Sharp suits and plans to blaze a trail in lobbying
Newgate Communications MD Simon Nayyar has grand plans for his new agency and has not given up on becoming a Conservative MP. David Singleton catches up with him
After lying low for the best part of a year, Simon Nayyar is back. Having previously held senior roles at Edelman and Citigate Dewe Rogerson, the well-spoken Tory lobbyist is now plying his trade at Newgate Communications. And he is keen to tell the agency’s story.
Earlier this year, the two-year old company stated that annualised revenues were in “excess of £16m” with consistent growth throughout the second half of 2012. “There is an element of small acorns,” says Nayyar. “We’re starting afresh and we’ve been hugely flattered by the tremendous interest in what we’re trying to do.”
Newgate was established in 2011 by former Citigate co-founder David Wright as part of the Porta Communications group which he set up the previous year. The name of the agency is no coincidence, it would seem. A number of former Citigate consultants are now part of Newgate, including executive chairman Jonathan Clare and MD Deborah Saw who both joined at the beginning.
Nayyar, 45, was also brought in at the outset to head up Newgate’s public affairs arm, although he chose not to publicise his new role for some time. He explains: “Entirely properly I had to serve out a period of contractual restrictions which, as you would expect, I served.”
Newgate specialises in capital market communications, financial media relations, corporate reputation building, public policy and regulatory consultancy. It has been trading since November 2011 and has already set up offices in London, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Brussels and Hong Kong, with Beijing and Singapore also in the pipeline.
It has five full-time public affairs staff in London, four in Brussels and three in Edinburgh. Major public affairs clients in London include Investec, Kensington Mortgages, SCM Private and Rockwall, says Nayyar. But he is also keen to stress that the 30-strong agency is three integrated businesses:
“I think that’s the big difference between us and an agency like CDR which has separate P&Ls. From the outset, I and the other two managing partners of Newgate Communications were absolutely clear that we wanted to provide a fully integrated offering.”
The Huntsworth years
After he started out working for Tory MP Keith Speed, Nayyar’s early lobbying career was at legendary public affairs outfit Westminster Strategy. He moved on to Huntsworth-owned Citigate Public Affairs, left for Edelman in 2006, but returned to the Huntsworth fold after 18 months to head up a new public affairs offering under the Cititgate umbrella – CDR Public Policy.
Reflecting on his departure from this post, he says: “Although I decided it was time to move on I continue to think that CDR is a great company and I have considerable personal respect and regard for Lord Chadlington, for what he does for Huntsworth, what he’s done for the industry and what he does for my party and our country.”
In the course of his public affairs career, Nayyar says the market has changed considerably:
“What is now in the UK a mature market, is a very different market to the one that I joined 20 years ago – I’ve seen it now over the course of six different governments, a whole series of different regulatory regimes and actually different cultural takes from a practitioner perspective of what public affairs looks like and means.”
One key development, he says, is that in-house public affairs bosses are forcing agencies to work harder: “First of all, the in-house or supply side expectation is hugely more sophisticated and more demanding and more rigorous as to what they expect from the out-of-house provision, the consultants, and that’s right and proper, and that is of itself evidence of a vastly more mature and sophisticated market.”
He also believes that the agency world operates in a more ethical manner than was the case when he started out: “It is, I think quite properly, much more rigorous from the point of view of what is ethical and appropriate professional behaviour in terms of transparency, accountability, cost-effectiveness, and I think again that’s right and that is stimulated by everything we’ve seen post the 2008 financial crisis.”
Nayyar suggests that the culmination of these trends is that public affairs consultants have had to up their game. He says: “It’s not the case that people who are looking to buy public affairs services have less money to spend – in many cases they have just as much as they had in real terms pre the crash. But they are looking to make sure that they get absolute value for money, that they are not recruiting consultants who are learning on the job at their expense and they want to know that they have people who, in an appropriate way, will challenge them.”
Toiling for the Tories
One of the more prominent Tories in the industry, Nayyar has made a number of bids for a Conservative seat. Having missed out at Sunderland Central and Nottingham South, in 2009 he was selected to stand in the safe Labour seat of Hackney South and Shoreditch at the 2010 general election. The sharp-suited lobbyist failed to dent the Labour majority in Meg Hillier’s inner-London constituency, but he clearly enjoyed the experience.
“It was a privilege to stand at a change general election like 2010. To fight what one would call, wearing a Conservative Party hat, an opposition majority seat – an unwinnable to you and me – was a brilliant challenge for my opener, and it was the opportunity to find oneself an ambassador of a party bringing a message of hope and change to a constituency which I would say for too long has really suffered under Labour complacency and poor public services provision was a great thing.
“David Cameron came not once, but twice, to my seat. In fact, he and Samantha very generously came on Good Friday to do the soft launch of the short campaign – that’s the general election proper – for my social action project.”
Nayyar indicates that he is keen to stand again in 2015. “I had a whale of a time, it was a huge privilege to stand as the Conservative Parliamentary candidate at the election and yes if the opportunity arose I should like to do it again. I’m on the list, I’m doing various things, working for various national campaigning organisations around the Conservative Party.”
Any particular seats he is targeting? Nayyar is reluctant to pin his colours to the mast. “It’s certainly true that seats are being advertised, but let’s wait and see,” he says.
Nayyar phone home
APPC chairman Michael Burrell, who worked closely with Nayyar at Westminster Strategy and then Edelman, says that he has a number of assets – including on the sartorial front. “Simon is, in my experience, a very effective public affairs operator, who has a particularly good understanding of and great connections with the Conservative party – and he sets the rest of us impossibly high standards when it comes to dressing for the part,” says Burrell.
But, as we speak, Nayyar’s sharps suits are set to be consigned to the wardrobe as the metropolitan lobbyist prepares for the trip of a lifetime.
Along with his partner, Nayyar is heading to the Antarctic. “If all goes to plan we’ll be calling at the British Antarctic Survey and hopefully we will, with good luck, cross the Antarctic circle,” he says. “In the entire history of the continent fewer than 300,000 people have ever been to Antarctica and yet it has a huge impact on global warming, of course, but also on climate conditions across the globe, and it is about as remote as anywhere it’s possible to go.”
But is Nayyar really happy to be separated from Newgate in its formative years? How will he stay on top of the agency’s development from such a remote location?
The Newgate MD is confident he has it covered. “I’m having to take a satellite telephone with me so I can continue to talk daily to the office,” he says.