We just received news of an important development for PR in general, and in particular corporate communications for the South American market. Alistair McLeish, founder and former CEO of MmD, announced the launch of Speyside CR – a new corporate, financial and government relations consultancy for Latin America. McLeish, along with MmD’s former director and Speyside co-founder Ian Herbison, will be opening the company’s first offices in Sao Paulo this February.
Everything PR spoke with the new company’s CEO Ian Herbison earlier this morning about the implications of this interesting new engagement for a highly successful team. For those who do not know, McLeish built MmD into one of the most influential communications firms in the world from the ground up. Started in 1985 as MmD Group, this influential PR company grew to be the most respected corporate communications firm in Eastern Europe, and a globally accepted “go to” negotiator for multi-national corporations. McLeish eventually sold his control of MmD to Huntsworth PLC in 2006, giving that company a rather vast “on the ground” network covering all of Europe.
Speaking With The Silent Continent
Ian Herbison is an articulate, friendly and intelligent man. I talked with him candidly about this new company, his and McLeish’s past with MmD, and the South American market in general. I was particularly keen to get my facts straight with regard to these two executives current affiliation with MmD, as well as their vision for engaging this interesting new market. Ian was refreshingly transparent and obviously excited about the new challenges South America presents to task his expertise as well as McLeish’s.
When asked about the ongoing relationship for he and McLeish with their former brain child MmD, the straight answer was that McLeish had sold into what amounted to a performance based buy out situation where he basically ended up being a major stockholder in Huntsworth. In short, neither McLeish nor Herbison maintain any control over MmD activities. Interestingly, this aspect of the discussion revealed something of at least Herbison’s business savvy. We talked about the things MmD did so well, and basically the communication environment so necessary in their area of expertise and excellence – governmental, and corporate communication.
The revelation here being that Speyside is a big time player not only because of their relationships with a “who’s who” of big time global PR in the past dealings of its principals, but because of their patent and refined and successful methodology. One which will now be tested in still another multi-national hodgepodge of disparate business and governmental concerns. Speyside’s mission then? Ideally the company has the same vision as that which propelled MmD into the limelight, orchestrating a solid interaction and focus for what has been a comparatively modest South American market – a unification – if you will – of market forces this “silent continent” of huge potential. A broad vision it is, but no more broad than bringing about a “meeting of the minds” in Eastern European bloc countries, to be sure.
“Keep It Simple Stupid” Principles Never Die
I was also interested in ongoing corporate PR interaction with regard to ties and affiliations between agencies, to which Herbison essentially confirmed at least a shadow of collaborative association with some of the biggest ones. Make no mistake about it though, Herbison is a profoundly genuine individual regardless of his or McLeash’s affiliations. I asked actually point blank question of him about such thing as; ethics, public perception, and even environmental question in lieu of Brazil’s position on natural resources. Everything from affiliations with notables like Edelman and Weber Shadwick, to the Colombian people’s work ethic was touched on. As a testimony to Herbison’s expertise and skill, no tangent taken was without a seemingly casual confidence and knowledge of key variables. Since I personally deal (perhaps too much) on personal perception, our discussion told me a couple of important things about this new company called Speyside.
First, though intellect, resources, and initiative play a big role in business, success is a function of the application of tried and true methods and dedication. Secondly, successful strategy can always be traced to careful planning and long range goals. When I suggested to Ian the potential of a South American market based on the same principles of the EU, the equivocal response indicated in fact Speyside’s goal. I said; “Yes, imagine Speyside at the epicenter of creating the cohesion present within the EU interposed upon the fragmented businesses in South America!” The response to my “fantasy corporate communication enterprise?” Herbison replied; “I like your fantasy eventuality for our efforts in South America.” Beyond like I think. Targeting optimum visions of CEO’s is drop dead simple folks. A dream or vision is revealed by more than written corporate dogma, and Speyside’s methods will work in Brazil and the rest of South America. Simple in this case being, doing just as MmD did in Eastern Europe. My perception may not be flawless but figuring out a target market is not rocket science.
The Method and the Means
I hope I have not portrayed Ian Herbison as some sort of corporate superstar so refined as to be infallible. But then, he could well be? His partner in this venture certainly knows how to “sand bag” a little himself. I was reading about Alistair McLeish propensity to avoid micro-managing earlier today. In either real or practiced humility over his ability or availability for “pitch” deliveries (for which he was blatantly unavailable) he said; “If were not in PR, I would be a professional ski bum,” referring to his passion for skiing in and around Geneva. Perception wise, with someone like Herbison around to hammer out the communiques, he likely never has to micro manage. In fact that sort of dilapidated methodology would seem foreign to companies like these guys are famous for.
Speyside’s methodology will be simple as I said. Establish the method’s archetype (Ian) as the center of the desired market, allocate resources so that he can establish an indigenous professional team (the only credible way to communicate in country), and start as Herbison termed it – the “organic” process of building the corporate communications network (obviously with Speyside at its nerve center).
Perfect and critically effective simplicity being key whether Speyside is operating as a rogue agent or as a lead agent for a broader reaching network (which would seem logical too, kind of like corporate communication commandos).
Organically grown communication and business networks are the ones which stand the test of time. Herbison, McLeish, Edelman and the rest of the “guru” communicators know this obviously – it worked before and it will work again.
So obviously Speyside has the prescribed method to transform the continent into a thriving market, and the means are evident whether they come from the $50 million or so MmD’s sale gleaned, or from outside investment attained for the potential ROI. This venture has success written all over it. Ian has already globe-trotted all over South America in preparation, and since this writer is a student of that continent, finding someone who knows more about it than I do is rare.
Patience Is a Virtue, and So Is Skill
It is fascinating to meet and talk to people who are able to operate on multiple levels. Without making this sound like an advocacy of Alistair McLeish or Ian Herbison, suffice it to say that at the very least these folks are just as expert as Michael Jordan is at basketball. To be perfectly transparent myself, using perception along with some professional criteria to evaluate Speyside may be only partially effective here. Regardless, much of what I gleaned will come to pass I am sure.
Ian spoke of things which I will not reveal out of courtesy for him, but suffice it to say the man is highly ethical. Yet, anyone who fashioned deals for the likes of IBM, GE, and Rosneft (Russia’s largest oil conglomerate), among the many others – and in one of the most fragments and often business hostile environment on the globe? Well, the guy is no pushover, let me put it that way.
As for sensibilities about human tendencies? If I had $20 million to throw in the pot, I would be asking to invest. South America is without a doubt the best kept market secret there is. Asia and most of the rest of the world is taken (and even limited with regard to actual sustainable potential). Speyside, which I can only assume is named for the area in Scotland famous for its malt whiskey distilleries, is a sure bet to be a key player in what may be the world’s last great business market. Funny how a simple press statement can lead to such speculation.
It is fun to be impressed once again by the power of human outreach and yes, the possibilities for a fascinating continent – one which is due to come into its own. On a personal level, it is nice to speak with a gentleman too, a breed which has somehow vanished from the face of business. Hey! Maybe that is why these guys are so successful?