right now, there’s a bit of discussion on what are the differences between public relations and publicity. Do you envision yourself as more of a PR professional or publicist?

I am certainly a PR professional. Publicity is exclusively getting exposure for products or individuals in the media.

A large percentage of our work is not in that marketplace.

What advice would you give students entering public relations?

Never give up.

An important maxim is that a good PR campaign makes a bad product fail faster.

Be as certain as you possibly can be that the product, company, or people that you represent are of the highest quality. The only way you will have a long-term relationship with them is if they are of quality. If you are good, they will be a client forever.

I had one client that started with Shandwick when I started firm, and left when I left. It was a very close relationship, very intimate. I credit the ability to provide good results to the client, and the client being of high-quality.

Public Relations in the States seems to be under fire right now – both internally and externally – with the different crises of late – VNRs, Ketchum/Armstrong Williams, etc. What do you think is the biggest issue for worldwide PR in 2005 and beyond?

There are two different answers. First, it is about the quality of the business skills, the ethical and moral values of the people in the business. That’s a big issue that lasts all the time.

Secondly, there are issues to do with the world as it is today. The biggest issue is the environment – both the world’s environment, and the environment for how business works today.

Your holding company does not have a blog – what are your views on the blogosphere and pitching blogs? Any short-term or long-term plans for launching a Huntworth PLC blog or blog practice? Is the blog phenomenon more of a US fad, or are you beginning to see blogs in the UK and Europe?

We are not seeing many blogs in the UK and Europe. We are actively pursuing the blogs, but it is not a high priority in our life.

But, also until the Incepta deal finalizes, we are relatively small. When that deal closes, we will go from $140M of fee revenue to $325M of fee revenue.

When we grow with that deal, we will then start looking at those sorts of things.

Huntworth is made up of 10 various PR firms, and will grow with the proposed merger with Incepta. What are your plans for the United States, beyond your current US offices and the Citigate possibilities with Incepta? Are you looking to acquire or build in the US, or is this market not on your radar screen?

The US is absolutely on our radar screen. At Shandwick, we had a billing balance of 40 percent in the US, 40 percent in the UK and continental Europe and 20 percent in Asia.

In very broad terms, that split was correct as it reflects the size of the PR markets and the split of the world in that triad.

We have a long way to go to develop our business in the US. There are specific areas we can improve, to establish our foothold and expand it in the US. One area is our public affairs business.

But, there are lots of other things to do in the United States, which includes expanding our healthcare practice.

Is it possible to build a huge, multi-national agency these days the way you did with Shandwick?

I hope so – I’m doing it now. The Incepta deal will make us one of the largest PR consultancies in the world. There are very few consultancies earning more than $350M, and we got there under five years.

This is just the beginning of what I want do. There are some things I will do differently moving forward, but where I am at, I am very pleased with the progress.

Would you ever consider joining up with another multi-national conglomerate to grow Huntsworth?

There are two answers. One is that it is not something we currently plan, but we have shareholders, and I have to consider shareholder return. I have to be open to any offers or suggestions that are made to me.

If I wanted to practice PR in Europe, in what ways could I go about getting sponsored for a work visa?

You have to make the contacts, but in the end you have to be offered a job. The firms in the UK and EU are always looking for good people.

I like people with international experience, so very much in favor for it.

If I was looking for a job, I would write to as many people as possible to build a rapport with them, to get that introduction I would need.

How has technology changed the face of PR? Is it for the better or worse?

Technology has changed PR completely for the better. When I started Shandwick Worldwide, we needed to have physical offices. Now, we can have virtual offices.

The great advantage of email and keeping conversation going is a benefit to business. It is immeasurably better – my Blackberry and cell phone mean that I am accessible for clients all the time.

The one big downside for technology is that people don’t think. It becomes too easy to respond with an email or text message. You have to think in our business, or you make mistakes.

What are the biggest challenges for starting a new firm?

Depends on what you want to do. If you want to build a national firm, you put up a shingle and get started. There’s no entry hurdle, just get started.

Then it becomes something you can get on with and do.

The more difficult option is to try to build a multi-national business, a very high-quality service with high-quality people. I attract high-quality clients and high-quality people. It’s harder to build an agency this way.

The biggest hurdle is something called courage.

How does the Lord title change people’s expectations of you?

In America particularly, people think that Lord is my first name. But, on the whole you must not take yourself too seriously.

The Lord Chadlington – the name remains the same. The title is how people address me. I am still Peter Gummer, but now addressed as Lord Chadlington.

Any last words or advice for PR people in the US, the UK and EU?

In all your life time, whatever we do in Europe, the United States will be the most important commercial and financial power in the world. We should remember that in Europe.

The United States should remember its position in the world – and therefore it is incumbent upon it to learn and show global humility.

Jeremy Pepper is the CEO and founder of POP! Public Relations, a public relations firm based in Arizona, USA.

He authors the popular Musings from POP! Public Relations blog which offers Jeremy’s opinions and views – on public relations, publicity and other things.

PR Face2Face: Lord Chadlington, Chief Executive, The Huntsworth Group
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