AN audacious bit of chutzpa in the 1980s set Graham Robb’s career off to a flying start and now as the head of his own long-standing PR company, Recognition, he’s never looked back.

The younger Graham was initially a late night presenter, then news presenter, on Radio Tees. It was in this latter role that he wrote to the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asking for an interview, which she duly did.  He remembers she was curious why people in the region didn’t vote Conservative.  As a result of this conversation a few years later he decided to run to be a Conservative MP for Hartlepool.

Despite being unsuccessful he learnt a good amount about publicity during this time of electioneering, decided to leave journalism and moved into the world of PR. 

He is frank about his publicity roots.  He said: “When I started out I worked from an office above a Fried Chicken Shop and then expanded into a bedroom/office at home.  However, within a relatively short amount of time I was working for some of the major firms and personalities in the region including Duncan Bannatyne, KPMG and John Hall’s Wynyard village.”

The growth of Recognition was particularly substantial in the mid-1990s when he won the communications work for the whole Conservative party in the North of England.  He ran this contract 24/7 until David Cameron became leader and their PR was moved in-house. 

Today his business is based in Morton Palms, Darlington and has 80 clients around the country, working to both promote and defend, when necessary, their businesses. 

He said: “I employ 15 people and our turnover is around £1.2m. My team is divided into two departments - business to business and business to consumer which makes it easier to service our clients’ needs quickly and efficiently.    My staff are obviously very important to our on-going success and I give senior people 10 per cent of our profits every month.  I am pleased to say we have very dedicated staff with two members, Caroline Walker and Jamie Collis, both having served 20 years with the business.”

Many of Graham Robb’s early clients are still handled by the company including Bannatyne.  Another one is a London-based firm, Pimlico Plumbers, who have used Recognition for 14 years.  He won that business against South East firms who were not only more expensive but also due to his transparency on fee levels, something which is still true today.

In terms of his company’s next phase of development he is keen to support the new generation of SME owners.  He said: “I want to do PR for the next Duncan Bannatynes and people with entrepreneurial zeal.   He grew from being an ice-cream seller to creating thousands of jobs in the region that are sustainable. I would love to provide PR for someone on a similar journey.”

He is also keen to exploit the opportunity presented by making client videos in-house.  As a result, he has recently invested in technology to allow his team to do live transmissions from remote locations, both in the UK and overseas, even without wifi or broadband connections.

Summing up his career to date he said: “I’m particularly proud of my voluntary work in politics and social enterprises, not just in the past but also continuing through to the present day with the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum. Both help the North East’s economy.”

Five minutes with... Graham Robb

Favourite North-East building and why? I love the Transporter Bridge. I have taken several visitors across it in the last few months and it never fails to impress.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? Voluntary job at hospital radio at North Tees followed by night shift presenter at Radio Tees in 1981 paying £25.

What is the worst job you've had? Telephone canvassing at elections. I prefer to be insulted to my face!

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I only learned to cook four years ago (terrible admission) but my Sunday roast is great.

What would your superpower be? Mind reading.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party. Frank Sinatra, The Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Jeremy Clarkson,

Most expensive thing you've bought – other than car or house – and how much? My holidays – I work hard and spend lots on seeing the world. My last holiday cost £16,000.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? Ben Houchen, Tees Valley mayor. If you want to know the facts about our local economy he tweets every day.

Favourite book? Leadership – Rudolph Giuliani

When did you last cry and why? Too often, following the passing of my late wife, but frequently at patriotic moments.

What is your greatest achievement? Being a father to two wonderful daughters

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is king!

Favourite animal and why. I love dogs, my wife has three King Charles Cavaliers and they always cheer me up if I have had a bad day.

Most famous person on your mobile phone. Some senior politicians and Duncan Bannatyne.

What was the last band you saw live? Halle Orchestra at a great concert part of Swaledale Festival

Describe your perfect night in. Coronation Street on TV and a fish and chip supper

In another life I would be... I admire service personnel but never served. A soldier.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Colin Firth – it would need his talent to get my quirks!

What irritates you? Internet-only tariffs and US tech companies which only communicate via email.

What's your secret talent? I’m learning to play the piano, not yet a talent though!