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Rising stars: PR needs to be at the core of the business

Crisis management is the point at which everybody at a company turns to the public relations department, but in reality it represents a tiny part of the job function – if the PR manager is doing their job correctly.

Graham Biggs, corporate communications director at Rolls-Royce, believes a key factor is internal PR. “PR needs to be at the core of the business and part of the strategic decision making machine,” he says. “That way you can take proactive steps to present the product or brand in the most favourable way. PR should not report to marketing, it needs to have representation at board level.”

Without this level of seniority, the effectiveness of PR is reduced, which means the need for crisis management can increase – a chilling thought for companies striving to improve their public image.

“PR is a broad role, it’s not just about launching new products,” says Biggs. “It’s more about corporate communications and improving the reputation of the company. And results are measurable – you can show the effect that good PR has on the media.”

He is looking for PR Rising Stars who can show and prove their creativity. They need to know everything about their business and how it all fits together from a national and local perspective. And they need to have a network of contacts in the media, within their company, in the local community, with MPs, councils, local charities and local businesses.

“PR is seen as a glamorous job and it does have its fun moments. But it’s also very hard work – it’s not a nine-to-five job,” Biggs says.

Biggs had an unconventional route into the automotive sector, via consumer goods marketing. Jobs at St Ivel, Unilever and L’Oreal offered good grounding, but he got the seven-year itch and decided to take time off.

He planned out an eight-month round the world trip, intending to return to the UK to do an MBA at Warwick. But the solo trip saw him “learn more about myself – it freed up my mind to realize I could do anything if I had the direction and a clear view”.

Biggs adds: “From an early age my dream job was to work on a car magazine. So I decided against the MBA, wrote to all the car magazines and enrolled on a journalist course.”

What Car? gave him a three-day work placement after which he got a road tester’s job. “That enabled me to make lots of press and manufacturer PR contacts.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Within two years Nissan offered him a position in its PR department. “There was some soul searching, moving from journalism to PR, but I took the job,” Biggs says. “PR in the car business combines my enjoyment about working with brands and my early career experience in marketing with my journalistic side. You can make a real difference.”

Biggs moved to BMW in 1998, helping to launch the new Mini, and then onto its newly acquired Rolls-Royce division in October 2002. Within 11 weeks of joining, he had to oversee the launch of the new Phantom, communicate to a newly appointed retail network and employ a PR department. “It was a tough time – a vertical learning curve,” he says.

Rolls-Royce is a unique brand. Biggs, who oversees global communications, has very few model launches on which to base his PR, but says the name itself “creates headlines”. He adds: “We have a four-year gap between new cars and it can be difficult to keep interest in the brand and generate coverage. But the brand opens a lot of doors.”

Biggs believes PR needs passion – “because journalists can smell a rat” – which means working for brands that you believe in.

He adds: “The interviewer needs you as much as you need them – they can’t write their story without you and what you say defines what they write. You have to give them what they want but also safeguard the reputation of your company. Honesty is key; it doesn’t mean the whole truth, but it does mean the truth.”

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Our Partner

Courland Automotive Practice is the only resourcing firm dedicated to the global automotive industry. With unrivalled knowledge of all automotive sectors, Courland has a reputation for high quality executive search, interim management and consulting services.

The Rising Stars 2006 Judges

FINANCE Jon Olsen, BCA chief executive
Jon Olsen is chief executive of BCA, Europe’s biggest vehicle remarketing company with 40 centres, handling more than 1.3m vehicles per year.
Category sponsor: Capital Bank Motor

SALES Nigel Stead, Lloyds TSB Autolease
Managing director Nigel Stead set up Autolease in 2000 after Lloyds TSB bought Chartered Trust. He has also worked for Appleyard, Velo and JCT600.
Category sponsor: Rockingham

MARKETING Paul Wilcox, Nissan Europe
Wilcox, Nissan Europe vice president, strategy and marketing, has been with Nissan since 1992 and is a former Nissan GB marketing director.
Category sponsor: Google

HR Gill Banham, Jardine Motor Group
Group HR director at Jardine, Gill Banham oversees delivery of HR, management training and customer services.
Category sponsor: automotive skills

PR Graham Biggs, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars
As corporate communications director, Biggs heads an international team at the Goodwood head office. Biggs directed the public launch of the Phantom.
Category sponsor: pf and pr

GENERAL MANAGEMENT Sir Peter Vardy
Sold his Reg Vardy business to Pendragon in February and is now considering his options in the motor retail business. Highly respected by his peers, Sir Peter was named AM personality of the year in 2003.
Category sponsor: PricewaterhouseCoopers

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