Agency professional of the decade 2015

Co-founder

Agency: Blue Rubicon

When no submissions arrived for the Agency Professional of the Decade, our first reaction was to quietly withdraw the category from the roll call. But in the course of many discussions with in-house communicators, it soon became clear that they believed one individual had shaken up the industry with his approach and was worthy of the accolade.

Fraser Hardie, who founded Blue Rubicon in 1999, did not follow the traditional corporate or financial PR model but instead sought to build a consultancy that specialised in transforming reputations, issues management and behaviour change campaigns. Its approach has always been evidence-based.

Hardie has claimed he founded Blue Rubicon when, as head of communications at Powergen, he received a bill for the services of one of the agencies he used. There was no real breakdown of the work done or an attempt to demonstrate its value, there was just a number. A large number. It made him take a different approach with his business.

When others were paying lip service to reputation, Hardie was demonstrating its power to add value to the bottom line. ‘He realised that there was a lot of waffl e around reputation, but saw that the way to build the case was to show that it could be a source of value,’ said one supporter. ‘He talked the language of business. Before Blue Rubicon arrived on the scene, financial PR fi rms owned the corporate boardroom. Blue Rubicon changed that.’

Hardie himself once said: ‘If you want to occupy a seat at the top table then you have to come with serious brainpower, good analysis and genuine insight.’

Another added: ‘Dave Lewis [chief executive of Tesco] effectively said to Fraser I want you to help me rebuild trust in this business. That is a huge mandate.’ The appointment has been described as industry watchers as one of the most significant developments in recent years, highlighting the growing need for business to put brand rather than City stakeholders at the heart of any reputation strategy.

It follows Hardie’s success in advising McDonald’s UK on its repositioning within the marketplace, and the rebuilding of its reputation. ‘Both Steve Easterbrook [the former chief executive of McDonald’s UK, who is now running the global business] and Dave Lewis rely on Fraser’s advice and counsel,’ said one supporter.

Blue Rubicon’s clients, past and present, say that it is Hardie’s appreciation of the challenges faced by chief executives that makes his advice valuable. ‘Fraser manages to combine being thoroughly nice with also being hugely impactful. He’s incredibly insightful, being both expert in his discipline whilst also having eyes-wide open to the full gamut of what CEOs have on their plate,’ explains Alex Cole, chief corporate affairs officer, Bupa.

Others agree. Clients claim that Hardie brings new perspective to their thinking, and can summarise the issues that their organisations face succinctly, but also challenges them. ‘Right from outset Fraser successfully positioned Blue Rubicon as genuinely different from other PR agencies in a crowded market. And he kept on carving out new territory, with the latest pioneering move being the tie-up with Teneo and Stockwell,’ says Christina Mills, director of group communications and reputation, SABMiller.

‘He’s one of the smartest thinkers in the business, is thoughtful and calm and has bags of credibility with senior management. As a client, he’s a joy to work with and I particularly appreciate his evil sense of humour.’

His supporters include contemporaries at other agencies, who claim that Hardie is supportive of their endeavours and keen to share ideas and advice when required.