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Profile: Dotti Irving, Colman Getty - Career switch makes Irving top of the class

CEO Dotti Irving's enthusiasm has put Colman Getty on the literary PR map.

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If Dotti Irving had not spent a year as a school teacher from 1973 to 1974, this year's launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix might have been very different. The idea of moving into the publishing job that led to her literary PR career came to the Colman Getty chief executive during an English lesson on journalistic style in Edinburgh.

When she opened the newspaper she was using to illustrate her point, a job working for the children's section of Penguin just leapt out at her, she says.

Four hundred miles and 30 years away at Colman Getty's offices near Great Portland Street, Irving is keen to describe her rise to being one of the country's foremost arts and literature PROs as a series of accidents.

But it is difficult to imagine Irving, a neat and well-turned-out woman in her early fifties who answers questions with a clipped and controlled Edinburgh burr, anywhere else.

As well as having a hand in the controlled UK PR offensive for the fifth JK Rowling instalment of Potter's adventures, Colman Getty has just won the PR account for Madonna's new children's book, The English Roses (PRWeek, 8 August). While the relationship with Madonna, Irving insists, is at 'arm's length' and conducted through the pop queen's personal PR entourage, the firm can boast a more chummy relationship with Harry Potter author 'Jo' Rowling and with celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. Longer established accounts include events such as The Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Irving soon quit what she describes as the 'stultifying' atmosphere of the Scottish staff room for the altogether wackier world of children's books at Penguin. Working first for the schools unit of Penguin's educational group, she later found herself in an unofficial communications role at subsidiary Puffin. The company was collaborating with Oxfam and the children's TV programme Magpie on a children's joke book called Crackerjoke, to raise money for the charity and celebrate Puffin's 1,000th publication. 'We didn't have a publicity department, so I ended up organising a tour of The Goodies set and working with Oxfam on the PR for the book,' she says.

After five years as Penguin's publicity director, working with writers such as Richard Adams, William Boyd and Shirley Conran, Irving was on the move again, starting a family and joining her friend Vicki Stace - latterly MD at Powerhouse and then at MacLaurin Media - who had then just started Vicki Stace Associates.

While Irving's business relationship with Stace soon soured and the pair parted company, this split provided just the impetus Irving needed to launch Colman Getty.

The firm, whose name, she says, draws on English mustard for bite and Jean Paul Getty for transatlantic money, but does not refer to the company's directors, is Irving all over. It focuses on arts and literature, with heritage accounts including the National Portrait Gallery. The firm has also been actively involved in campaigns such as the launch of the Employers for Childcare campaign and the then prime minister John Major's Opportunity 2000 campaign to get more women into senior business positions.

The agency itself seems almost the embodiment of these messages of women's empowerment, having only three men in a staff of 20. But does this also reflect Irving's personal opinion of what makes a good PR person? 'If you've got five balls up in the air simultaneously and you've got to remain calm throughout, women are better at keeping their cool. And I think women are probably better at detail,' she says.

Irving blurs her leisure and working life together when asked about hobbies.

Her 18-year-old daughter and reading the modern fiction found in the 117 entries for the Booker prize, which has been Colman Getty's client for the last 11 years, are given as spare time activities. It takes a couple more questions to elicit a new Chiswick allotment of courgettes and tomatoes as a 'therapeutic' alternative.

But enthusiasm for her job seems genuine, and colleagues say it has enabled her to see where it is lacking in others, something that can be crucial to her clients' business relationships. Martyn Goff, executive chairman of the antique booksellers Sutherlands and administrator of the Booker Prize for the last 33 years, believes so: 'Dotti is very sensible and sensitive to the dangers of doing a particular thing or using a particular wording. She has enormous energy that keeps her working on these things long after I've gone home for the evening.'

It is hard to imagine Irving showing the same overwhelming enthusiasm for the Edinburgh schoolchildren with whom she started her career, but it is a work ethic that has pushed Colman Getty into its current leadership position.

HIGHLIGHTS

1973: School teacher, various Edinburgh schools

1975: Unit assistant, schools unit Penguin

1982: Publicity director Penguin

1987: Founder and CEO Colman Getty

This article was first published on PR Week UK

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