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Chris McLaughlin, vice president, external affairs at Inmarsat, discusses his challenges – on land, at sea and in the air

Inmarsat is the world’s leading provider of international mobile satellite communications, including voice and high-speed data services to most global locations. The organisation was originally founded in 1979 to provide telephonic communications for ships, and in 1999 it became the first intergovernmental organisation to transform into a private company. It was successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2005 and currently has a revenue in excess of one billion US dollars.

Chris McLaughlin has been with Inmarsat since 2004, and as vice president of external affairs he has overhauled internal and external communications, including the website and the intranet. He says that his greatest challenge at the moment is preparing for a possible government change and for the extended launch of news broadband services. McLaughlin finds the most stimulating part of his work is making the most of his insider access to the company business and he really enjoys being part of the team that makes decisions. The skills that he depends upon, he says, are “the ability to listen and interpret“. Adding that these have “been developed over 25-plus years with success and failure along the way.”

One of the most demanding aspects of McLaughlin’s job is generating global coverage for Inmarsat’s partnership in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09. He explains: “I have to be physically at events around the world to ensure, through the global agency support, maximum impact for our company.” Organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race chose Inmarsat’s maritime broadband service, FleetBroadband, to provide essential voice and data connectivity and send high-definition television (HDTV) and rich multimedia content from the vessels. This allows a global audience to follow the world's premier yacht race on HDTV, radio and the internet.

McLaughlin finds that one of the aspects that makes his job tricky is dealing with today’s journalists, who are often inexperienced, meaning that they may not uphold the professional standards of their more senior counterparts. With more experienced journalists tending to leave the industry as salaries drop and redundancies increase, caused by greater pressures on the media to cut costs, PR professionals are often having to face new entrants who know little about their business, and do not have much practice of journalism either. McLaughlin says that he realises that expert journalists are now “a thing of the past”, adding that the new generation “don’t understand what ‘off the record’ means when they file six stories a day on their web site.”

He may despair of those with inexperience and poor training, but McLaughlin works hard to make sure that he himself is well informed and advises other PR practitioners to: “read everything and be open to everything. You never know how it can be subsequently applied.”

One of McLaughlin’s first forays into the working world was working in a ski shop, but he says he was attracted into PR when he realised it “was apparently a year round occupation”. He adds that if he wasn’t in PR, he has the modest ambition of being Prime Minister, pointing out, “I couldn’t do a worse job than Labour over the last 12 years!” With customary wry insight, McLaughlin’s last word of advice to those starting up in PR now, is to “Open your agency and keep 51% of the equity…”

Career history

2004-to date: vice president, external affairs, Inmarsat

2000-2004: vice president, Cable Partners Europe LLC

1999-2000: senior vice president, corporate communications, EU region, Visa International

1996-1999: manager, public affairs, Philip Morris International

1994-1996: consultant and board member, Larkspur Public Relations

1993-1994: director, corporate affairs, BBC Enterprises/BBC Worldwide

1991-1993: head of public relations, Carlton Television

1987-1990: head of public relations, British Satellite Broadcasting

1984-1987: Charles Barker PR

1983-1984: The Grayling Company

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