King of spin aims for the stars

Gary Farrow claims celebrities need 'grown-up' PR advice. And his new company is going to provide it
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The Independent Online

What is the difference between a public relations operative and someone you call out to clear the pipes under the sink? Nothing, if you ask Gary Farrow.

"Anybody can go out and buy a Penguin book on public relations and think they're in the PR business," says the former vice-president of communications at Sony Music Entertainment. "You can either be a plumber or a PR, because you have no training in either. But I guess both jobs involve unblocking problems."

Farrow, 49, who left Sony earlier this year after its merger with BMG, thinks the PR industry has failed to adapt to the changing media world. As a result he is setting up a new venture, The Corporation, which he claims will blaze a trail for big-name clients from business and showbusiness, who want to know not only how to promote themselves but also how to respond when things turn nasty.

"Nine months ago I decided that there was a huge gap in the market for proper, grown-up, no-nonsense, non-formulaic PR," he says. Farrow already has Sir Elton John on board, along with Kevin Spacey's Old Vic theatre in south London and Ronnie Scott's, the capital's best-known jazz club. George Michael, with whom Farrow has worked in the past, is likely to resume his relationship.

But the concept is about more than just a celebrity client list. Farrow, who is married to The Sun's columnist Jane Moore, wants to use his high-level contacts in television, radio and the press to offer expert advice on working with the media. A role is expected to be offered to Farrow's friend Piers Morgan, the former editor of The Mirror and the News of the World, and to the ex-Trinity Mirror and News International executive Phil Hall. "Piers has seen everything showbiz related from every angle," says Farrow. "We will do proper damage limitation and media training. People will be put through the wringer and will learn from it. There are a lot of people who are pretty good at business but crap at media."

Farrow claims that papers are not the first port of call for news in the way that they used to be, adding that: "It's important to strategise your campaign." With this in mind, he plans to offer his clients the chance to be interviewed in radio and television studios by well-known broadcasting personalities, so they know what to expect should they face the real thing.

"There are loads of people who are working in radio who would be very good in that sort of scenario," he says. "If you are on a PR tour or announcing something big you are going to be doing print, radio and television all in one day. How you promote yourself in that time is very important. Appearing nervous on radio is not such a problem as appearing nervous on telly."

Journalists may not always agree with the idea of famous and powerful interviewees being coached in how to deflect their questions, but Farrow is confident that there will be high demand for his expertise. "I've worked so hard for 30 years building up my contacts books, being reliable and earning people's trust," he says. "That's what it's all about."

He knows the television industry partly through his work with Jonathan Ross, whom he managed (along with Paula Yates) before joining Sony. He is also a powerful figure in the radio industry thanks to his role as deputy chairman of the Radio Academy. "I speak regularly with Jenny Abramsky, who controls all the stations on the BBC," he says. "I have been very influential over the last 10 years in bringing the radio and record industry closer together. It has been hard work. We have off-the-record dinners where I make sure everyone is copied in on everybody else's news - that the radio world knows what the music industry's problems are and vice versa."

Even within the world of entertainment he hopes to have clients from the business community, pointing out that Amstrad founder Alan Sugar has become a television personality. "Entertainment is a much wider genre than it ever has been before. It includes businessmen, chefs, sports people..."

He does not intend to run The Corporation on his own, and says that he has access to financial support that will enable him to make some significant hires from within the PR industry. "I will be looking for people who complement my thoughts and my strategy," he says. Farrow adds that he has turned down backing from venture capitalists after realising how great a share of his profits they would seek to claw back.

Leading music PR Alan Edwards, of the Outside Organisation, agrees with Farrow that the PR industry needs to change with the times. "The media has evolved into something enormous and complex and if you do not adapt to all aspects of it you are seriously limited," he says. "The compartmentalised system where you have one person on print, one on television and another on radio is absolutely archaic," he adds. "The idea of a print PR sitting with a bottle of chardonnay in [notorious press watering hole] El Vino's is long gone."

Dylan Jones, editor of GQ magazine, who addressed a London conference on the future of PR last week, says: "Most PRs think that by sending you an email or sticking something in the post they have done their job. Gary Farrow is all about personal contact and when he calls you and says something will happen, it will."

As yet Farrow doesn't have an office, although he expects to move into premises in the West End next month. "I'm not going to go that big, superplush," he says. "I'm going to keep it pretty small at the moment, but I love the name 'The Corporation'. I can't believe the BBC didn't think of it."