CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/KATE HARRIS - At the helm of a 'professional life-support system'. Kate Harris has the job of bringing NABS up to date. Jenny Watts interviews her

Kate Harris, the director of NABS, is in typically upbeat mood. Her

year-long evangelising for the charity is set to reach a peak with the

forthcoming NABS week.

Kicking off on 5 June, the week's activity will aim to highlight NABS'

range of services, while sending the message that the charity is moving

on by unveiling a new identity to reflect the business it serves. "It's

about setting the record straight, dispelling myths and reminding people

that NABS is for everyone," says Harris.

And people need reminding, as certain misconceptions still surround the

organisation. While everyone knows of Peterhouse, its retirement home

housing elderly industry veterans, knowledge of the charity's other

offerings across its broad spectrum can be patchy. Harris knows this as

well as any. "When I got to NABS I was surprised at the extent of work

it does," she confesses.

Harris joined NABS in May 2000 after a lengthy career in


She started in new business at KHBB in 1983, moving into account

management and then leaving for Leagas Delaney in 1994. There she worked

on the Adidas business, before moving to the BBC account and working on

the award-winning "Perfect Day" ad.

In March 1998 she moved to Mellors Reay and, after it merged with Grey,

ran the Jersey Tourism account before joining NABS.

Though the National Advertising Benevolent Society was established in

1913 to specifically look after the interests of the advertising

community, it now addresses the needs of the entire communications


"We're not just about the A in NABS," as Harris puts it.

NABS offers welfare help to anyone in the industry in times of crisis

such as illness or financial hardship. It also has a helpline offering

assistance, a career exchange, and counsellors who offer impartiality

and confidence over any employment issue.

To Harris, the organisation is "a professional life-support system".

However, NABS has been criticised in the past for failing to encourage

the involvement of clients and women and for failing to modernise.

"We're redefining our remit," agrees Harris. "The industry changes and

we've got to keep up with it."

Harris says the charity is evolving to embrace issues such as dotcom

fallout and the lack of women creatives. To do this, Harris is trying to

make sure the team of 18 people at NABS stays close to the industry.

"If you're involved at the start, you can be more involved in the

prevention, rather than just the cure," she says earnestly.

And involved she is. Jeremy Bullmore, president of NABS and a director

of WPP, says: "Kate loves NABS and helping people. There's a blazing

genuine sincerity about her and she has a shining enthusiasm for the


This enthusiasm to evolve NABS has seen Harris increasing fundraising

activity and bringing in a finance person to look after the books. She's

also tried to give NABS more business focus over the past year and sees

building relationships with the IPA and publicity associations across

the nation as another way of increasing its profile. She's also making

changes from within. "Internally, we're getting more focused at what we

do," she says.

And externally, the NABS calendar of events continues, including rugby

sevens, cricket, racing and the battle of the bands. In a departure from

past years, Harris will be starting to encourage agencies to bring

clients to events.

Accusations of outdated practice remain, especially in regard to the

annual NABS boxing night. "I know it's contentious, particularly among

women," says Harris of the event. "But it raises pounds 600,000 and

while we're working on developing new events, we don't have the luxury

to get involved in that politically correct debate."

And although it might seem easy to be critical of the status quo, it's

another thing to actually make the changes. "Often the suggestions

people make means we make less money," she says candidly, though her

ideas for future events include using football.

So what's next for the ebullient Harris? "It would be wrong to say I

hadn't thought further forward. But there's so much for me to do at

NABS," she says enthusiastically.

There's no doubt that Harris is on a mission to dispel the

preconceptions of NABS as dated. "What I hear about NABS from other

people is that we're moving it forward in people's minds. I feel it's

definitely moving on," she says positively.

"This coming year we need to be even more public about what we do, and

say it loud and proud." Something which Harris seems particularly

comfortable with.