Meet the MD: Graham Robb of Recognition PR

Meet the MD: Graham Robb of Recognition PR

Graham Robb is senior partner of Darlington-based PR firm, Recognition PR. He talked to BQ about his day-to-day role, his hopes for the future of the business, and his words of advice to future business leaders.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

As managing partner at Recognition, my role is less operational and more strategic. I spend most of my day assessing opportunities, planning and considering how the business can develop to meet our ambitions. Of course, I do still like to keep my hand in and regularly support my team and clients.

I have other duties that sometimes take me out of the office. I’m the chair of the Institute of Directors in the North East, and I also sit on the board of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and the South Tees Development Corporation.


What is it the company does?

Recognition PR promotes and defends the services, products and people of more than 90 clients, helping them achieve their business ambitions and raise their profiles through a mixture of marketing and public relations techniques. We offer a range of services from media relations and social media, right through to event management and video production.

We have a strong network of contacts in regional, national and international media, business and government. We run two Shadow Monetary Policy Committees in Yorkshire and the North East, the Tees Society Forum and the North East of England Business Network on LinkedIn, which has just surpassed 8,000 members and is something I’m very proud of.

One of Recognition’s greatest strengths is our crisis management service, which is used by organisations to mediate and offset negative issues as presented in hostile media situations, to ensure a fair and moderated outcome.

In a nutshell, we do our best to make sure that our clients are portrayed in the best possible light and get their name and achievements in front of the decision makers that matter to them.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

My first venture into the media was as a young lad presenting an early morning show on BBC Radio Tees. I was still in education at the time and used to nip home from college for a quick nap, before heading to the studio ready for the 1am to 5am slot. When I turned 18, I was promoted to the 10am to 1pm slot, and by the time I was 21 I had my own current affairs and news programme.

It was when I was planning shows for Radio Tees that I wrote to Margret Thatcher, the Prime Minister at the time, asking if she would come on the show. Much to my surprise she said yes! It was whilst we were enjoying a cup of tea off-air that she gave me a bit of advice which has stuck with me ever since and has informed a lot of the decisions I’ve made subsequently: follow your instinct.

That instinct led me to join the Conservative Party, and later run as the Tory candidate for Hartlepool in the 1987 General Election. I didn’t win, which was what I expected in a safe Labour seat, but knocking on the doors of Hartlepool asking people to vote Conservative helped me develop the tough skin you need in PR.

Another consequence of running for Parliament was that I had to leave my role at the BBC. I needed another source of income so I started a public relations and marketing firm, originally from an office in the back of a fried chicken shop. I’ve been in the game ever since.

Now 28 years later, Recognition turns over more than £1.2m, provides employment to a team of 15 and has almost 100 clients on its books. I still get a tremendous sense of excitement whenever I see a Recognition client gaining positive publicity; I don’t think you can ever get bored in PR.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Over the years I’ve known some great leaders both in business and in politics. The two things that all of them have in common is that they lead from the front, in the trenches with their team, but never lose their overall strategic view.

I’m always honest with my staff. Everyone who works at Recognition knows where the business is and where we want it to be, but most importantly they know what each and every person’s role is in getting it there.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Dealing with external events. From recessions to client crisis issues, you need to have the ability to avoid ‘group-think’ and come up with alternative routes to reach your destination.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job? 

The media cycle now runs 24/7 thanks to rolling news and the internet, so I struggle to truly switch off and forget about work. That being said, I recently became a grandfather for the first time and whenever I’m with my lovely little granddaughter my mind never flutters back to the office. I’m currently renovating an old house and I also enjoy walking in the Yorkshire Dales. 


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A TV presenter.


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Late delivery. I try to keep an eye on the timetable and nudge people at the appropriate times.


Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

 As a thought and opinion leader in the North East with at least 25% more clients.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is king! Also – don’t hold back until your idea is perfect, get on with it and revise it as you go along.