LONDON — Tributes have been paid to Francis Ingham, the director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and the chief executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), who died this week after a short illness, aged 47.

Friends and colleagues from across the global PR industry offered their personal and professional reflections on Ingham, who had led the PRCA since 2007.

Ingham was appointed to the role, after previously being assistant director general of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), by former PRCA chairs David Gallagher (2008-2010) and Richard Houghton (2006-2008), who were both long-standing friends of his. Gallagher said: “There won’t be a shortage of recollections or anecdotes about Francis as we all try to come to terms with his passing, but I hope our collective memory as a professional community will reflect the sheer passion and energy he poured with his entire being into our field.

“He has left a legacy of a powerful, purposeful organisation that has grown well beyond its origins as a small London trade body and into a global voice for communications professionals and businesses - not a small contribution over such a relatively brief career.”

Houghton, who was also president of ICCO during 2010 and 2011, added: “Francis was highly intelligent, driven, ambitious, always happy to call a spade a spade, and a man of strong beliefs. He certainly didn’t suffer fools. He was happy to be unpopular if it was necessary to get the job done. It was these traits that made him a highly successful leader of the PRCA and ICCO. The result was the world’s largest PR trade association that had real clout and delivered demonstrable benefits to members and the wider industry.

“While health issues dampened some of his spirit in recent years I’ll sorely miss him and our often heated discussions, the top gossip and his passion for life. It is so very, very sad that he has gone so young.”

Nitin Mantri, Avian WE group CEO and president of ICCO for three years until 2022, said the global PR industry "has lost one of its most vocal, influential and visionary leaders." He added: "It was a privilege to have worked closely with Francis during my tenure as ICCO president. He was always someone I could rely on for an informed opinion, advice or even perspective. His deep understanding of different markets and consumers and high ethical standards inspired the industry to stay on the course of truth and accountability.

“Our last conversation was in January this year. He was his usual effervescent and affable self. We discussed our long-cherished plan to host an India-UK cricket match with the PR fraternity. I will miss those conversations, and most of all, I will miss his sharp mind, quick wit, brutal honesty and the institutionalised fun evening drinks post our ICCO board meetings. Go well, Francis – our industry salutes you, your spirit, and your contribution towards shaping it globally.”

Industry veteran Stephen Waddington, a friend of Ingham’s for more than 20 years, said: “The public relations industry has lost one of its greatest advocates and I’ve lost one of my oldest friends. Francis lived for the public relations profession and helped elevate its status within government and management in the UK and worldwide. He spent his working life focused on this purpose."

Reflecting on their friendship, Waddington said: “My relationship with Francis wasn’t ever easy. We shared a flat together for a couple of years in London and frequently argued about almost everything: politics, business, our rival industry associations, professional standards, and history. We parted company as flatmates in 2013 when I became president of the CIPR and he was director general of the PRCA. It was never going to work. Like me, he rarely spoke about his background, but it was our common bond. We were united by a shared insecurity that we weren’t quite good enough and always needed to work longer and harder than anybody else.

“Francis was one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever known. He rose at dawn and rarely returned home before midnight – usually to the latest historical biography that he was reading and a glass of red wine. He had a fearsome intellect. He was a complex individual: super smart, mischievous and fun, incredibly generous and loyal, but quick to take sides and dismissive of anyone who didn’t share his point of view. He used this as a power for political and industry campaigning but it also made him plenty of enemies. I’ve been foe, friend, and most recently foe. This makes me really sad. I can’t imagine another character quite like Francis in my lifetime and my thoughts and sympathies are with his family, friends and colleagues.”

Alison Clarke, current chair of PRCA Fellows and the organisation’s chair from 2012 to 2014, said: “It is no understatement to say that Francis’s leadership of the PRCA transformed the profile and the reputation of our industry in an immeasurable way. Membership grew and was broadened. International reach and engagement developed with the running of ICCO as well as the PRCA international expansion and quality standards, trust and respect for our profession were elevated. So many professional achievements. But on a personal basis he was great fun, had a wicked sense of humour and beneath it all was a kind man and a decent human being.”

