Shaper: Peter Scott

Show aired on 12th December 2015

Peter Scott began his advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather – now one of the pillars of WPP – where he had the good fortune to be offered the chance to open and run a new agency for Ogilvy in Scotland, and so began his penchant for starting businesses.  After spells in Brussels and a division of Y&R in London, he co-founded WCRS as Thatcher came to power. The business enjoyed great success through the 80s and morphed in 1990 into Aegis – owners of Carat, the largest independent media buying network in the world.  Peter took a 10 year sabbatical from the ad industry from the mid 90s but re-engaged to lead the buy back of his old agency, WCRS, from the French group Havas in 2004. This business morphed into The Engine Group and grew revenues in excess of £120m with offices in London, New York and Shanghai before its sale to Lake Capital last year.

In addition, Peter has established and run a mineral water business, a farm, one of England’s finest Partridge shoots and, with his wife Jan, raised a substantial amount of money for children’s charities via the Ashe Park charity Polo matches.

Peter has recently launched his latest venture, Be Heard Group plc of which he is Executive Chairman. With its first acquisition already in hand, the group aims to build a digitally-focused network of specialist companies within the marketing services and technology sectors across the UK, Europe and US. Peter is also Chairman of Ludorum – owners of the Chuggington TV series which is broadcast around the world.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Rebecca Ferguson with Get Happy and a jaunty version too. Hi, this is me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM with Jazz Shapers; and Jazz Shapers, you will know I hope, is the place you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul, alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper, a business giant and I am very pleased to say my business giant today is Peter Scott. Peter Scott who is one of the co-founders of one of the most successful advertising agencies through the 80s and the 90s called WCRS. He then went on to co-found the fantastic group of communications and digital and marketing businesses called the Engine Group and if that wasn’t enough, he has gone and done it again – he has just created a business that is going to be focussed on all things digital and it is going to be called the Be Heard Group – in fact it is called the Be Heard Group. You will be hearing lots from Peter very shortly. In addition to hearing from Peter, you will be hearing some words of advice for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya and on top of all of that, if it isn’t going to be enough for you in this run up to Christmas, we are going to have some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Lisa Bassenge, Stacey Kent and this from the man himself, it’s blue eyes, Frank Sinatra and he would have been a hundred today.

The properly inimitable sound of Frank Sinatra with Summer Wind. Make sure you stay with us here on Jazz FM because after me at 10.00 o’clock, Nigel Williams will be doing a two hour celebration to the man himself – we are going to have dedications, we are going to have interviews and of course live music as well as some pre-recorded stuff from the good old Mr Frank Sinatra. Peter Scott is my Business Shaper today as I said and he has founded not just one, not just two but three at least and there is probably more in the woodwork. We will find out in due course. A bit of an empresario, he has been described in the advertising world, apparently as the boldest of deal makers as well as an advertising veteran. Well I can say, looking at this rather spritely figure in front of me, he looks like an advertising youth. Peter thank you so much for joining me.

Peter Scott
Lovely to be here and you know, I love Jazz FM and I have listened to your programmes before so it is a delight to be invited to share the Saturday morning with you.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic. Now, your history and it is an ongoing one, you are still writing it in the advertising world. There is a handful of people that have done what you have done truthfully. You have invented the agency WCRS with your partners at the time back in the late 70s, you created a, what was kind of first a breed if you like, of an integrated group of companies back in I think it was 2004, around then, around that time and you are doing it again. Tell me a little bit about how you got into this crazy world called advertising and now of course it is not called just advertising but just tell me a little bit about how it all started?

Peter Scott
Well I think the Ad business has always been for waifs and strays who can’t really find out what they should be doing in life and I was one of those. I bounced around between insurance, I became a quantity surveyor without knowing what that was meant to be and then I ended up in the post room or in the production side of an agency called Everetts and I used to wrap blocks and send them off to the media for printing the next day. And the great thing about advertising it’s a meritocracy, if you are prepared to work hard, if you are prepared to learn then people respect what you do and how you do it and that was the beginning and I just put in more hours than other people and I was more determined than other people and I took on more work than other people. I learnt on the job and I kept going and one day Ogilvie asked me to go and start an agency for them in Scotland and I was still in short trousers but wow, somebody said go up there, start an agency on our money and learn how to start a business. Well kids don’t get that sort of opportunity but they gave me that opportunity and that I guess spurred my desire and it’s an unquenched desire to keep starting businesses. I love starting businesses, I love building businesses and here we are, third time around trying to get it right the third time.

