Fishburn Hedges

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Fishburn Hedges is a corporate communications company (PR firm) owned by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the UK's largest advertising agency, which is, in turn, ultimately owned by the global communications group Omnicom.

Company Overview


Fishburn Hedges was established in 1991 as a corporate communications company that specialises in public relations, advising companies on how best to communicate ideas and products to their target audience. [1]

John Williams an independent consultant specialising in corporate marketing and reputation was co-founder and its former Chairman, having started his career in consumer advertising with J. Walter Thompson. At Fishburn Hedges, he is said to have developed a particular interest in corporate social responsibility and also built a practice serving the not-for-profit sector. He worked for five years with Shell on their global stakeholder engagement programme.

He is currently Chairman of the governance and leadership think tank, Tomorrow's Company, a board member of Business in the Community and was, until recently, deputy Chair of ChildLine.

Williams is currently a Charity Commissioner, with the Charity Commission, as one of the five non-executive Commissioners responsible for the regulation of 190,000 charities in England and Wales.[2]


FH representatives say that they draw ideas from all over the place:

Typically our client teams will mix career PR practitioners with consultants who have professional experience in that client’s field. Our consultants include former bankers, advertising planners, authors, civil servants, trade unionists, stock brokers, charity fund raisers and, of course, journalists.[3]

The journalists are, of course, the greatest influence and one can see here a similar example of the merger between journalism and PR promoted by Editorial Intelligence. Perhaps coincidentally F-H is one of the main backers of ei with chief Exec Ron Finlay and adviser to the project.

The company's list of clients are some of the UK's and US's biggest controversial corporations. FH handles Shell's 'Global reputation management programme'; the Bank of America's 'Media relations strategic counsel and public affairs internal communications'; Barclay's 'Personal finance media relations programme and business banking media relations programme'; BT’s public relations programme with BT Retail; Serco; and IBM.[4]

And what do they get for their money? According to FH’s own website: ‘all PRs should take note that purple type on their CV, a thorough knowledge of East Enders and frequent pretence of sincerity goes a long way’.[5]

PR Campaigns

Transport for London paid FH a massive £100,000 a month for 'advice' on Ken Livingstone's congestion charge. The total fee amounted to more than £2.4m over two years (2001-03). F-H (spot the ‘pretence of sincerity’?), says it is offering value for money.[6]

The FH website points to the following services it provides to clients:

  • government relations and regulatory affairs to campaigning
  • reactive crisis and issue management to planned corporate positioning
  • corporate ethics to corporate community involvement[7]

Let’s translate that a bit:

  • use the subterranean skills of the lobbyist to schmooze politicians.
  • try to convince us we want what their clients want and reframe the clients, perhaps by changing its name to something more innocent sounding.
  • start a 'grass roots' organisation or perhaps a seemings independent foundation or institute which has the ostensible function of 'education' or environmental advocacy.

This is what FH themselves say they have done for their clients:

  1. We have helped clients to win competition cases. For William Hill, we helped to persuade the competition authorities and the Trade & Industry Secretary to block the proposed merger of Ladbrokes with Coral. We worked with J Sainsbury during the “Rip off Britain” furore to ensure that it came out of the Competition Commission inquiry into the major supermarkets with a clean bill of health.
  2. We have helped to reposition Powergen with government not only as a respected industry voice but also as leading the way on the environmental and social agenda
  3. Our work for Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, has included communicating its approach to sustainable development to government, opinion formers, NGOs and the media. By working towards best practice, Unilever has added strength to its voice on all the major UK/EU policy issues facing food, farming and fisheries. The programme has included: working with Forum for the Future, the NGO led by Jonathon Porritt, which has advised on the development of Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Project.[8]

Both the first and second of these are classic lobbying campaigns, and the second also suggests ‘corporate positioning’. If we take the third in the list at face value and assume that Forum for the Future operates as described, this still leaves the conflict of interest represented by F-H retaining some of the worst corporate polluters as clients (such as Shell and Powergen).

