Spinner goes straight - former PR guru launches new agency model

Robert Phillips jacked in his job as head of Europe at PR giant Edelman six months ago, and has launched his new business - Jericho Chambers.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 11 Jun 2013

Just over six months ago, Robert Phillips walked out of his job as arguably one of the highest-powered public relations executives in Europe with nothing but a plan to ‘think about the communications industry’.

This morning, Edelman’s former Europe, Middle-East and Africa chief exec launched the result: Jericho Chambers, which puts itself somewhere between a change management consultancy, a management consultancy and a PR firm.

The company is run like a barristers’ chambers, bringing together a group of ‘experts’ – including Luther Pendragon co-founder George Pitcher, former Penn Shoen Berland exec Christine Armstrong (author of MT’s ‘Power Mums’ series) and sustainability expert Jules Peck – working as self-employed entities.

‘Rather than saying, "if you hire us, you have to hire seven directors, four assistants and an admin person", we’ve built a network of partners who are experts,’ explains Phillips.

It’s a dramatic change from traditional PR businesses, but Phillips points out that as a model, Jericho Chambers isn’t new at all.

‘People used to come to us and say "we’ve got this great new business model that no one’s ever seen before" – well, that was usually because it didn’t work,’ he says. ‘But the chambers model has been around for three or four hundred years. It’s very traditional.’

The idea is to create ‘progressive communications’ – scrapping press releases (‘they’re bollocks’, says Phillips. ‘No one reads them’) and helping companies to answer the ‘big questions’.

‘Take CSR, for example. People come to a communications agency and say "we’re a multinational firm, we’re one of the brands supplied by a factory in Bangladesh – how can we turn our story into how we’re helping Bangladeshi people?" Well, the real way to solve it is to make sure they’re being paid a living wage or their working conditions are safe,’ he says.

‘It’s the same with horsemeat: fix your supply chain. Solve the issue, then communicate. Don’t just rush to communicate."

The model has been ‘soft-tested’ over the past week, says Phillips, and the firm already has FTSE 100 clients – although he won’t say who because ‘this isn’t about boasting’.

Armstrong adds that the new model shows how things are changing in the communications industry.

‘Organisations have to change the way they communicate to reflect how the world has changed,’ she says.

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