Elliot Moss
And that first time around and you know, as you said, young people don’t get offered those chances unless they are good enough and then there is that old quote, if you are good enough, you are old enough, sort of thing. The other founding partners, Ron Collins, Andrew Rutherford and Robin Wight, famous names in their own right. How did the four of you come together to decide that you would create this business?

Peter Scott
Well I was the account man from central casting. I think the creative guys went off and they just cast looking for a decent account man. The truth is that Robin kept ringing me. I was the managing director of a subsidiary of YNR and I kept getting these messages from my PA saying Robin Wight would like to have lunch with you and I didn’t know Robin from Adam. Robin Wight would like to have lunch with you, Robin Wight… finally I succumbed to having lunch with Robin and it was like a first date. He wanted to go to bed on the first date – ‘I think we should start an agency together’ – I said, ‘hello my name is Peter Scott’; ‘yes but we should start an agency together’; I said, ‘what do you mean we should start an agency together? Why do you mean…’. So that was the beginning of it and so we started, and we thought about it and we found Ron and Andrew who were working together, one was at Koletts and one was at Saatchi but they were doing some freelance work together and over about eighteen months we spent time together, we played tennis, we went away for weekends and we thought yeah finally, let’s go do it and we did it when the labour government was still in power so it was a tough time; Thatcher came in quite soon afterwards but it was always three famous names and the guy from central casting. At the beginning the company was to be called Wight Scott Collins Rutherford in the order which we came; then there was the creative rebellion from Collins and Rutherford who decided that it should be all the creative names together with Scott at the end so Wight Collins Rutherford Scott was abbreviated to Wight Collins, Rutherford and Scott then rebelled against that and said we are not going to be dropped so let’s call it WCRS. But it worked, you know, they were outstanding at what they did and they didn’t know what I did because I was the account man who did all the things they didn’t understand but it worked pretty well.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out how the man from central casting called Peter Scott went on to do some fantastic things in the crazy world of advertising. Time for some music and appropriately this is Off The Wall, not from Michael Jackson but a great version from Cyrille Aimée.

That was Off The Wall from Cyrille Aimée and Peter Scott is my Business Shaper as you have been hearing. Now the world of advertising, many people that are not in it won’t know what an account man does. I recall when I started in the world of advertising my mother didn’t and many people listening may not. Explain in your own words kind of what it looks like to be the account man that has then become the empresario that has then set up businesses and done again and so on and so forth because it goes to the very heart of what I would guess is your craft skill?

Peter Scott
Well I think in the old days the account guy was the glue between creative, between media, between production, between clients so we were the acceptable face of advertising and we presented work, we presented media plans, we smoothed troubled waters, we tried to find compromise between the unreasonable demands and rejections of clients and the unreasonable demands and appeals of creative guys and the media who said you can’t make all that happen, we haven’t got the money to do it. So we were trying to find ways through a very difficult maze, a very complicated maze and you learn a whole series of skills. You are a peace maker, you are into arbitration, you are in to anger management, you are in to rejecting work and ideas and thoughts that you don’t think have got a hope in hell of working but you are trying to reject it in a way that isn’t going to destroy egos or get you killed on the spot and there were moments when you thought you were going to be killed on the spot. So it was a varied role. Then you get into new business and then you start to learn about running businesses and these are not complicated businesses, you have income, you have overhead and you’ve got to try and keep the income above the overhead and you’ve got to manage your cash flows and all the other things. So you learnt on the job and there isn’t a school for account management. There is a school for business brains, there’s a school for learning lots of other things but it is not something where you can go out and qualify to become an account man, it is just a skill that you evolve in the context of the business in which you are operating.

Elliot Moss
Now in the context of the business in which you are operating, you decided to buy a company quite early doors. I think you bought a media agency. When you are buying a company just as a, you know, your first time. What do you think Peter? I mean where do you go for advice? Where did you go because you are going ‘well I kind of know that’s going to work, I need one of those’ and then what? You are still young, I mean you are still a very young man running a bigger and bigger business. How did that work for you?

