The 2015 Stakeholder Awards
Never mind the Oscars, it’s time to look back on 2015 with the only awards that matter!
The 2015 Stakeholder Awards were judged by a heavyweight one-strong judging panel comprised of the UK’s leading public affairs journalist.
Many of this year's categories were particularly hard-fought, so congratulations to all of those recognised for their PAN-tastic achievements. The full list of winners (and a few runners up) is as below.
Tory hire of the year
Winner: Esther McVey / Hume Brophy
While many former Tory MPs have lapped up well-paid directorships, only one of David Cameron’s top ministers has been tempted in by a lobbying firm. PAN recently revealed that Esther McVey was to join Hume Brophy as a senior adviser. Ok so she will only be doing four days a month, but it still looks pretty good in the pitch documents. Also last year, Hume Brophy signed up former Tory select committee chair Anne McIntosh.
As I noted over at Total Politics in November, ever since Cameron became prime minister in 2010, no consultancy has managed to seize the prized mantle of the “top Tory agency”. Hanover and Westbourne have come close, but no cigar just yet. Hume Brophy has not been traditionally seen as a leading Tory agency. But the McIntosh and McVey double act could yet herald a significant shifting of the plates in the lobbying world.
Labour hire of the year
Winner: Jacqui Smith / Westbourne Communications
Westbourne appointed the former home secretary to be chair of its public affairs practice in February, as the prospect of Ed Miliband entering Number 10 was not to be sniffed at. The press release noted that “the appointment adds yet further to Westbourne’s Labour credentials”.
Alas, ten months later, Labour is nowhere near power. It is also run by Corbynites who Jacqui Smith is probably not best mates with. But on the plus side for Westbourne, Smith may well be just as close to Team Corbyn as any other Labour 'big hitter' in the lobbying world .
SNP hire of the year
Winner: Kevin Pringle / Charlotte Street Partners
A well-respected former special adviser to Alex Salmond, Kevin Pringle joined Edinburgh and London-based Charlotte Street Partners as a partner and non-executive director. He worked for Salmond during his time as first minister of Scotland and had been strategic communications director for the SNP since September 2012.
A few months after we reported the news, Charlotte Street Partners was described in a publication by Spinwatch and Unlock Democracy as "one of the best connected – and most discreet – of Edinburgh’s lobbying agencies". Who knew?!
Spad hire of the year
Winner: Lexington Comms / Fiona Cunningham
Fiona Cunningham was Theresa May’s top aide for some years before she was forced to leave the home secretary’s side a year ago, after a Downing Street inquiry linked her to a controversial briefing against Michael Gove. She has remained close to May ever since, but we revealed in September that Cunningham had joined Lexington Communications as a director. So fingers crossed at Lexington for a revival in May's flagging Tory leadership bid.
Runner up: Seven Hills / Romily Dennys
Romily Dennys quietly joined corporate comms and public affairs firm Seven Hills as an associate director. She was Iain Duncan Smith’s special adviser at the DWP for three years until May 2015. Alas, she is perhaps best known as the person accused of blabbing about an impending reshuffle on the 16:43 from Chichester to London Victoria and sparking speculation that IDS was to make way for Esther McVey. Seven Hills will surely be hoping for better intelligence from their top Tory.
Hack hire of the year
Winner: John Higginson / Insight Consulting Group
John Higginson took the role of head of corporate communications at ICG in May, having joined Westbourne as head of communications at the start of last year. Prior to joining Westbourne he was political editor of The Metro. As well as being one of Westminster’s sharper hacks, Higginson is one of a relatively small number of post-2010 lobby journalists in the public affairs industry.
Quote of the year
Winner: Peter Bingle
In late August we looked into what a Jeremy Corbyn election victory would mean for the lobbying industry. Among those I spoke to, Terrapin Communications boss Peter Bingle questioned how agencies stuffed full of Tories and Blairites could get traction with Jezza and his team:
"The question for industry bosses is whether he will stay around long enough as leader to make it worthwhile hiring commercially minded Trotskyites. I wonder how many of them have been in touch with headhunters."
Runner up: Kevin Bell
When I interviewed Kevin Bell, I inquired about lobbying had changed since he started out in 1979. Burson-Marsteller’s global public affairs chair told me:
"It’s become too commoditised, it’s become too cheap. We don’t do cheap. I like Bollinger. Anybody who comes to my flat knows I like Bollinger."
