This is the best time to be in PR, says Colin Byrne

Colin Byrne is UK & Europe CEO at Weber Shandwick, where he puts into practice skills that he partly learnt from his previous mentor, Lord Mandelson. At the moment he says his mission, which he shares with his clients, is managing the downturn and remaining focused on the coming upturn. He believes that there has never been a better time to be in PR, adding: “I enjoy the people side, with staff, senior colleagues, clients, other PR professionals and opinion leaders. I enjoy the diversity of the work and the opportunity to work internationally.”

The skills that Byrne finds most useful for his role are toughness, diplomacy, strategic thinking and being able to juggle many balls at once, plus the ability to pay attention to short term goals whilst maintaining long-term vision. He says that he has been lucky enough to learn from others: “I had a great mentor (Lord Mandelson, Peter as was) and have great bosses and senior colleagues to work with at Weber Shandwick.” Byrne has also picked up tips from other great political thinkers. He says: “Neil Kinnock, when leader of the Labour Party, once told me two things – better to get it right than get it quick. And always turn up in clean, polished shoes.”

As well as the considerable demands of his role at work, Byrne has recently become a father for the third time in three years, and says that useful tools that have helped him through are having a sense of humour, as well as alcohol! Although Byrne admits freely that the whole “managing in a downturn” project this year has been challenging, he sees that many positives have come out of this, including that “it has made us look afresh at our business and what we offer once again which is a good thing. I believe in taking advantage and learning from adversity, not moaning about it.”

Byrne claims that he got into PR by knocking on doors and refusing to take no for an answer. He says he was first introduced to PR consultancy “in conversation with my best man at my first wedding”, and has concluded that his career has progressed “ two-thirds by design, and one-third by accident.” Byrne’s jobs haven’t always gone according to plan, and he did spend three days in “the wrong job in London local government“, which he says was “awful” and is “largely blotted from my memory”.

If he wasn’t working in this industry, Byrne admits that he would love to paint and/or write fiction and poetry full time. He adds: “Failing that I would like to teach at university. Secretly, I want to be the new Bob Dylan.”

Although he likes to focus on the positive, Byrne does have some pet hates. His main being arrogance, which he abhors “in all forms“. He is disappointed to find that it does occasionally rear its head in PR, and which leads him to complain that “some PR folk tend to forget that we are the messengers, not the message.”

Career history
2008: European CEO, Weber Shandwick
2001: Joint CEO, then CEO, Weber Shandwick UK
1997: MD, Shandwick Public Affairs
1995: Director, Shandwick Consultants
1992: Communications director, The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum
1988: Chief press officer, The Labour Party
1986: Press officer, The Labour Party
1983: Press officer, National Union of Students
1981: PR assistant, The Automobile Association

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