However, Forum for the Future is actually a paradigmatic example of a front group and not actually an independent non-government organisation. In the circular world of PR the Forum is itself a client of FH, which in turn runs the forum's website for it. Tetra Pak the carton manufacturing company owned by the Rausing family also works with (or is a client of?) the Forum. The company is also a client of F-H[9] The Forum's ”business partners" are largely drawn from the UK’s FTSE 250 and include major multi-nationals such as Unilever, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, ICI and Vodafone – all of whom are not known for their environmental sustainability.

Front Groups

FH also operates a Front Group called the Pre-school Learning Alliance:

"As part of our work with the Pre-school Learning Alliance, we combined a major conference on early years education and childcare, addressed by the Education Secretary, with the presentation by pre-school children of a cake to the PM at Number Ten as it was his birthday."[10]

The VP of the Alliance is Graham McMillan — Director of Fishburn Hedges. The whole project is largely an effort to offset the government's plans to offer free access to that which the Learning Alliance's 'partners' want to sell.[11]

Monitoring activists

Fishburn Hedges also takes a keen policing interest in activist campaigns if they prompt TV and radio coverage. When a customer (Steve Pardoe) exposed on his website that BT Cellnet ‘had been making unauthorised debits from thousands of people's bank and credit card accounts, then cynically fobbing off their victims,’[12] the campaign grew to attract mainstream media attention and so Fishburn helped out with some of that ‘reactive crisis and issue management’[13], including:

BT Cellnet and their PR firm, Fishburn Hedges, visited this site on 16. February, the day before transmission, and later in the week. Fishburn Hedges' visit was presumably to gauge the extent and detail of media exposure of Cellnet's fraud. [14]

The 'Corporate use of codes of ethics: 2004 survey' was put together by Fishburn Hedges and it reportedly shows ‘that responsibility for how corporate codes of ethics operate is increasingly being taken by directors and boards in Britain's biggest companies.’[15] Given the F-H approach, it is difficult to know if this is true or the result of a ‘pretence of sincerity’


Staff listed on the company website are: [16]



Fishburn Hedges' clients in 2007 included: [17]


ABPI | Atos Origin | Aviva | Capital One | CITB Construction Skills | Digital UK | ERSA | EEDA | Job Centre Plus | JPMorgan | Laing O’Rourke | Norwich Union | Pension Protection Fund | Sainsbury’s | Starbucks | Tetra Pak | Virgin Trains | West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority / West Midlands Metropolitan Authorities[18]

In 2008, Fishburn Hedges is reported to be a member of GFC/Net[19]

External Resources


  1. Fishburn Hedges, About Us
  3. People retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  4. Private clients retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  5. Fishburn Hedges We owe you a long lunch... Financial Adviser 128 words, 26 August 2004, English (c) 2004 Financial Adviser, retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  6. Julia Day PR firm defends massive payment for London traffic advice Tuesday April 10, 2001
  7. Public Affairs Brochure retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  8. Public Affairs Brochure retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  9. Wasted Opportunities
  10. Check ref
  11. BBC education chief falls on his sword Owen Gibson Wednesday January 29, 2003
  12. Steve Pardoe Steve Pardoe's Cellnet Précis Page, accessed 10 December 2007.
  13. Public Affairs Brochure retrieved from the Internet archive of 11 January 2006 on 31 July 2007.
  14. Steve Pardoe Steve Pardoe's Cellnet Media Page, accessed, 10 December 2007.
  15. ACCA Global, Publications
  16. "People", Fishburn Hedges,
  17. "Client List, Fishburn Hedges,; "Client List", Fishburn Hedges,
  18. Fishburn Hedges, Fee-Paying clients for whom UK PA consultancy services provided this quarter, ‘’APPC Register’’ March – May 2008
  19. GFC/Net Members Accessed 13th February 2008