Francis, who always did the hard things easily...June, 2023
I was sitting with Francis Ingham at the elite Bucks Club in London recently, just in the foyer having a cocktail before dinner, when a stylish waiter in a white jacket, gloves and bow tie came in, turned to me, and remarked amazed, "Oh, sir… You are seated at
Her Majesty the Queen's sofa...
She was watching the cricket championship exactly from here sometimes..."
Francis blinked, adjusted his glasses better and said to me worriedly, "Maxim, it doesn't matter, let's go on with our conversation about PR."
For Francis Ingham, positions, jobs, and titles didn't have much impact because he looked at life and business super pragmatically.
Of course, the Queen made an exception, especially as the Bucks Club was the only British club that had allowed a lady in, even if only to watch cricket... But what Francis was most interested in, was really the world of PR business and how it could be brought together to speak with one voice and stand up for its values.
We worked together for almost 15 years and found
complete synchrony in our opinions and aims,
and the ways to make them happen. I was the President of ICCO, the global PR organization, and he was the Chief Executive, while also running the UK PRCA.
Sometimes this work was quite hard, and it took a long time to fit our opinions and points of view. Francis had a particular character, making decisions fast and defending them long and adamantly, but if he saw a glimmer that helped his vision, immediately accepted any other well-reasoned proposal. On that he was a truly unique person who left a huge gap in the international landscape of the business, after he passed away unexpectedly, at just 47 earlier this year.
We were both so busy during the week that
weekends were the time,
when we had our longest, most fulfilling, most relaxing conversations. I called him one Saturday late night, he always answered, no matter what time it was or what he was doing. I said, "Listen, we have a Global Summit in Finland in a month, a great peace-loving country known for its fanatical attitude toward honest business. Let's prepare a text on ethical business in our profession and name it the ‘Helsinki Declaration.’ Let's try to get all our colleagues from over the world on board...We can discuss it next week, we have time."
“Hey Maxim, wait, wait... If you have an hour, let's make this declaration now, at least see what it looks like. There's nothing to delay, you don't feel like sleeping, right? The more and louder we talk about ethics, the better the chance that our colleagues will listen to us. You know how it is now -
fake news, trolls, everyone has the media on hands,
we need ethics and transparency more than ever... Let's not delay!”
That one hour turned into a whole night, we almost fell asleep in front of the screen at five in the morning – he in London, me in Sofia, when a page came out of my printer and to this day that is the only global code of ethics in ten points. Short, clear, accessible, and easy to follow - the ICCO's “Helsinki Declaration”!
In all those years that we worked together, there was never a week when we did not exchange harsher words, lines, positions, opinions... And these conversations always ended with an agreement and a promise to meet again, next time for a long dinner.
He fanatically defended his opinion that PR experts from all over the world should be united, because he thought that this is the only way we could achieve
more transparency, honesty, and integrity
in our profession. Together, we took over ICCO with members from twenty countries and after two years, they were already over fifty. We both traveled the world tirelessly, had no more than ten days a month in our offices, and slowly were achieving our goal.
When a major scandal broke out in South Africa with the super-renowned British PR company Bell Pottinger, which became famous for its unethical practices, it was Francis who suggested that it should be expelled from a British association PRCA, incurring the wrath of a tens of friends, but never backing down to the company's authority or the power of its influence. "I won't compromise with ethics, whoever wants to do it, can't work with me," he would say, his eyes simply burning with emotions.
In the middle of 2022
the Russian government put him on its ban list
for his vocal and active anti-war stance and advocacy for Ukraine. I immediately called him to tell how sorry I was, he was silent for a minute or two and replied, "Maxim, do you hear what you are saying? Regret, why? I'm proud of that...".
One of our last encounters towards the end of 2022 was more than dreadful. We were having dinner at the steakhouse of the new Hilton Jumeirah in Dubai, the sickness was already haunting him, he wasn't sure he could make it to the Global PR Summit next day where I had to speak... "And insist that everyone should sign up for our Helsinki Declaration, please, someone may not have heard about it. Just insist, times now are even more dangerous, only we in the PR business know how to fight them effectively..."
Last time we saw each other was in London at a landmark lunch in the House of Lords, I had just been elected as an “international fellow”, a sort of trusted adviser to the PRCA, a huge honor for any manager in this business. Francis got up from the table where he was sitting with our host Lord Black of Brentwood, came over to me, gave me a hug and said, "Welcome to the amazing PRCA family,
you've belonged here since the night,
when we wrote the “Helsinki Declaration” from a distance! I'll never forget it." Months later, I was talking every day, not with him, but with the doctors who were trying to bring him back to us... They were unsuccessful!
I'm sure the global PR community won't forget him either – extraordinary and one-of-a-kind Francis, who brought incredible color and dynamism to the wonderful business of Public Relations, and in which he left quite a deep and indelible mark.
Even for doing the hard things simple and easily... As business should be.