Peter Scott
Well we… at WCRS we became a public company when we were in short trousers. We were three and a half, four years old and it just seemed like a fun thing to do. There was no great strategic vision, the markets were booming and it seemed a way of just crystallising a bit of value, having some paper and having a bit of fun and the regulations weren’t as nasty as they are now. You could get away with doing things and we had a lot of fun doing it and then we went out… because people kept saying ‘you should use your paper, you should use your paper’. What does that mean? Well it means that your paper is highly rated so your currency and your shares means that you can then buy companies which are cheaper to buy because your currency is rated at this level and their company is rated at a level beneath you. So you have got the arbitrage between buying at this price and then consolidating it and lifting the whole thing. Well that sounds like a good idea so you sit with your stockbrokers and you sit with your investment bankers and you sit with your lawyers and half the time you have no idea what it is they are talking about, you just know it is a very expensive discussion but you find a business that you think is going to fit. You understand whether or not that business is solid, whether or not the clients are robust, whether or not the people are motivated and then you try to find ways of putting it together and if you go back to the 80s when all of this began, all of the creative agencies went public. Lowe Howard Spink went public, Gold Greenlees Trott went public – one after the other – Abbott Mead went public and we all were into the same game, we were all trying to build something outside the pure advertising agency and a lot of those brands disappeared after the stock market crash of 87 and then into the early 90s, there was consolidation so you learn on the job and you can make some dreadful mistakes along the way as everybody has.

Elliot Moss
Reassuringly it sounds just as messy as I thought it might have been. That’s good. Lots more coming up from my Business Shaper, Peter Scott but latest travel is going to be in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, every Saturday morning through 2015 towards the end of it and here’s a bit of news for 2016 as well, you can catch me talking to someone who is shaping the world of business. If you miss this programme at 9.00am and you are listening to this on a playback, you can also listen on CityAM.com, that’s another place for you and it will continue to be so in 2016. Peter Scott is my Business Shaper, three times round a founder and very happy with it too and we were just talking earlier about ‘well you know, we went public and we seemed to have a bit more leverage over there, we arbitraged a difference, we bought a company’ – I mean it sounds just like someone is going down to the shops to pick up a newspaper – obviously it is a little bit more complicated than that. You took a break didn’t you, I mean at some point, was it because you just needed to refresh? Was it because you… I mean what was going on in your head at that particular time?

Peter Scott
So, really I had one thing in common with Robin’s three wives which is after about twelve years of living with Robin you have to have a break and so I left the industry and I left Robin, I divorced Robin and then after ten years out of the industry I had an itch and so I went back and I said to Robin, ‘alright it’s time we made up, why haven’t you bought the business back from the French’; he said, ‘well I don’t know how to do it’; and I said, ‘well shall I come and do it and shall we see if we can make it work?’ and so I got back in in that way. When I left the industry I didn’t think I would go back, I did lots of other things but I didn’t think I would go back but it is a fun industry and you are dealing with very bright people and it’s a great place to spend your time. It’s a great industry to be in. There are daily challenges which you can’t predict, there is fun to be had, there is work to be done, there are pressures, there are disappointments, there are the joys of winning business, there is the eternal your three phone calls from disaster, three clients ring up and for whatever reason the business is out of the door. But it’s a great place to be so I just decided it was in my blood and I needed to go back.

Elliot Moss
And the way you describe it means that all those things that other people listening may go… three calls away, I can’t do that, I have got… I mean those problems you seem to be not just unflappable but you seem to want to go to the fire and I imagine that’s been part of your success because just looking at you, it’s not just that you are steely, it’s that you are very calm about it. There isn’t much bravado about you Peter.

Peter Scott
One of the great things about Robin and Robin is an extraordinary, talented, entertaining, infuriating individual but in the very early days when we had won four or five or six pieces of business and we came to the moment when we lost our first piece of business, it was Brutus Jeans and they fired us without really telling us why they fired us and we were all in despair and as we lined up on the window ledge about to jump, Robin was running around going ‘wait, wait, wait, before you jump, instead of Brutus we will get Levis, if BMW go, we’ll get Mercedes’ and one by one we came off the ledge and went ‘yeah actually he’s probably…’ yeah and you just get on and do it. So it’s a business where it is not linear, you can’t simply sit there and expect that every year you are going to grow by 25%, every year you are going to win creative awards. It is competitive. It’s in the nature of the industry to be competitive, to win business, to want to do better work and if that’s in your blood then you take the knocks as they come along and you dust yourself up and you pick yourself up and you are back in the ring for the next round and that’s, that’s part of what we love.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine anyone who wants to set up any business needs to have that kind of attitude as well. Time for some music, this is Stacey Kent with the delightful Tangerine.

