Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Oligarchs to Ministers: Why Contacts, Not Content, Keep This PR Guru at Top; Media Analysis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Oligarchs to Ministers: Why Contacts, Not Content, Keep This PR Guru at Top; Media Analysis

Article excerpt

Byline: Gideon Spanier

TIM Allan must have one of the best contacts books in London. The public relations man began working for Tony Blair in 1992, served as Alastair Campbell's deputy in Number 10 and then Rupert Murdoch's director of communications at Sky, before launching his agency, Portland, at the age of 31 in 2001. Now he has sheikhs and oligarchs as well as ministers and media moguls on speed dial.

But as Allan prepares to celebrate Portland's 15th anniversary with a big party at the Natural History Museum this week, he says PR "has changed from a contacts business to a content business". His agency has grown from four people in a box room in Bloomsbury Square who "called a few journalists" to a 200-strong team on the Strand that advises on strategy, with an inhouse studio that creates advertising, magazines, websites and infographics.

Recent work includes an advertising "takeover" of the ticket barriers at Westminster Tube station for drugs giant Pfizer, a Can the Tax website for the British Soft Drinks Association in protest at plans for a fizzy drinks tax, and a glossy magazine for Qatar's embassies.

Asked to name other clients, he pauses to remember "which ones are public". Google, Apple, McDonald's, Heathrow's third runway campaign and the governments of Kazakhstan, Jordan and Morocco give a flavour, as do Portland's offices in Nairobi, Doha, New York and Washington.

He is "very happy to defend the work" that he has done for foreign governments on "openness and engagement". Clients pay well, especially if they have an unsavoury reputation or legal problems. Turnover more than doubled in three years to PS22.7 million in 2015 and is heading towards PS30 million, which would make it one of London's top 10 PR agencies, rivalling Freuds and Teneo Blue Rubicon but behind Brunswick and Edelman.

Allan avoids financial PR, which he says hasn't changed much in 15 years, and focuses on corporate PR, which has grown because of what he calls "externalities" -- scrutiny from social media and parliamentary select committees as well as the public's demand to know more about companies.

Portland has also benefited from London's growth as a global news and financial hub, and Allan hopes it "stays that way" after Brexit. …

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