Bunhill: Prince of PR fails to attract Palace

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The Independent Online
COME out of Blackpool station, turn left, walk about 500 yards, turn right down a Coronation Street-style row of houses and an unassuming name-plate says you're there: the office of Brian Cartmell, who launched the Cabbage Patch Doll, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Rubik's Cube and Barbie Doll in Britain.

For someone used to meeting advertising and public relations people in ritzy West End premises, Cartmell is a refreshing change: no false glamour, no pretension, just down to earth, feet on the ground, common sense.

A larger than life, dyed-in- the wool northerner, Cartmell started out as a journalist in Lancashire, moved to Canada, then returned in the early Sixties to join the Daily Mirror. After being pipped at the post by Frank Bough for the job of anchorman on BBC-TV sport, he moved into PR. For 12 years he worked in Manchester before moving to the Golden Mile and his own agency.

'In six months we earned no money,' he said. 'I was all set to go back into papers. Then I got a call from a bleach firm in Nelson, could I go and see them? I looked through my empty diary and said the only free day was that day. They said OK, and I got on the train and bus - I couldn't afford a car.'

The Nelson job kept him going and other work followed. Since then, the 57-year-old has launched new products and acted for the likes of Evel Knievel, the motorcycle stuntman, Smirnoff vodka and John Broome, of Alton Towers fame. These days, his roster of clients includes: Coca-Cola; Reebok; Mattel; Corgi; Thwaites beer; First Leisure, the owner of Blackpool Tower; Pavilion, the motorway service station operator and Sunderland Football Club.

His rules are simple. 'I say to anyone, if they've got a good story and it's true, to go to the press. If it's not, and the press come to them, whatever they do, don't lie.'

We met the day after the World in Action about the British Airways dirty tricks campaign, which involved the use of PR men. 'It was a terrible indictment of the British PR industry,' he said. 'There are too many people in the industry not equipped to handle the bad side of PR. They see it as a soft option. If your client flies planes and drives ships it's easy to handle - easy, unless the ship is called Herald of Free Enterprise. Good PR requires strategic planning and practical thought.'

His northern vowels got flatter. 'There are too many Sloaneys with double-barrelled names in this game whose daddies get them jobs straight from university. They've got a degree but no degree in life or business.'

Cartmell was named in a French newspaper recently, along with David Burnside, the ex-BA press chief and Will Whitehorn of Virgin, as being on a short-list of PR advisers under consideration by the Queen.

The article was wrong: he told the journalist he would happily act for the Queen, if asked. But just to ensure there was no misunderstanding, the Palace phoned to tell him he was not under consideration. Which is a pity.

WITH Mirror Group Newspapers certain to move out of Holborn Circus, the smart money has the group moving to Thomas More Square, a brick's throw from News International's Wapping HQ. Mischievous MGN directors want to erect a giant 'Daily Mirror' sign on top of the building, so that it flashes at Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie every time he looks out of his window.