Stacey Kent, I promised you it would be delightful and it was. Peter, we were talking about that dusting off and getting on again. The other side of course to this coin is vision and back then in the early 2000s you said we need a more integrated approach, not just you but the people that decided to set up this Engine Group which was a number of companies delivering on a number of fronts for the emerging and burgeoning needs of clients as they enter this new age of digital and all sorts of more connected communications. When you are coming up with a vision how does one sort of view it? I mean for you it may have been obvious but looking back if you had to just aggregate the pieces that went into that decision to set up an integrated business, what was going on for you? How did you see those trends?

Peter Scott
Well if you looked at when we bought WCRS back from Havas, WCRS was not really fit for purpose, it was an old-fashioned ad agency that still thought that they were the most important part of the client relationship and decision making. They had forgotten that media buying had gone and so the big cheques weren’t going to the creative agency, the big cheques were going to the media buyers. Well guess where the decisions are being made, the big cheques are going to the right and the decisions are being influenced more by the people that get the big cheques than the creative guys who get the small cheques and so it wasn’t fit for purpose and you needed to look and think about the changes that were happening. Now in 2004 when we bought the business out, the dot.com era had come and gone, it had been boom and bust, social media didn’t exist. There were a few kids in chinos doing interesting things but we just saw disaggretation happening and we said this is fragmenting too much to make sense for clients. They have suddenly got not five or six consultancies and agencies, they’ve got fifteen or twenty five and everybody is saying ‘listen to me, give me more money, it’s my idea that’s going to work better than their idea’. It was herding cats. So we thought if we can begin to build something which keeps the brands alive, allows clients to work in a narrow brand, in one vertical or to work across a series of verticals, but they see that people like each other, that they want to work in the interests of the client, they are not getting their arms around revenue and retaining that and not looking in the client’s interest but looking what’s in their interest, there has to be a different way of doing it and it evolved from that early idea and as we bought more businesses and we brought them into the same building and we evolved our culture, it became a really refreshing and different place to be and others have now replicated what we set up in the Engine Group but we started that journey ten, eleven years ago and inevitably if it’s successful you are going to have lots of imitators out there. We enjoyed what we were doing and it’s built into a good, a good size group now.

Elliot Moss
Now the imitation if you like is of course a recognition that this is the right place to go. But over the course of the years of your career and as you now are thinking about this next venture – have you ever had cause to really deeply question your own judgment versus kind of worrying in the normal way that you have made the right decision? And if so, how have you come through that moment? Because otherwise you wouldn’t be human would you?

Peter Scott
No but a lot of other people will question my judgment and that’s a good and healthy way to be. I mean in some ways I think if you enjoy having vision, if you enjoy setting out with different horizons in mind, you do get sometimes detached from the pack and the analogy that I would use is if you say… if I said to half a dozen people ‘would you like to learn how to rock climb or to climb a mountain?’ and they go ‘yeah that’s terrific’. If on the first day I take them to the base of the Eiger, the north face of the Eiger and I say, ‘well this is what we are going to do’ and I start scampering up. I get sort of you know, five hundred metres vertical and I look and they have all buggered off back to the pub. They were going ‘we are not going to go up there with you’; so what you have got to do is take them to the Highlands of Scotland first and do a few days of acclimatisation and then when you get to the base of the Eiger, they go ‘woo’ and you go, ‘yes but you can do this, you can do this if we work together and if we are as a team’ and suddenly they find that they can do it. So you have got to stay in touch with the people that you are bringing along and not get too far ahead in terms of being a visionary or somebody who is setting out a different strategy. But others are there to provide cheques and balances. I don’t think any of us are infallible, we all make mistakes. We need to learn from those mistakes. Sometimes you do things too quickly, sometimes you make assumptions which are ahead of the time and therefore you are just too far ahead of the game and people can foresee how you can link those things together and I think Engine was a terrific business, it evolved out of WCRS. We took it to the States, it was a private company, it lacked the ability to finance its own growth because we weren’t a public company and so that was a constraint and now it is in other’s hands and they will fund that growth at the level it needs going forward.