Lee Nugent, chair of PRCA Southeast Asia from 2018 to 2021 and APAC regional director at Archetype, said: “I was saddened to hear of Francis’ passing this week and my condolences are with his family, friends and colleagues. He was a larger-than-life character who will be remembered by anyone who met him, and especially those who lunched with him – which was a legendary experience. Passionate about communications, strongly opinionated, a forthright defender of our industry and certainly controversial at times, he was able to flip the PRCA from a down-at-heel, somewhat irrelevant UK trade body into a globally influential 35,000-member champion for progressive communications.

“While we didn’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, Francis was always keen to listen and learn about communications challenges in SE Asia, and always ready to adapt the PRCA’s position to support our growth and ambitions in Asia Pacific. His energy and ‘readiness for the fight’ will be missed. May he rest in peace.”

Alex Aiken, executive director of communications for the UK government, said: “Francis was a communications leader who will leave the profession much stronger than he found it. I saw this with the way he helped the new Government Communication Service develop its practice after 2013. He was one of our advisors and served for a number of years on our Evaluation Council. His work in bringing together the GCS and AMEC benefitted both bodies and has led to a lasting improvement in the evaluation of government communication. He was generous with his time and helped use the PRCA to support the new GCS professional development programme.

“I enjoyed debating with him, being entertained by him, attending the impressive and occasionally over-the-top PRCA events. In the last few years the public relations business has lost both Colin Farrington [director general of the CIPR from 1998 to 2010, who died in December 2021] and Francis. I first met them both at the CIPR and they had a vision for improving the standing and credibility of our business. Colin led a massive improvement at the CIPR and Francis took that vision and drive on and realised that ambition at the PRCA. We are better communicators for his work in our industry.”

Liam Herbert, current chair of the PRCA’s public affairs board and a director at Rud Pedersen, said: “Above all Francis was my friend. His achievements with the PRCA are well documented, taking a disparate set of disciplines that comprise our trade and forging the reach and influence of PRCA and its members was remarkable. But I shall remember him for his friendship, loyalty and on occasion sound advice, over so many years.”

Barbara Phillips, director of Brownstone Communications and the founding chair of the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board (REEB), which was introduced in 2020 in response to growing disquiet in the industry about a lack of diverse representation on the board of the PRCA and a need for the organisation to have greater focus on DE&I, said: “The members of REEB are deeply saddened by the news of Francis’ passing. Francis was instrumental in founding REEB and ensuring it became a PRCA standing committee, securing its status within the industry. Along with his many other achievements, the formation of REEB is an enduring, positive aspect of his legacy. We offer his close friends and family our deepest condolences.”

Barry Leggetter, CEO of global PR measurement and evaluation body AMEC until 2018, worked alongside with Ingham for many years. He said: “We started new jobs on the same day in 2007, Francis at the PRCA and myself as CEO of AMEC. Each of our organisations was small at that time but we were blessed to help growth by strong partnership. Francis was a great partner of AMEC, helping PR professionals understand why measurement and evaluation was so important to the PR industry. He reorganised and propelled the PRCA into an internationally recognised body with his thinking, determination and energy. He will be greatly missed.”

At Edelman, the world’s biggest PR agency, EMEA president and CEO Ed Williams said: “Francis was hugely respected and worked tirelessly to ensure rigorous standards in our industry. He profoundly shaped public relations for the better and that legacy will continue to be felt for many years to come.”

And the PRCA’s current chair, Sarah Scholefield, Grayling’s global CEO, concluded: “Francis was deeply dedicated to the PRCA and its mission. He oversaw a period of rapid expansion for the association and built huge credibility and respect for our industry more widely. He leaves a lasting legacy in the strength and reputation of the PRCA as it stands today and will be remembered as a pivotal figure in our industry. He will be hugely missed by us all.”