Emma Hall reports on the self-effacing chief happy to be in a backroom
As part of the advertising triumvirate at the helm of Euro RSCG Wnek
Gosper, Chris Pinnington, the managing director, has a lot to be pleased
Last week the UK agency put on about pounds 12 million in billings when
the Paris-based network won the Clearasil, Evian and Intel accounts
(Campaign, 22 March).
But Brett Gosper, the chief executive, and Mark Wnek, the executive
creative director, are Pinnington’s more high-profile colleagues and the
ones with their names above the door, while the managing director
appears to settle for a more unassuming, backroom role.
Pinnington, 39, is too self-effacing to quarrel with this perception and
seems to be more bothered about working hard and satisfying his own and
his clients’ standards than with impressing his advertising peers.
There are various theories about the ‘three musketeers’, as they are
known, and who brings what to the agency. Broadly, though, Gosper has
the charisma and is great with clients, Wnek has the drive and plays the
moody creative, while Pinnington is the ‘nuts and bolts man’.
Pinnington takes charge of the agency’s day-to-day management and
oversaw the recent refurbishment of the building, which included the
installation of toilets that are branded with the agency’s colours and
have become known as ‘Pinnington’s follies’.
‘It’s good to have an element of theatre in advertising,’ he laughs,
proving that he doesn’t take it too seriously. Robin Wight, the chairman
of WCRS, confirms: ‘He deals with the whole business very effectively
and has not become a whisky or sports soak.’
Pinnington has kept a balance throughout his career. He is married with
three children, aged one, five and seven, and has reasonable pastimes
such as tennis, skiing and sailing.
However, he still has the energy to go out drinking and on a recent trip
to Paris was seen downing beers until late at night, in the same bar
where the supermodels were hanging out during Paris fashion week.
Andy Bird, now the managing director of D’Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles,
and a former colleague, reveals that Pinnington was not always so hardy.
Bird laughs: ‘I am glad to see that he has learned to handle his booze
better in front of clients.’
Wnek is speaking the truth when he says: ‘It is impossible not to
get on with him.’ Pinnington has an open, affable manner and although he
is not expecting to receive a call from Campaign, he slips easily into
discussing his life and career, manages to come out with plenty of
anecdotes and makes no demands about keeping comments off the record.
When Pinnington arrived at Euro RSCG as part of the merger with FCO in
June 1993, he found himself in a dodgy position, working at an agency
where there were 13 managing partners. He admits: ‘It was a nightmare
and there was a high probability that it would all go against me.’
Typically, Pinnington kept his head down and worked hard rather than
playing politics, and was rewarded with the post of managing director.
Within months, the agency had won the Microsoft and Abbey National
accounts, the two bits of business to which he remains closest.
Sean Orpen, the marketing director of Microsoft, sums up the opinions of
Pinnington’s colleagues and friends when he says: ‘He has a great
personality, good ideas, he knows exactly what is going on in our
business and in his own agency and he always has a bright outlook.’
This doesn’t sound like a man who would invite death threats, but half
way through a two-year spell in Australia, that is what he got. At 9pm
one evening when he was alone at the agency, a worryingly silent phone
call was followed by a second call threatening: ‘You’re dead.’
A number of people had just been fired from the agency and the papers
were full of the story of a businessman who had been killed for dollars
20,000, so Pinnington was justifiably scared. However, he recounts the
story cheerfully and insists that he was only worried for a couple of
This is borne out by Stuart Leach, the managing director of Knight Leach
Delaney, who was recruited to WCRS by Pinnington. Leach explains how
Pinnington always remained calm in a crisis: ‘He never, ever panicked.’
Perhaps Pinnington can afford such a good nature, having had a good
upbringing and a privileged education. He grew up on the Wirral, in what
was then known as Cheshire but is now part of Merseyside, went to
boarding school and then down to Bristol for a university education.
He chose psychology because he was impressed with the introductory
class, which grabbed his attention with a dramatically staged shooting
of the lecturer, followed by a lively group discussion.
Because he liked flying, he became an aviation psychologist, studying
the visual clues pilots use to land planes. But the prospect of 35 years
in a nine-to-five civil service job had no appeal and he sought out an
alternative career.Pinnington liked the look of advertising and
persevered through 12 rejections until he was offered a graduate trainee
post at Masius, where he had ‘a delightful time’. Initially, he intended
to become a planner, but a client’s daughter muscled in on the post and
Pinnington became an account executive instead.
During four years at the agency, he was responsible for the launch of
Alpen porridge, a short-lived product innovation which he remembers
fondly for the glorious moment when he first saw it on the supermarket
Again, however, a lack of dynamism in his career made Pinnington
restless. He says: ‘At 5pm everyone clocked off and went out to the
opera. It was a very civilised place and I could see myself there for
the next 20 years.’
So he jumped ship to WCRS, seeking out the more thrilling side of the
business, and placed himself in a much tougher and more demanding
environment. Pinnington thrived for five years at the agency, where he
also learned new-business skills.
Hunting his next challenge, Pinnington went to Australia to rescue the
Ball Partnership, a part of the WCRS network. Friends who went to visit
him saw his waterfront apartment with the catamaran moored on the
slipway outside and thought he had it made.
But the work was hard and Pinnington often woke up worrying at 4am. He
says: ‘The situation was ghastly and it took a year of desperately hard
work to sort it out.’
Pinnington reveals the harder side of his nature when he says,
casually: ‘We did well - we got rid of four out of the five big
names and won nine out of 11 new-business pitches.’Typically, his answer
to the problems he faced was ‘to work like stink and get good people
in’. He adds: ‘You can’t sit around worrying about politics.’
Because he had to do it to survive, he developed an obsession for new
business and now he has a love/hate feeling towards it.
He comments: ‘It is a complex and exciting game, but you can work your
balls off and you are doing well if you get 50 per cent.’
This attitude kept him going when he came back to England and took a job
at FCO. Things went downhill for two years, until the merger with Euro
RSCG was finally announced in June 1993.
Pinnington attributes his subsequent success to luck, and to the good
sense of the French bosses, whose ‘gut cunning’ found the right mix of
people to run the agency. But Pinnington’s sharp business sense,
commitment, hard work and dedication to new business have earned him his
place as managing director.
His industry profile may not match those of Wnek and Gosper, but within
the agency and among clients Pinnington is every bit as important as the
other two. Wnek reveals: ‘I am unreserved in my affection and admiration
for him. I expect the three of us to be together for a long time.’