The life and loves of Tony Langham, co-founder and chief executive of agency Lansons
7th November 2013
“I wanted to be a history professor when I was younger, in fact I still do. I just need to go back to university when I’ve finished working in PR,” says Tony Langham, co-founder of firm, Lansons Communications. But as much as he loves history, he also loves his job, so it will probably be some time before Langham is back sitting down as a student in a lecture theatre.
Langham began his career in market research. “I was a political market researcher at MORI when it got a large contract from the government to find out if the public would be interested in buying shares in BT.” Obviously, the answer was “yes” and the iconic BT privatisation took part in 1984.
The next career move was to PR firm Dewe Rogerson in its market research division. Here Langham discovered that his heart lay in public relations rather than research, and he made the life-changing move to work in PR. He has now been in the profession for over 25 years, but says he never gets bored as there is always so much more to learn.
With his partner Clare Parsons, Langham launched Lansons in November 1989, the name of the firm being an amalgamation of their surnames. Owning his own business had always been part of the plan, as Langham’s father was an accountant and he often told young Tony that “The only people who make money are the ones who own their own businesses”.
When asked for the secrets of Lansons’ success, Langham says it’s simple: “We live for today and tomorrow”, while also describing his passion for encouraging young people: “I love to see young people making their way in the industry. We have sold 40 per cent of the business to staff, 34 out of 95 have a stake hold in the business. We like to share the rewards of success fairly. Running the company this way suits our philosophy about how the world should be. It’s not sufficient to exist as a successful organisation, London doesn’t need more communications consultancies. What is important is that your organisation is a better place to work and that its people are happier. We are a capitalist business with a social ethos.”
These are not just good words for good effect. Lansons is named in the FT’s list of 50 best places to work. The firm also gives one per cent of its profits to charity, plus it has an established partnership with HighTide Theatre Company, which encourages future playwrights by only producing new plays. Langham explains why he believes this is so important: “We believe arts are crucial in a civilised society.”
When asked why everyone is so happy in the firm, Langham says: “We try to make sure that all our people are not just good at their jobs but are nice people.” It’s not only the people who make it all worthwhile, however, it is also the work itself.
One aspect that Langham particularly appreciates is that PR has gone full circle. He explains: “PR has gone back to its future. When we first worked in comms in the 1980s, it was a new industry, less than 20 years old. Clients were asking for holistic advice, the work centered on reputation management and engaging the public.
In the 1990s, the industry became highly specialised and organisations developed silos. But in the last ten years, thanks to the online world, those silos are all being smashed apart. Once again, we are giving proper reputation advice. No one thinks any more, that they can be bad at customer service, but get away with it by being great at PR.”
Langham is obviously content working in PR, but he still has some concerns about the future. One of these, he says, is a worry that the so-called “Millennial Generation” lack self-belief and conviction: “You get used to living life with 800 Facebook friends, and you get used to a society where you try not to offend anyone, but this breeds a hesitancy. Not enough people ‘go for it!’ anymore.”
Tony Langham, co-founder and chief executive, Lansons