Lunch with... Rod Cartwright

Written by Francis Ingham on 27 October 2016 in Features

PRCA director general Francis Ingham lunches with Ketchum's global corporate practice director Rod Cartwright at Shepherd’s restaurant.

I caught up with Ketchum’s Rod Cartwright as Jeremy Corbyn stood on the verge of another electoral triumph, and with the political world still cringing or laughing (or both) at Keith Vaz’s escapades.

We kicked off, naturally, with the ex-chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. What would Rod's professional advice would be?

"In any crisis, the facts are your friends. So my starting point would be, if you know what’s happened, and what’s happened is as serious as alleged, you need to be open, honest, and transparent, while also thinking of your family," he says.

From one crisis situation to another, I enquire if Rod is still a member of the Labour Party.

"I am still a card carrying member, though not perhaps as passionately overjoyed with the direction of the party as I might be. And I don’t just mean in terms of Left versus Right. I mean that political parties need to be in power to enact their programme. I worry profoundly that being seen to tear ourselves apart very publicly cannot be good for a country craving stability." 

Which is typical Rod: good analysis and an eye to a picture that’s bigger than just sectional interest. So who’ll win?

"Jeremy Corbyn is set to win easily because he’s worked out where the heartbeat of the grassroots is. Plus, the changes to the system put in place by Miliband, and then the decision of the NEC to allow him to stand despite lacking Parliamentary backers. Those factors all mean he’s going to win by quite a margin."

And then what I ask? For people like Rod, the moment of decision must have arrived. Do you stick or twist?

"If there was a vaguely even split in the Parliamentary party, then you could imagine some kind of cobbled-together situation.  But that’s not the case. The party’s in a cleft stick: if you split a few years before a general election, then patently that’s hardly going to put you in good stead. But if you don’t, then you’re left with the status quo ante from before this election, where he couldn’t actually populate a shadow frontbench ministerial team." 

Which is, indeed, quite the dilemma. That being the case, I suggest that inertia might be the winner, as people just suck it up and say ‘okay, we’ve lost twice, we’ve got to provide some opposition’?  

"A lot of it comes down to leadership. I just wonder who is going to step forward and be a steadying influence within the PLP now. So I think pragmatically you may be right, because a split would rewrite the history of the party forever."

So Rod would still encourage clients to engage with Labour?

"We’d always encourage clients to engage with anybody who has the potential to have a say on the issues that matter to them. So yes."

I move on from taking pleasure in Rod’s Labour discomfort to asking him about the Tories. And the cheeky man responds thus:

"I’ll answer a question with a question, in true consulting style, what’s your take?"

The nerve of the man! But to paraphrase the batsman WG Grace, PAN readers came here to see Rod answer, not to see him interrogate! So my response will remain secret….. Back to Rod:

"Their decisiveness in agreeing a leader who had wide backing is impressive when you place it side-by-side with Labour. The challenge she faces is saying to world leaders, ‘Here’s where we’re going on Brexit’ when the party and the country don’t know." 

I ask when Article 50 will be triggered - the new parlour game question of public affairs’ practitioners

"It will be into next year - I’d say Spring," comes the reply.

Rod’s looking hungry. So two quick questions: Will Boris ever be Prime Minister?

"I struggle with that for the simple reason that you tend to get one run at these things, and his run was somewhat naked and then somewhat bungled."

Will we see President Trump?

"No. It’ll be Clinton. But I do honestly worry that being a Trump supporter is somewhat of a dirty secret that probably won’t show in the polling. I think it’ll be Clinton; I think it’ll be close." 

I turn corporate. What’s Ketchum up to at the moment?

"We are adjusting, I’d like to believe very successfully, to something of a sea change in the way that public relations is operating. The requirements of modern PR, whether it’s consumer or corporate, has to be played out across the PESO spectrum; it has to be based more effectively in deep research-based, measurable insights.  

"The work that we do in the leadership communications space, and some of the work that we’re doing on personal executive training, is very interesting and important because for all of the transformative power of technology, business is still run by human beings, who are imperfect and frightened."

And who could deny that? So one final thing - something about Rod that readers won’t know, and that he’s happy to share.

"For almost a decade I served beer at eight Glastonbury festivals working for the Workers Beer Company, a way of contributing money to charity while serving beer and seeing some fantastic music. So I’ve done eight Glastonburys, which people may not expect of me." 



We both ate:

Shepherd’s Pie


We drank:

Rod had a diet coke; I had two glasses of Sancerre


We ear-wigged on:

Nigel Farage gossiping loudly at the table opposite. But that tale’s for another day….


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