FRANCIS INGHAM, PRCA DIRECTOR-GENERAL, DIES FOLLOWING A SHORT ILLNESS
Andrew Thomas looks back at the life of PRCA director-general, Francis Ingham, who died this morning, aged 47.
For a man not known to hold back with his opinions, it is perhaps no surprise that Francis Ingham had somewhat of a reputation for his leadership approach. But everyone always had a respect for what he had achieved as director-general of the PRCA and all will be shocked and saddened by the news of his death this morning.
I first met Francis in late 2006, shortly after I’d launched a magazine on corporate communications. He was then assistant director general at the CIPR. We didn’t get on. My left-wing bolshiness clashed with his conservative views and ambitions - he had previously been a Tory councillor and media advisor for various parliamentary seats, ultimately helping the Conservatives regain Enfield Southgate in the 2005 election. His conservative views had been solidified during his time at Oxford University, where he read PPE. His childhood had not been a happy one and he moved to a particularly rough hostel in Manchester during his final years of school. His perseverance – and the provision of a fee assistance programme at St Bede’s in Manchester – led to his place at Oxford. By now he was estranged from his family and so out of term time he stayed within college grounds and threw himself into the extracurricular activity of Conservative politics, taking on a role at the Oxford Union as guest liaison and at the Conservative Association as press officer. This helped him develop an early insight into public relations.
I met Francis again in late 2008, instantly realising I actually liked the man and that our political views were irrelevant. I was launching Communicate magazine and Francis had recently jumped ship to run the PRCA (the Public Relations & Communications Association). I met up with Francis and realised that his loyalty to the PR world knew no bounds. He was very encouraging with the launch of Communicate magazine, both with his professional advice and his financial support - advertising in the magazine at a time when advertising was beginning to go out of fashion. Since then I have been glad to have counted Francis as a friend and as a man who had my respect for what he had done for the public relations world.
When Francis took over the PRCA it was in a dreadful state. “The PRCA did seem to be a very professional, albeit quite a niche body. It was when I got there that I realised what a terrible state it was in”, he once told me. In his second week he turned up to host the PRCA’s annual Awards event. It was “the worst awards I had or have ever been to.” He seriously considered trying to get his old job back at the CIPR, but ultimately decided to make the PRCA work.
This he did with his own personal panache and a distinctly adversarial, almost gladiatorial, approach. In 2011 he took on the Newspaper Licensing Authority with a case that went to court, Appeal Court, the UK Supreme Court and finally the European Court of Human Rights. This dogged determination won the respect of many at a time when PR was not the most respected of professions. His later battle to remove the stain of corrupt lobbying practices and dirty tricks in public relations through his expulsion of Bell Pottinger for bringing the industry into disrepute also won plaudits and praise from many quarters.
His reign at the PRCA has not been without criticism. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. To grow a members organisation like the PRCA nearly tenfold during his tenure has meant that it was perhaps run far more like a business than a not-for profit. In recent months he took a leave of absence while a governance review was underway. It was during this time that his health took a turn for the worse. When I spoke to him last about six weeks ago, he spoke then of his poor health and alluded to cancer. I didn’t know how serious it was. In that typical Francis style, he simultaneously downplayed it with a self deprecating joke while also emphasising its seriousness with a reverent and slightly grandiose tone of voice. It was obviously far more serious than he really let on.
Many of us will have many anecdotes of Francis. His laughter was infectious and he had a wicked sense of humour. He was a man for whom the phrase ‘bon viveur’ was invented. I know there will many people in the industry who thank Francis - for his encouragement, his initiatives, his time, his generosity. He was generous in so many ways. Although there had been much talk in recent months of Francis moving on from the PRCA, there is no denying that his achievements with and for the PRCA has done much to aid the respect of the public relations discipline.
I will miss Francis as I’m sure many others will.
22/12/1975 - 16/3/2023