David Alexander is Managing Director of Calacus, a specialist public relations consultancy based in London. He started his career as a sports journalist, initially covering non-league football (semi-professional soccer) before working for regional and national newspapers including The Times and The Sunday Telegraph. After spells at the BBC and then Reuters in Italy, he moved into public relations. David has played a key role in a wide range of major sports event bids and campaigns, working with international governing bodies as well as other major sports, charities, brands and individuals including global sports superstars and members of royalty. A Founding CIPR Chartered Practitioner, David’s work has taken him all over the world providing communications consultancy, crisis and reputation management and good old media relations.
How did you get into the industry?
I wanted to be a footballer and spent every breaktime at school paying but I knew I was never going to be good enough.
I was always strong at English at school and from an early age I had decided if I couldn’t play football for a living, I’d like to get paid to watch it.
I chased work experience from early school years and became sports editor at my university newspaper throughout my studies.
I went to a careers chat while I was there with a media expert who said “Of those of you who DO become journalists, 75% will end up in PR.” This was the very early 1990s and I didn’t even know what PR was.
I got my head down, worked my way up from local to national to international newspapers and broadcasters and fulfilled every professional ambition I had dreamt of within a decade.
The internet then started to boom and I could see that journalists would be squeezed as a consequence.
Coupled with feeling that I had written similar stories a dozen times before and not being prepared to agree with editors who wanted negative stories rather than inspiration, I decided to move from poacher to gamekeeper.
I was thrown in at the deep end, moving from managing the production team for a high-profile TV show on behalf of a client to running the international UK office for a major sports campaign.
Any emerging industry trends?
Depending on who you listen to, PR is eating the lunch of or being threatened by any of management consultants, digital agencies, advertisers and video producers.
Media relations is not as prevalent as it has been in the past, as the industry constricts, but the fact remains: you have to be a good communicator and be able to create interesting stories that are simple to understand and inspire and engage the right audiences.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Calacus focuses on sport and fitness, areas that do not tend to be affected as badly during a recession as some other industries. Sports sponsorship and governance will always need communications support, particularly as new events are emerging every year.
Healthy living is becoming more and more integral in daily life, so we find a lot of organizations are looking for support, from gyms and trainers to nutritionists, new fundraising sports events and medical experts focusing on recovery or specific sports injuries.
In terms of challenges, the changes to bid processes, particularly in the Olympic Movement, has changed the landscape to some degree but other bids and campaigns always arise that require our support.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I started Calacus with a vision to ensure that we would provide first class communications support for our clients.
I’d seen in some of my agency roles a cookie-cutter approach to client activity and also that chasing a new client was the buzz rather than doing great work for those we had. The only time some of them turned up was when there was some celebrity involvement or activity and staff spent more time playing darts or table football than working diligently.
Everyone who represents Calacus has to work closely with our clients and treat them as partners rather than just a paycheck.
We provide high level consultancy for a wide range of sports and my vision is to ensure we maintain our standards and positive growth.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We’re working with some great organizations and individuals in soccer right now and with the FIFA World Cup taking place next summer, we’re sure to be busy.
A lot of our focus is on supporting CEOs and founders and we’re going to be expanding our work in that field to serve the individuals who are so often the face of their organizations.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Relationships are vital in business and life. Being trustworthy and honorable go a long way and I am passionate about ensuring that my team and I maintain the highest standards.
Tenacity, creativity and curiosity are fundamental and we have built our reputations on those values.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I moved into PR because I loved the idea of being challenged every day and that is certainly the case.
Our names were once put on a press release which went out around the world via PR Newswire for a highly controversial brand we had nothing to do with. The client didn’t think we would mind and sent the release without discussing it with us, creating a few hours of concern while we removed ourselves from the release and explained to clients that we had nothing to do with the tarnished organization (which also had nothing to do with sport).
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Most of our clients are fantastic. They are available quickly, understand the ups and downs of communications and that it is impossible to control everything that is said about you.
Sport and fitness attracts some great people who want to inspire others through competition or participation and we are privileged to help them do so.
How do you motivate others?
I think leading by example is the best motivation.
But I also think providing opportunities and giving responsibility is great motivation.
I always tell new staff that we are a team, we win together and lose together. And through the money-can’t-buy professional experiences we undertake, the team and I know that we make a positive difference. And that feels special.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Study study study.
I am a CIPR Founding Chartered Practitioner and encourage everyone to invest in their own personal development on a regular basis.
That means being aware of new trends and technologies, reading superb case studies and spending time away from your work station learning the new skills that will keep you relevant.