Helen Hurley: Virgin Radio

Helen Hurley may have to bear the burden of being Virgin Radio’s sole in-house lawyer, but it’s worth it to work in the arena she loves. By Malar Velaigam

There are not many lawyers lucky enough to bump into Britpop band Travis in the office lift, Simon Le Bon and John Taylor in the office kitchen and Paul McCartney in the corridor.

Virgin Radio head of legal Helen Hurley is one of those fortunate lawyers. But it comes at a price: Hurley carries the sole responsibility for all legal matters under the Scottish Media Group’s (SMG) London operations.

Not only does she oversee the legal functions of Virgin Radio, but also SMG’s other London operations: cinema advertising group Pearl & Dean and outdoor advertising outfit Primesight.

Although Hurley is the only lawyer in the department, she does have a personal assistant and a legal spend of between £25,000 and £30,000 to call in external assistance.

The bulk of this spend goes to Herbert Smith, which is brought in mostly for IP work, such as content and trademark advice. Hurley also uses Edinburgh-based Burness for all Scottish matters and other firms are brought in on an ad hoc basis to assist with any employment, property and litigation issues.

As a result Hurley dedicates the bulk of her time to the heavy contractual obligations associated with the business of broadcasting. Contracts are drafted regularly, as bands come into the radio station almost daily to record live sessions, each requiring a new agreement over the rights to that recording.

Hurley also drafts and maintains contracts with the station’s partners in order to ensure its air content is accessible to listeners through as many mediums as possible.

Hurley works continuously to extend the group’s licence periods, as Virgin Radio is one of just three radio stations that maintains an AM broadcasting licence as well as an FM licence and a digital broadcasting licence.

“AM is still very important to our business as a national station, which is why our licence period has been extended – though costwise we have to be mindful of reaching our audience on other platforms too, such as DAB [digital audio broadcasting], online etc,” she says, adding that the Government is planning an AM switch-off, although no date has been set.

Looking back, Hurley cites Virgin Radio’s deal with Nokia as one of her most significant deals. In late 2005 Hurley struck a deal with Nokia permitting the group to broadcast Virgin Radio through mobile phones, which Hurley believes is radio broadcasting’s future.

“Making radio mobile and reaching as many people as possible is crucial – digital broadcasting is big business for us,” she states.

However, Hurley’s responsibilities may be set to change with the impending flotation in the autumn of Virgin Radio. She is still unclear on how her responsibilities will change post-listing, or if there will be any new additions to her department.

SMG has appointed Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to advise on the forthcoming IPO, despite the company’s close relationship with Herbert Smith.

“Because Herbert Smith handles a lot of our work we wanted to avoid conflicts of interest,” explains Hurley.

The flotation will see Virgin Radio become an entity independent of SMG after almost seven years of what industry observers call “a clash of cultures”. Like the radio station, Hurley may no longer be tied to the debt-laden SMG.

At present, aside from the extensive due diligence process for the station’s IPO, Hurley is also in what she calls “full festival throttle”. She is referring to the V Festival, which Virgin Radio will be broadcasting live on 18 and 19 August 2007.

The festival involves a line-up of around 70 bands, with Hurley bearing the responsibility of negotiating and drawing up contracts with the bands for all the clips, recordings and interviews that will be used by the radio station.

Although SMG bought Virgin Radio from Chris Evans’ Ginger Media Group in 2000, Hurley only came on board in January 2005.

“I always knew I wanted to be in broadcasting,” beams a satisfied Hurley, adding that she just did not know where in the broadcasting puzzle she would fit in.

And her CV proves it. Hurley worked as a radio broadcaster in Dublin while she was reading law, which meant waking up at 5am to do her show before going to lectures. Still trying to find her place in the broadcasting scene, Hurley then went on to work as a production assistant with Carlton Films and then BBC GLR.

“I didn’t want to be a suit that didn’t understand the business,” says Hurley, who had a short stint as a ‘suit’ when she joined magic circle firm Linklaters as a trainee.

Two years on she turned her back on private practice to join Universal Music and begin a career that fused her love for music, broadcasting and the law.

“If you love music it’s a great place to work,” she beams.

Helen Hurley
Head of Legal
Virgin Radio

Organisation: Virgin Radio
Sector: Media
Name: Helen Hurley
Title: Head of legal
Reporting to: Chief executive Paul Jackson and finance director MJ Olaore
Turnover: £21.7m
Number of employees: 96
Legal capability: 1
Legal spend: £25,000-£30,000
Main law firms: Burness, Charles Russell, Herbert Smith
Helen Hurley ‘s CV: Education:
1988-92 – LLB (Hons) Law, Trinity College
1992-93 – Law Society Finals, College of Law, York
Work History:
1994-96: Trainee, Linklaters (including six-month secondment to Paris in 1995)
1996-97: Assistant, Olswang
1997-98: In-house lawyer, Universal Music
1998-2003: In-house lawyer and head of network negotiations, ITV
2003-2004: Commercial lawyer, BSkyB
2005-present: Head of legal, Virgin Radio