Agent provocateur: Michel's defection rocks publishing

The publishing world has been rocked by the news that Caroline Michel, the glamorous doyenne of the top talent agency William Morris, has jumped ship to the rival agency PFD.

Michel, a star in the publishing firmament who only recently moved into representing talent, has been made the chief executive of PFD in a move described as "out of the blue" by industry insiders. Her appointment this week has caused some upset at PFD, where she was brought in over the heads of existing directors, scotching hopes of a management buyout.

On a broader level, it is a microcosm for what is happening in the publishing industry, with cross-media deals between the worlds of literature and entertainment and the consolidation of talent agencies becoming the norm.

PFD represents some of the biggest names in the literary world including Simon Schama, Julian Barnes, Alan Bennett, John Mortimer and Joanna Trollope, as well as stars of stage, screen and comedy, including Kate Winslet, Dawn French and Ricky Gervais. It also holds the copyright to the literary estates of Hilaire Belloc, Nancy Mitford, JB Priestley, Evelyn Waugh and Rebecca West.

But for some time the directors of PFD have been hoping to stage a management buyout from its parent company, the global sports and entertainment marketing group CSS Stellar. At a meeting at which Michel was due to address the staff of her new company for the first time, on Tuesday afternoon, turnout was said to be low, with reports that Pat Kavanagh, the wife of Julian Barnes and an agent at PFD, was conspicuously missing.

There has been speculation that some of the agents could decide to leave the company, taking their star clients with them. But in other quarters, Michel's appointment has been hailed as a brilliant move.

Alain de Botton, who is represented by PFD, sang her praises, saying: "Caroline Michel has the biggest address book, the most engaging smile, the most flattering manner, the greatest appetite for novelty and literary success of anyone in London publishing. I could think of no better match between job description and personality."

CSS Stellar acquired PFD in 2001. Since then, its agents, including Caroline Dawnay, Simon Trewin, Rosemary Cantor, Robert Kirby and Charles Walker, have been pushing to buy out the parent company. But CSS rejected a £4m bid, unveiling a rival bid worth £8m from the licensing company Chorion.

By bringing in Michel, however, the new CSS chairman, David Buchler, has made it clear that a sale is no longer on the horizon. Instead, Michel will be expected to turn the company into the equivalent of one of the big American super-talent agencies such as William Morris and ICM.

Mr Buchler said: "The uncertainty that has surrounded the future of PFD is now at an end and the appointment of Caroline Michel sends a clear and strong message." While one or two might choose to leave the company, he added: "I think the majority of people I've spoken to will be delighted."

Michel said she hoped the existing agents at PFD would stay on: "I know there has been talk of resignations. I hope they'll give it time. Before, there hasn't been investment, there haven't been the resources. Now there is the vision to create an agency that can compete with the big American agencies."

One of the advantages of an agency such as PFD is that it can cross-promote talent across film, theatre, books and television.

Michel is one of the most glamorous figures in publishing. She has only been involved in the agency business since 2005 when she joined the William Morris Agency (WMA) as managing director. But she has a long and distinguished track record in the book world, where she is well known for her publicity skills.

Before joining WMA, she was the managing director and publisher of Harper Press, the literary division of Harper Collins. For 10 years before that she was the publisher of Vintage, the paperback division of Random House.

One of the founding directors of the Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury, she has represented and published writers including Jeanette Winterson, Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain, Salman Rushdie, AS Byatt and Martin Amis. One half of one of the most powerful couples in the literary world, she is married to Matthew, now Lord, Evans, the former chairman of Faber and Faber. She is believed to have clinched the deal to publish the late politician Alan Clark's diaries for the firm Weidenfeld by wearing a short skirt.

One literary insider credited her success at William Morris to her talent for entertaining. "She gave these unbelievably glamorous dinner parties. You could find yourself sitting next to Sean Connery," the source said.

In his blog, the deputy editor of The Bookseller, Joel Rickett, suggested that Michel might persuade many of the existing agents to stay at PFD by allowing them to broker cross-media deals on behalf of their clients and allow them to take generous commission.

Big players in the publishing world

Pat Kavanagh

The wife of the author Julian Barnes, Kavanagh is an agent at PFD, where she represents authors including her husband, Robert Harris, Ruth Rendell and Andrew Motion. Barnes fell out with Martin Amis after he left Kavanagh for a new agent, Andrew "the jackal" Wylie.

Andrew Wylie

As well as swiping Amis and securing him a reputed £460,000 book deal, Wylie has represented Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and Salman Rushdie. He is renowned for moves such as signing Benazir Bhutto in a (successful) bid to sign up Rushdie. Based in New York, he has an office in London.

David Godwin

So keen was Godwin to sign up Arundhati Roy, so the story goes, that he caught the first flight to Delhi to sign her up and secured her more than $1m in advances. His agency represents authors including Simon Armitage, Howard Marks and Fergal Keane.

Ed Victor

Worked for Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Jonathan Cape before establishing his own agency in 1976. His clients have included Will Self, Erica Jong and the late Dame Iris Murdoch. He is said to have secured a £3.4m deal for the memoirs of the Rolling Stone Keith Richards.

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