John Owen considers Nick Theakstone’s importance to the Courage media
As he celebrates wrapping up the pounds 30 million Scottish Courage
media centralisation task for the Media Centre (Campaign, last week),
Nick Theakstone is able to reflect on what has been quite a year for
Having gone quietly and effectively about the business of handling
Courage’s TV buying for the past ten years, the former BMP DDB Needham
board director has been subjected to a comparative whirlwind of events
First, in March, Theakstone’s fiefdom at BMP was threatened by the
arrival of Anheuser-Busch’s conflicting beer account. The UK agency had
not solicited it - Anheuser spends pounds 8 million compared with
Courage’s pounds 21 million, 80 per cent of which is on TV - but it came
in because of an international realignment into the DDB Needham network.
Then, just as BMP and Courage were struggling to find a solution to the
conflict, Courage was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle. It was
around the same time that Theakstone was attacked by a baboon in South
Africa. It never rains but it pours.
BMP finally gave up on Courage in September. Shortly afterwards, the
Media Centre - ironically the place that Anheuser-Busch had moved from
in the UK - picked up the Courage account.
What next for Theakstone? Unflustered by everything except the baboon,
which he describes as ‘one of the most frightening experiences of my
life’, Theakstone moved to the Media Centre to look after the Courage
account there instead.
Except - as he is at pains to point out - it wasn’t really that simple.
Leaving BMP after 11 years was ‘a wrench’. That said, he admits that he
was looking for a change. ‘There were few places I would have gone to
from BMP,’ Theakstone says, ‘but I had three in my mind and the Media
Centre was one of them.’
The two TV buyers, Phil Cresswell and Dave Jowett, followed him from
BMP. Once it became clear that the Courage marketing team under John
Nicolson was to take charge of advertising at the newly merged Scottish
Courage, it was odds on that the media work for the old Scottish and
Newcastle brands would move from CDP Media into Theakstone’s group at
the Media Centre.
So Theakstone was clearly a valuable acquisition. An expensive one, too,
you might expect. However, Theakstone is one of those old-fashioned
types who you believe when they say that money was not their prime
Theakstone admits that earlier this year he had conversations with Sky
about taking on a senior sales role, for which, it is rumoured, he was
offered a six-figure salary. He turned it down.
For Theakstone, a rugby loving, 34-year-old who enjoys a few pints, the
Courage job is just about perfect. Who better to have as a client than
that legend of corporate hospitality, Nicolson? And where better to
enjoy the formidable Scot’s company than at the brewer’s facilities in
It may sound trite to categorise a very successful business relationship
in this way. Of course, it goes much deeper than a shared taste for a
spot of ale and a rugby match. But when Theakstone describes Nicolson,
admiringly, as ‘a people person’, it is telling. Friends say the same
Indeed, even Gary Knight, an executive sales director at Laser Sales,
who has come face to face with him many times in the rather less
friendly environment of annual negotiations, pays tribute to
Theakstone’s personality: ‘He’s the last of the personality buyers left.
You always come out of it saying ‘that was quite enjoyable’.’
As TV opportunities become too varied for annual negotiations to cater
for, Theakstone is keen to embrace sponsorship, interactive ads and the
Internet. In doing so, Theakstone has been left with less time to spend
on his beloved golf course. He is part of a golfing syndicate that
includes the Media Business’s director, Paul van Barthold, Laser Sales’
chief executive, Mick Desmond, Steve King of Zenith Media and Live TV’s
Tales of riotous post-round antics abound, but this one-time wild one is
said to have been calmed by his marriage to Jodie last year. He
describes the two of them as ‘very settled and happy’.
Yet the intrepid spirit that led Theakstone to run the New York marathon
in 1990 is still alive and kicking. He intends to run another marathon
next year. But whereas in New York he ran with his former BMP colleague,
Paul Mukherjee, this time he hopes to persuade his boss at the Media
Centre, the deputy managing director, Chris Locke, to take part. If he
can do that, Theakstone’s powers of persuasion will go down in industry
1984 HTV, sales executive
1984 BMP DDB Needham, trainee TV buyer
1988 BMP DDB Needham, buying group head
1990 BMP DDB Needham, TV buying director (with seat on BMP board)
1995 The Media Centre, TV buying director