Luncher of the year
Winner: Francis Ingham
In June this year, we kicked of a new series of interviews with senior public affairs professionals by PRCA director general Francis Ingham. Since then, the copy has been coming in thick and fast from the PRCA. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the interviews always take place over lunch in Shepherd's restaurant.
Prediction of the year
Winner: Alex Deane
FTI Consulting’s public affairs MD Alex Deane predicted in January that the Conservatives would lose the general election because of a "collapse" in grassroots support. The Tory lobbyist told PAN: “I am that rare thing, a Tory who believes in polling.” That’ll teach you, Alex.
To be fair to the former Tory aide it was almost six months before the election and he wasn’t the only public affairs chief to envisage Ed Miliband in Number 10. And at least he was brave enough to put his neck on the line, unlike many other agency bosses who preferred to play it safe and hedge their bets.
Runner up: John Lehal
The Insight Consulting Group boss veered towards the Tories but still held out some hope for his party. He told me in January: "The Conservatives will win the popular vote, but Labour could scrape through as the largest party provided they don’t suffer too many loses to the SNP.”
In the event, Labour lost a whopping 40 seats to the SNP.
Falling star of the year
Winner: Alexandra Paterson
At the start of the year, Curtin&Co account exec Alexandra Paterson was a rising star of lobbying and Tory youth politics with remarkably strong links to the higher echelons of the party. But in November she suspended from her post as chairman of Conservative Future as allegations of bullying in party’s youth wing emerged, as well as reports of an affair with Tory deputy chairman Robert Halfon.
Sources suggested that Curtin&Co had offered Paterson an “incentive” to pack her bags. In December, the agency appeared to have removed her from its website but it refused to say whether she was still on the books or not.
Mysterious disappearance of the year
Winner: Simon Nayyar
PAN revealed in April that Newgate Communications managing partner Simon Nayyar, one of the better-known figures in the UK lobbying industry, had left the firm in something of a shock departure. Sources suggested to me that Nayyar’s departure was linked to the recent merger with PPS Group and the fall-out from that. But a statement from Newgate suggested that Nayyar had actually left the firm to focus on the general election and his fight to win the seat of Feltham and Heston for the Tories.
Alas, he was 11,000 votes off the pace in Feltham and Heston, where the Tory share of the vote dropped by 4.9% from 2010. And he hasn’t been seen since in lobbying land.
Growth spurt of the year
Winner: Chris Rumfitt
Former Edelman lobbyist Chris Rumfitt set up shop in early 2016 as Corporate Reputation Consulting. Less than two years on and the firm is a nine-strong outfit that has just rebranded to be called Field Consulting and moved into new premises in London Bridge. Rumfitt’s team now includes highly-rated PPCs such as Luke Pollard and Naushabah Khan. It also has big-name clients such as Fulham FC, which it recently stole from Peter Bingle’s Terrapin Communications. Audacious.
New consultancy of the year
We revealed in July that two of Danny Alexander’s two former special advisers were setting up a PR and public affairs consultancy. Will de Peyer and Peter Carroll got approval from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to set up the new firm, called Tendo and De Peyer had confirmed the Road Haulage Association as a launch client. The public affairs world may not be buying shares in Lib Dems right now, but the pair’s high-level experience in George Osborne’s Treasury should stand them in good stead over the coming years.
Crap lobbyist of the year
Winner: Cherie Blair
Cherie Blair repeatedly pressured Hillary Clinton to meet a leading Qatari royal, according to emails released in July. They showed how Cherie did her best to urge Hilary Clinton to carve out a space in her diary to meet Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned. Unfortunately her first missive was addressed to Hilary, rather than Hillary. It also referred to Sheika Mose rather than Sheikha Mozah.
PRCA director general Francis Ingham was not impressed. He told PAN: "Cherie and Hillary are to professional lobbying what Bill and Monica were to professional dry cleaning. Occasional participants, but not terribly skilful. I doubt Mrs Blair will be eligible to join the PRCA Public Affairs Register anytime soon.”
