Caroll quits and Nat\'s nat

By The Drum, Administrator

July 1, 2004 | 6 min read

Three years ago, Manchester’s Communique PR made headlines by becoming part of the international Burson Marstellar group and, by extension, part of the WPP empire.

In a deal reputedly worth £3.2 million, consultancy founder and Chief Exec Paul Carroll sold the company into one of the largest marketing networks in the world, giving it access to a worldwide resource, while simultaneously opening the Manchester market up for BM.

At the time, discussion was rife as to Carroll’s future. Would he stay? And if so, for how long?

Three years later the question has finally been answered, with the announcement that Carroll will leave Communique by the end of August. Big enough news on its own, but add to this the fact that consultancy Managing Director Nathalie Bagnall will depart at the same time, and the story hits the stratosphere.

It means, in no uncertain terms, that arguably the most successful PR consultancy in the area is to lose its senior management.

Speaking of his decision to move on, Carroll says: \"The business is in the best shape it’s been in 18 years, financially, staff-wise and client-wise, and it just seems like the best time to bow out. If things weren’t going so well it wouldn’t be in my nature to leave, but I honestly believe the company is in the best nick it’s ever been in.\"

Bagnall adds: \"I just decided to take a career break, a bit of time off, and get some reality back into my life. I’ve no idea what I’m going to be doing, I’m taking some time off and I don’t know how long it will be, it could be six weeks, six months or six years. One thing’s for sure, though. PR is the only thing I do well. I’ve been doing it for 18 years and not looking to leave. I’m not going to be re-training in law or anything.

\"It is hinged on Paul’s decision. It might sound wet but I’ve worked with Paul for a long time, learned a lot from him and I don’t want to work at Communique without him.\"

Industry speculation has been rife about whether the two will start their own PR consultancy, rivalling the established Communique. Carroll, however, maintains that he is through with public relations. He states: \"I’ve got some personal interests of my own. I’ve been in PR consultancies for so long now that I just feel like doing something else. I know offers will come up, but I feel like it’s time to move on.

\"I have a list of things to do, including learning to play guitar. But not golf. If anyone sees me near a golf course, shoot me.\"

Bagnall is also keen to point out that, by and large, the consultancy’s clients are not concerned by the twin departures.

\"We’ve been grooming the team to take on more business. The team here know how to do this and they’re bloody good at it.

\"The reaction from clients has been mixed. Some people are delighted for us personally, but were a little concerned but, at the end of the day, the clients have confidence in their team’s ability to run the business.

\"A few people genuinely said, ‘Paul and Nathalie who?’

\"It’ll take a little adjustment but then it’ll all just die down and be business as usual. The teams run the business.\"

Needless to say, the Manchester PR scene has had plenty to say about the story.

Andy Spinoza, Managing Director of Spin Media, says: \"Well, it wasn’t a surprise to me to see Paul going to do something new but as the MD I was surprised to see Nathalie doing the same thing. I would have thought they (BM) would have wanted to keep her on. She was the continuity and I guess they haven’t been able to tie her in.\"

\"I’ve been there myself. I sold in 1990, and nobody stays on for ever,\" says Tony Tighe, Managing Director of Mere Communication. \"I’m surprised Paul stayed on for as long as he did, to be honest. Both Paul and Nathalie have done a fantastic job for the Manchester PR industry.\"

Of even more interest, however, has been speculation about what will happen with the consultancy after Carroll and Bagnall’s departures – particularly who will helm the company after they have left. Burson Marstellar is said to be looking for some heavyweight recruits to take the top places at Communique, but it is unclear where these people will come from.

\"Who on earth are they going to get to come in and run it?\" asks Nina Wheeler, Managing Director of Brazen. \"The Communique brand has always been Paul Carroll. Nathalie as well, but Paul’s always been the figurehead. It’s going to take a very strong management team to take over from that. They could appoint somebody from London but the chances are that person wouldn’t know the local marketplace and if they recruit another Manchester-based person they won’t be Paul Carroll.\"

Charles Tattersall, Managing Director of Citypress, believes recruiting externally could be a mistake in the first place. He remarks: \"Communique has been around for years and I wouldn’t count them out. But I think it’s ridiculous that they (Burson Marstellar) are looking to hire externally, because there should be some kind of succession plan in place. I can’t see it working with an external management team. I think the more sensible thing would be to have an internal management team that had been with the company for years and knew how the business worked. I don’t think parachuting people in is the answer, because they won’t understand the local marketplace.\"

But it is Jo Leah, Managing Director of Weber Shandwick Manchester, who most succinctly describes the industry’s feeling about Communique, when she says: \"I think we’ll miss Paul, as an industry. He built a great business, brought a real creative dynamic to the area and was a great force. Burson Marstellar kept the Communique brand, and that brand was inextricably linked with Paul Carroll. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the brand stands up on its own without him.\"

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