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BAE SYSTEMS REVAMPS ITS PR MACHINE

19 Oct 04. The announcement that Hugh Colver, director of communications at BAE Systems is leaving the company comes as little surprise to seasoned BATTLESPACE watchers. Sources suggest that Hugh has been hawking his CV around to prospective clients since early this year. The FT reported that Hugh, one of the most public faces for the British defence giant, has announced he will be leaving the company at the end of the year to return to private consulting.

Hugh was involved with Peter Bishop’s PR consultancy prior to joining BAE and was credited with winning the famous battle for Land Rover for the British Army. This story was first blown by the Editor in his IDN story, ‘ACTUNG PINZGAUER’ latterly sold to the Guardian who also published.

Hugh, 59, has been the group’s top spokesman for five years and has been a close adviser to Mike Turner, BAE’s chief executive, as part of a committee of senior aides that includes Mr Turner’s chief of staff and the company’s senior military adviser. Although Mr Colver’s departure comes a little more than three months since Dick Olver took over as the company’s chairman, senior officials said yesterday that Mr Colver, a former ministry of defence official, had been looking to leave for several months. He had initially agreed to limit his tenure in the job to five years when he returned to the company in 2000.

In his consulting role, Mr Colver will continue to advise BAE, the company said. In a move that took some in the industry by surprise, Mr Turner decided to go outside the company to replace Mr Colver, announcing that Charlotte Lambkin, a rising star at the London-based public affairs group Bell Pottinger, will take over the top communications job in early December Ms Lambkin, 32, who has worked at Bell Pottinger for 10 years and recently became one of the firm’s youngest directors, handled the BAE account for the PR consultancy for almost two years.

However, Hugh is more at home with Government Affairs after his experience with the MoD and the Conservative Party. He was promoted to the BAE post after the departure of Locksley Ryan and appeared to be keener to involve BAE in a running battle with the MoD and government rather than build a sound and strong image for the company. No doubt he believed that his expertise in Government Affairs nullified the need for large advertisement budgets and promotions. But, the MoD campaign and the constant ‘For Sale’ sign rumours did little for the long-term structure of the company and alienated many potential suppliers.

The arrival of Sarah Hirsch who has already prepared a short-list of new potentials to run a new BAE advertising account and Charlotte Lambkin will revitalise the company and give Hugh more time, we assume, to help BAE in its lobbying process. The share price which languished during Hugh’s tenure has forged ahead reaching a new high of 230p this week.

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