Win when you're spinning

<p>Danuta Kean</p><p>Amid the backslapping at the recent PR Week Awards, there was one bijou agency unknown to the 1,200 industry bigwigs present. But that agency's track record at getting its clients onto the front pages of newspapers would turn the others present green with envy. The agency was Colman Getty, whose expertise with the front-page splash and in managing some of the biggest names in the arts was rewarded that night with the PR Week Specialist Consultancy of the Year Award.</p><p>Colman Getty may be little known in the PR industry, but it has built up a formidable reputation in the book world and is now spreading its wings into the visual arts and profile management. Clients include some of the biggest names in public life, from J K Rowling to Nigella Lawson, from the Man Booker Prize to Nokia--for which it ran the fonotography, a promotion enlisting celebrities, including David Bailey, to take pictures with the new Nokia 7610 camera phone for an exhibition and charity auction. The exhibition was splashed across the broadsheets and launched the phone as a must-have accessory.</p><p>In the 17 years since Dotti Irving set up CG with three clients and the backing of five investors, it has grown to 24 employees managing an average of 45 to 50 accounts a year and a turnover of &#163;2m. Irving had been publicity director at Penguin but, following the birth of her daughter, felt it was time to go it alone. This was no downshift, fuelled by any desire to spend more time with her family. It was fuelled by ambition, the diminutive Scot explains. "I have quite an entrepreneurial business streak in me," she says.</p><p>A trusted brand</p><p>Even the name Colman Getty marked Irving's ambitions out from the rest. There is no Colman, and no Getty, unless you count the English mustard and the super-rich oil family, who Irving admits were her inspiration. The name was deliberately masculine--there was to be "nothing fluffy" about Irving's PR company. "'Colman' came from Colman's Mustard, which is a well-known English brand name that people trust. I chose Getty because it represents money and links across the ocean," she says. The name has led to some confusion. "We constantly get letters to Mr Colman Getty. Though strangest of all are the letters we get every year to Betty Colman. Where they get that name I have no idea."</p><p>CG was distinguishable from its competitors in other ways, notably Irving's determination not to say yes to all comers. "In-house book publicists tend to be overworked, and part of my vision was to make sure that we had time to do stuff properly. We don't take on everyone who comes to us." In general, CG publicists work on no more than four accounts at a time, compared to the eight to 12 titles on which in-house publicists typically work. Big accounts, such as the Man Booker Prize, have the complete attention of the publicist, with colleagues parachuted in to help closer to launch.</p><p>"We have been asked in the past to do quite a lot of novels and we have looked at them and thought there is nothing we can add to them," says Liz Sich, who joined CG as board director in 1997 from Random House, where she was publicity director. Sich believes it is vital to be honest with potential clients about projects. "A lot of the time publishers come to us when they should be spending the money on marketing rather than publicity because there really isn't an angle for publicity, and we will tell them that."</p><p>Hitting the headlines</p><p>Irving approached Sich in 1996 to work alongside her. "I had to woo her," Irving says. The two have a good working relationship. Where Irving has a pixie-like energy, Sich is quieter, though both have a well-developed sense of fun and a hands-on approach to the business. Sich's gift is to be able to think up sensational news stories that take the media by storm. "It isn't just about making a news story about a book being launched," Sich says. "Though we have done lots of those in our time. No, it's making our own headlines, which is something we do with World Book Day every year."</p><p>Last year's WBD story was the reading habits of accountants, cabbies and vicars. It gained acres of coverage. Irving interjects: "Liz is the mistress of the hard news story." The idea came from a brainstorming session, a key activity in the CG boardroom, which is a bright, airy space dominated by a matt black table and a wall of trophies.</p><p>These triumphs have expanded beyond book promotion over the years into award management, generic campaigns and profile management. The campaign for the Man Booker, managed by Sophie Rochester, goes beyond publicity, and involves managing the dinner, its educational projects and offshoots and administration of the prize. CG was also involved in finding a new sponsor when Booker dropped out. The 12-year relationship with the Booker has made it the first stop for other literary prizes, including the Samuel Johnson Prize.</p><p>Director of arts and publishing Mark Hutchinson oversees the newest strand of the business, profile management. As well as authors, clients include such artists as New York painter Jeffrey Kroll, whose giant canvasses have been exhibited at the Louvre. </p><p>The two directors admit CG's services do not come cheap--a big book campaign could cost &#163;8,000. With a glint in her eye, Irving comments wryly: "We never aimed to be the cheapest." But, as Sich points out, in the world of PR--where the services of an account manager are billed by the hour and can cost &#163;1,000 a day--it is reasonable. The sentiment is one with which those PR industry executives who gathered at the PR Week Awards would no doubt agree. Founded: 1987</p>