PROFILE: George Pitcher, Luther Pendragon - Pendragon's Pitcher turns spin on its head
George Pitcher is not afraid to rattle a few PR feathers with The Death of Spin
tcher's forthcoming book The Death of Spin, a pamphlet version of which was distributed at this week's Labour Conference, will rile many in the PR industry.
It's author, the co-founder of Luther Pendragon, and former Observer industrial editor, argues PR people have no place in a company boardroom: 'It is management - not a PR team - that should do the communication in a company. And communication comes from principles. We (communicators) are nobodies'.
Pitcher has a clear distaste for the PR industry's 'indolent tendency', arguing that having a representative of a PR department in the boardroom is akin to a company creating a 'charisma' department and welcoming a 'charisma director' to the top-table. 'The purpose of communications is to effect change, not to express your position,' he argues.
The Death of Spin analyses the 20-year development of a corporate and political culture in which 'it has become more important to position yourself in a debate than to make things happen as a result of the debate'.
Pitcher slams much writing on communications as 'self-important drivel' and, as you would expect from an award-winning journalist, he is clearly not afraid to put the cat among the pigeons.
Asked whether The Death of Spin is from the same stock as Nicholas Jones's 1999 Sultans of Spin and its ilk, Pitcher says: 'There is an element of "I was in a bar and...", but it's not all about what Derek Draper said to Peter Mandelson. There's a danger of becoming part of that zeitgeist. Only around 35 to 40 per cent of this book is about politics.'
Pitcher says he particularly enjoyed writing the chapter that examines 'very live' topics such as NGOs and CSR. He began writing in 2000, when, he says, he first sensed a 'cultural watershed' in terms of what he sees as the end of the life-cycle of 'spin'.
He spent August of that year in a rented house in Cumbria, rising at seven and 'banging away on the lap-top' as he 'looked out beyond the ha-ha', stopping work only when his teenage daughter encouraged him onto the tennis court. After that he spent 18 months hawking the book to publishers, before being commissioned in March this year. He then spent 'wet Sundays' completing the work.
He admits that the lazy days writing his book gave him a 'genetic yearning' for his past in journalism (he is now in his 14th year of writing a column for Marketing Week).
Born in Dorset, educated at Blundell's School in Devon and Birmingham University, Pitcher married in 1985 and now has four children. His cites his hobbies as the theatre - his degree is in Drama and Theatre Arts - and attending Glyndebourne.
Given this background, he is unsurprisingly amiable company, his asides witty and packed with anecdotes about friends in high places in the worlds of commerce and journalism.
After starting his career as a trainee journalist at PRWeek publisher Haymarket, he joined The Observer, for which he became industrial editor, winning the National Newspapers Industrial Journalist of the Year award in 1991.
But he left The Observer the year after, the desire to run his own business proving too much to resist. He says: 'Journalism is a young person's game.
There's a danger of outstaying your welcome - like a nuclear power station that has reached the end of its lifespan.'
He teamed up with former ITN News at 10 editor Charles Stewart-Smith (he says he and Stewart-Smith are 'like chalk and cheese in many ways'), who first met Pitcher when buying his wife's flat in 1986, to set up issues management consultancy Luther Pendragon (the name was Pitcher's choosing and stems from his interest in Arthurian legends).
Luther, which moved into a new office near Ludgate Circus last year, now has 35 full-time staff and a stake in G-Plus, a Brussels agency run by Peter Guilford, the former comms director to EC president Romano Prodi.
Pitcher gives two main reasons why he has spent much of his spare time writing The Death of Spin. First, there is 'something to be said' on the subject. Secondly, he adds, 'as I go increasingly grey, it doesn't do any harm to position oneself as an aspiring elder statesman'.
Huntsworth Group CEO Lord Chadlington, who helped Pitcher and Stewart-Smith with their Luther business plan ten years ago, says Pitcher's writing is 'conversational but quick. I would expect his book to be amusing but aggressive'. Also a possible description of Pitcher: amiable company, but not afraid to ruffle feathers in the industries in which he works.
1981: Trainee journalist, Haymarket Publishing
1985: Financial journalist, The Observer
1988: Industrial editor, The Observer
1992: Co-founder Luther Pendragon
This article was first published on PR Week UK
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