Life without Lynne Franks

`Ab Fab' brought fame to the most successful fashion PR company in England. But now it is absolutely serious about changing its name and burying its founder. By Emma Cook

Think Lynne Franks PR, sweetie, and what does it conjure up? The most successful fashion PR company in England? Yes, probably. But a few other things spring to mind first and the problem is, they're nearly all to do with the founder. Once the Jennifer Saunders version had taken hold, it was hard not to think of the more farcical aspects that have become a shorthand for the high-octane, fashion PR lifestyle; air kissing, shopping sprees, Tibetan Buddhist chanting and any number of toe-curling spiritual New Age fads.

Then there's the really flaky stuff that Franks has supposedly dabbled in, searching for elusive inner peace; making a urine circle on a hilltop, being massaged naked on a stone slab in California and attending menstruating rituals. It's legendary antics like these that ensure Franks' personality still defines her PR product. It matters little that the woman behind one of the most high-profile PR companies actually left five years ago and is now a non-executive director.

Yet perhaps her tastes and images don't sit quite so easily with the real business of Lynne Franks PR today; which includes working for such sober, "unsexy" clients as Abbey National and Merseyside Development Corporation. It's easy to imagine the company's occasional collective cringe of embarrassment like Edina's daughter Saffy in Ab Fab every time mummy tries out another eccentric New Age cure. Like sensible Saffy, the company is rather more serious-minded these days.

This must surely be a deciding factor behind their decision to rename themselves "Life PR". As well as being a bit of a mission statement, it's also an acronym. L to pay homage to Lynne Franks' legacy, I for influencer, F for futures and E for exposure. Still, it's quite a drastic brand change, one that any successful business wouldn't dream of doing unless they felt it was absolutely necessary like, say, Gerald Ratner. Surely Lynne Franks can't be that much of a liability. Stefano Hatfield, editor of Campaign magazine, says tactfully: "Like lots of very strongly branded entities, you can become a victim of your own success; if your image becomes inappropriate to the times, you can find it very difficult to shrug off." He adds: "The froth and bubble doesn't help you with the more sober clients."

Samantha Royston, chief executive of Life PR, is diplomatic about their reasons for ditching such an infamous heritage. But then she would be - that's her job. Perched on a purple designer sofa in her funky designer office, it's clear the 32-year-old Royston, who's been with the company for 11 years, is trying to do things differently. Like her predecessor, she fizzes over with hyper-enthusiasm and when she says things like: "We're really excited about where the company's going at the moment" you can tell she actually is. But that's where the similarity ends - Royston is less of an idiosyncratic personality, more a team worker. "Things have massively moved away from the person that was right for the Eighties. Now we've got different values," she says. "To be a `personality' is not what I'm about, or what the company's about. We're a team of people trying to work together."

Since Lynne took a back seat five years ago, it seems strange that they've waited so long to remarket themselves. "When a company's not doing well, the idea of change is very attractive," says Royston. "But we have been doing well, so we've kind of resisted that change. Now, though, we want to focus on other areas we're particularly interested in."

Yet it was the "personality" that fuelled the success of Lynne Franks PR, so much so that the hype was always greater than the business itself. As Hatfield says: "They were never big players in the market, but they were a big noise. They had `sexy' clients and did the glamour stuff."

As a memorable brand, it's hard to imagine Life PR having quite such a resonant impact, but that's probably the point. Maybe it's worth the risk of initial anonymity if it means losing the Ab Fab tag. Royston says: "At the time of Ab Fab, it was a double-edged sword. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't very positive. It was fun, we laughed at it and with it. But," she says, suddenly sounding terribly grown-up, "it's necessary to let the world know that we're not about Ab Fab any more. That was about being frothy and wacky. What we're about is a lot more substance. It's kind of growing-up."

Royston's persuasive but it's hard to believe they've changed that much when you take a peek around their trendy west London offices. They're gearing up to London Fashion Week and you could cut the buzz in the atmosphere with a Blahnik stiletto heel. Still, Royston is keen to stress their serious credentials, and hopes the new Influencer and Futures division, launched next week, will cut through the fluff. She explains: "The units are about identifying trends as they are being born. Then we track those trends through the media to see how they develop."

Their approach differs from conventional market research wisdom. "Most research is based on figures, data and sterile consumer groups. We're much more immersed in street culture, going out there and identifying trends as they happen," she explains. "Then predicting which ones will last." At the moment they are working with the night-club Cream, getting young clubbers to photograph the latest fads in watches, trainers or whatever.

So will they pinpoint the emergence of cultural groups like, say, the rise of the female thirtysomething Lone Ranger? Royston seems less sure. The units are so new, she says, it's hard to give specific examples. Instead she talks about Chanel's Rouge Noir nail polish - "Chanel sold a few limited editions in New York that were picked up on the street. A stylist saw it and thought, `that's fab' and used it on Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, and then a trend was born. That's what our Futures division does; tracks it from the street to the Influencer then the mainstream." It's not exactly Demos, but then that's not what their clients want. Lynne Franks PR was never about dry statistics or hefty intellectual forecasts - Life PR certainly won't be either.

We are interrupted by Royston's assistant who asks if we'd like more tea. "Fab", she says brightly, and whisks off to a soundtrack of dance music. For the foreseeable future, it's going to need more than a name change to take the Lynne Franks out of Lifen

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own