Elliot Moss
My final chat is coming up with Peter very shortly plus we will be playing a track from Lisa Bassenge. That’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Lisa Bassenge with the rather well known Riders On The Storm. Peter we have been talking about all sorts of stuff and you sound eminently sensible and you obviously have a cool head because some big decisions have happened, as you‘ve said, you’ve been invested in, you’ve sold, you’ve taken a break, you’ve gone back and remarried the man you swore you would never remarry in Robin Wight and you are still going. What is it that drives you because this new venture, the Be Heard Group is going to be exciting I am sure but in your… I have no idea your financial situation, but I imagine you probably don’t need to go out and set up another business, what’s making you do it?

Peter Scott
It’s very simple. I just love a challenge. I love it when people say you can’t do something. I am a great one for skiing, I love climbing, I love skinning, I love going out with a guide but if we skin up a mountain for three or four hours if we get to the top and he says, ‘well all we are going to do now is ski down’ then I am disappointed. If when we get to the top and we are absolutely knackered and he goes, ‘tomorrow we are going to do that one over there’ and you go, ‘oh wow’ – bang – I just need a challenge. Every morning when I get up I have got to have it and this is my next one.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of living with that and I mean people that work with you and it can be personally as well, it sounds like yes it is insatiable but it doesn’t sound out of control. I mean it is an addiction of sorts isn’t it, wanting to do the next challenge but how do you manage that from a being a decent guy perspective because you seem a decent guy?

Peter Scott
Well you have got to ask my wife.

Elliot Moss
I will, I was going to say, what would wife…

Peter Scott
I think at times I can be absolutely unbearable because I do get a little obsessive about something and then you are in to tunnel vision and that’s the only thing which is driving you and you need people to bring you back into the real world and to check you and to say ‘oy’, wrap you across the knuckles, kick you in the shins and bring you back down to earth and my wonderful wife, Jan – we have been married for thirty five years – is a great professional at being able to do that. She keeps me in check.

Elliot Moss
If she didn’t I imagine we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. You’d have probably gone wild and feral many years ago. Peter it has been an absolute privilege chatting to you today and really good luck with the new venture. Just give me the headline in the new venture – what’s it – in five years what are people going to be saying about the Be Heard Group?

Peter Scott
What in five years are people going to be saying about the Be Heard Group? I think they, I hope they will say they filled a market need, they saw a gap, they sensed an opportunity, they brought together some extraordinary businesses, clustered them in a certain way and to our surprise there is a really strong contender out there as a mid-market group operating in the digital space and filling a gap which the majors just aren’t fulfilling at the moment.

Elliot Moss
Well good luck and I hope that is what we will say and we will get you back in, in 2020 as it will be – good lord. Thank you so much. Just before I let you go, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Peter Scott
The song choice is Roberta Flack, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Why have I chosen it? I have chosen it because it’s my song for Jan. We have been married thirty five years, we have been married four times, we get married every ten years. We remarry every ten years and this is the music for the very first time all the way through. So it is everything we are together.

Elliot Moss
And here it is especially for you.

Peter Scott
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Roberta Flack with First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Peter Scott. A clear thinking man, absolute clarity about what he needed to do at any specific time during his fantastic career so far. A visionary, someone who spotted the market and what it needed before it even knew and he then went on and delivered it and he delivered it because he is an operator, someone who really knows how to bring people together around a problem to solve. And finally and really importantly in the world of entrepreneurism, someone who is utterly insatiable, has an insatiable appetite for a challenge. He just can’t keep himself away from the next one. Fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Coming up next as I said, it is a Frank Sinatra special with Mr Nigel Williams.

“I think the ad business has always been for waifs and strays who can’t really find out what they should be doing in life, and I was one of those.”

“..it’s an unquenched desire to keep starting businesses. I love starting businesses, I love building businesses.”

“At WCRS we became a public company when we were in short trousers.”

“…you sit with your investment bankers and you sit with your lawyers and half the time you have no idea what it is they are talking about, you just know it is a very expensive discussion.”

“I had one thing in common with Robin’s three wives, which is after about twelve years of living with Robin you have to have a break.”

“It’s a great industry to be in. There are daily challenges which you can’t predict, there is fun to be had, there is work to be done.”

“…you take the knocks as they come along and you dust yourself off and you pick yourself up and you are back in the ring for the next round.”

“I don’t’ think any of us are infallible, we all make mistakes. We need to learn from those mistakes.”

“I just love a challenge. I love it when people say you can’t do something.”