Poacher-turned-gamekeeper of the year
Winner: George Bridges
Public affairs industry bodies were understandably peeved when the government moved to increase the annual fee for registering on its much-maligned statutory lobbying register. Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary George Bridges laid an amendment to increase the annual charge per registered consultant lobbyist to a whopping £1,000. Bridges was of course a lobbyist for Quiller Consultants before he was given a life peerage by David Cameron in May 2015.
Runner up: Bob Roberts
Ed Miliband’s former top spinner Bob Roberts joined the City of London Corporation as communications director in November. The role with the governing body of the Square Mile sees Bob promoting the interests of banks and hedge funds… having previously been busy pushing Miliband’s warnings about “predatory” business tactics!
Party of the year
Winner: Hanover summer party
The Hanover summer drinks reception is always one of the highlights of the Westminster party season.
This year, Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan and John Whittingdale were among the top Tories to drop into the bash hosted by Charles Lewington’s agency at Westminster Abbey gardens. On the Labour side, former minister Andrew Adonis and new BIS select committee chairman Ian Wright were in attendance. Also sampling the champagne and canapes were new CBI president Paul Dreschler and my old PRWeek colleague Gidon Freeman, now a top lobbyist at NBC Universal. Cheers!
Runner up: Shepherd’s
Now under the management of our own Lionel Zetter, Shepherd’s threw an election night party for the UK lobbying industry’s finest. And the rest. After we published the event (hosted by the PRCA and JBP) the Marsham Street restaurant was ready to burst by the time the exit polls were in, making it the hottest event of the year. Quite literally.
Conference schmoozers of the year
Winner: MHP Communications
As other agencies scrambled for a table in their favourite restaurants, MHP had its own suite in the main conference hotels in Brighton and Manchester. The suite provided a vital service for clients and others seeking refuge - and champagne - in the heart of the secure zone. In Brighton, it also provided an excellent view from the balcony of late night Labour hobnobbing outside the Grand Hotel.
Opportunist of the year
Winner: James O'Keefe
Tory and Labour lobbyists were among those nabbing golden tickets for the big parties of conference season – namely The Mirror party at Labour conference and The Spectator’s bash at the Tory event. But only one lobbyists managed to gatecrash the picture of the party leader at the party... which then appeared in a number of papers. Many congrats to James O'Keefe of Tetra Strategy. What a pro.
The ‘cashing in on Corbyn’ award
Winner: Connect Communications
Connect moved quickly to offer the first training course for public affairs professionals on how to engage with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. Within hours of the Labour election result announcement, a note sent to fellow public affairs professionals outlined a £250 course to be run by senior Connect consultants. It stated: ‘Every public affairs professional needs to get up to speed on who Corbyn is, what his policies are and what his win means for your organisation.’
The 'what might have been' award
Winner: John Lehal
If the Labour leadership election had played out as many expected it to at the start, then Insight Consulting Group boss John Lehal might well be chief of staff to the leader of the Labour party right now. As the contest got under way, Lehal was brought in by Andy Burnham to be his campaign director, with the Times describing him as a “PR guru”. In the event, Burnham came second with 19 per cent of the total votes cast.
The 'awkward lobbying link' award
Winner: Tessa Jowell / Inc London
Labour has long committed itself to total transparency in lobbying. But did Tessa Jowell not get the memo? The Register of Members’ Interests showed in 2015 that Dame Tessa had been paid £10,000 by Inc London, a firm set up in 2013 by former Blair spinner Godric Smith and his pal Greg Nugent.
Inc London refuses to reveal its clients but last year it was reported that the firm had been hired by Gatwick airport to help it in the political battle for a second runway. There is also minimal detail on the firm’s website and a spokeswoman could not say whether Inc London provided lobbying advice to clients or whether it intended to sign up to the Government’s lobbying register.
The ‘shut the door on your way out’ award
Winner: The Whitehouse Consultancy / Association of Educational Psychologists
Connect Communications was appointed by the Association of Educational Psychologists to provide PR and public affairs support, nabbing the business from The Whitehouse Consultancy after a competitive pitch.
In a statement, AEP general secretary Kate Fallon dutifully thanked Whitehouse - for being “extremely helpful in facilitating the hand-over of ongoing work to the Connect team”.
The winners of the Stakeholder Awards were revealed in PAN editor David Singleton's first weekly lobbying lowdown memo of 2016. You can sign up for the weekly memo here.