My Mentor: Colin Byrne on Peter Mandelson
'Peter was way ahead of his time in corporate communications'
Monday 27 March 2006
Working for Mandelson was the dream job. Firstly it was working for someone who took absolute pride in professional communications; secondly it was a job helping to rebuild what became New Labour; thirdly I was incredibly excited to be part of that bandwagon.
I read an interview with Peter when he was appointed director of communications for the Labour Party in 1984. The Conservatives had revolutionised political communications in the 1979 election with that killer Saatchi campaign "Labour isn't working" and Peter's message was "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?".
The Labour Party's communications machine at the time was shambolic. I wrote to him and said, "You are articulating everything that I believe." He invited me to come down to Labour HQ for a cup of tea. Labour headquarters was like some sort of Dickensian show factory: lots of grim-looking people shuffling around with cracked cups of tea. Then you're wheeled into Mandelson's office and he's suave, debonair and quite relaxed and candid about the size of the task that he faced. I came away buoyed up and determined I was going to work with this guy.
Two years later I went to work with him on the 1987 election and after the election was over he promoted me to be head of the press office, effectively his deputy. That's when New Labour got started and Peter became ascendant in the party.
What Peter taught me is that communications are about achieving a goal. It isn't an end in itself. He was way ahead of his time in corporate communications.
We shared a flat for three years and we kept in close touch for a long time. He doesn't take himself too seriously and likes a glass of wine (or did) and having friends round for a meal. It was the side that other people didn't see then, and now nobody sees.
Colin Byrne is the chief executive of Weber Shandwick, UK and Ireland
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