Francis Ingham: A tribute to a PR legend

At the ICCO Global Summit in 2016 in Oxford with Julio Romo, Francis Ingham and myself.

I first met Francis Ingham at around about the time he left his role at the CIPR (Chartered Insitute of Public Relations) to join the then struggling PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association). As many others’ have said in their tributes Francis was a complex character.

I suspect his strong views and personality meant he had more frenemies than the average person. Then again, Francis wasn’t your average person. I’d count Francis as a friend and would like to think he’d class me as the same.

Others have written eloquently about his enormous contribution to the public relations and communications industry, not just in the UK but across the world. He took the struggling PRCA and put it on a secure footing and then proceeded to expand its reach across the globe with outposts and active members in the Middle East, Asia, South America and beyond. He also led ICCO (the International Communication Consultants Organisation), the trade body for PR trade bodies.

My abiding memories of Francis aren’t directly related to his contribution to the PR profession that we both love, but with your indulgence I’d like to share them now.

The generosity of Francis Ingham

In 2011 when the PRWeek story appeared to say I’d exited my previous company Francis was one of the first to contact me to ask if there was anything he could do to help. Did I have any immediate plans? Did I need introductions to help find a new role? I didn’t as it happened, but at that time he was an acquaintance rather than a friend and was the only acquaintance to generously offer that help.

In early 2020 I lost my Dad, to cancer. It was just before lockdown and luckily, we were able to have his funeral just before it started. It’s fair to say I took a big knock as not only did I lose my dad, but the pandemic meant 80%+ of my business disappeared within the same two weeks. It took me awhile to adjust and it was a while before I became more public about what was happening.

As soon as Francis found out he called me. It was early one Saturday morning. He wasn’t just calling to offer his condolences and he made it clear he wanted to offer practical help. He was quite forceful in rebutting my attempts to say I was surviving. He insisted that there must be something that he could do to help. That call meant so much at a time when I really needed it.

Politics and Francis Ingham

My political adherence is to the Labour Party. I’m a lifelong member, have worked for cabinet ministers, and some of my friends are at the highest levels in the party. Francis’s political adherence was to the Conservative Party. When there were big political stories in the news, we’d often talk to each other over the phone or by direct messages. The conversations were wonderful as despite us disagreeing vehemently they were always cheerful and good natured. Sometimes we’d even agree with each other and one of us would privately criticise our own party.

The political bond that we shared was a commitment to public service and a belief that mainstream politics was a force for good. We shared pride in our country and a passion to make it better for all. We simply differed in how we thought this could be achieved.

In these conversations we’d also talk a little about our own backgrounds. Despite his bullish ‘Tory boy’ exterior Francis came from humble origins and I was initially surprised to learn his start in life had been harder than mine in a northern working-class family. He took issue with me for my criticism of the Oxbridge elite. I’m disappointed that we never had the chance to discuss this more as his experiences at Oxford were clearly different to those of my friends who’ve attended Oxford from unprivileged backgrounds. It appears Francis became part of that elite in a way they didn’t.

The PRCA and the CIPR

It’s fair to say that the relationship between the PRCA and the CIPR, or the CIPR and Francis Ingham hasn’t always been a smooth one. I’ve never been part of any feud or faction and have long been a proud and active member of both. I’m a vocal advocate for both the CIPR and the PRCA, as both do sterling work for the public relations profession and industry. If I’m asked “which should I join?” my answer is always both.

After serving for three years on the CIPR board until the end 0f 2019, I immediately joined the PRCA Council in 2020.

Throughout this time Francis would occasionally question me about the CIPR, or rib me about something it had or hadn’t done that he approved or disapproved of. He was never successful in prising any useful information out of me, although we did have conversations about how the two organisations could work better together and about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Farewell Francis

My thoughts are with his family and closest friends, in particular his children.

Update on 27 March to add links to tributes and obituaries.

Maja Pawinska Sims has written an amazing piece for PRovoke

Ben Smith for PR Moment.

Andrew Thomas for Communicate.

Arun Sudhaman for PRovoke.

Danny Rogers for PRWeek.

Richard Bagnall, former chair of AMEC and co-managing partner of CARMA.

Koray Gomez, director of communications and marketing at the PRCA.

PRCA post to collate tributes and obituary links.

Francis Ingham online condolence book

You can sign and share your thoughts in the PRCA’s online condolence book for Francis Ingham.