WCRS 1979-1999: The birth of WCRS - It took Robin Wight months of secret and not so secret negotiations to assemble his team of adland superstars. The resulting agency was an instant hit

It was early 1979. The brilliant but eclectic Robin Wight had quit his job as creative director of Euro a full six months previously declaring that he would ’find the best art director in London, the best copywriter in London - and the best managing director, to stop them killing each other’.

It was early 1979. The brilliant but eclectic Robin Wight had quit

his job as creative director of Euro a full six months previously

declaring that he would ’find the best art director in London, the best

copywriter in London - and the best managing director, to stop them

killing each other’.



But little had happened since. Wight, (’always on the move, but never

too busy to talk to the press,’ as one colleague once said) was reported

to be building an agency of ’superstars’. His shop would offer

high-calibre creative talent, and give clients direct access to them.

’Advertisers would not only be able to talk to the head waiter,’ Wight

liked to say, ’but the head chef as well.’ However, weeks turned into

months but of the new agency there was no sign.



In secret, though, talks were going well. The first big advertising name

attracted to the concept was the Collett Dickenson Pearce director, Ron

Collins. A few weeks later, the relatively unknown but phenomenally

successful account man, Peter Scott, joined him and, by early 1979,

Wight was wooing the final piece of his agency jigsaw: Saatchi &

Saatchi’s enfant terrible, Andrew Rutherford.



Rutherford was not sure about leaving Saatchis, where his work for the

Health Education Council, Jaffa and the Conservative Party had turned

him into a celebrity. While he was debating the issues, he used the

Saatchis car service to drive him to clandestine meetings with Wight. It

was a surefire way of broadcasting his chats to top management, and word

of his possible departure had begun to leak out.



Meanwhile, Wight himself seemed to be taking less care to keep his

negotiations under wraps, as Scott couldn’t fail to notice. Scott was

still working as the managing director of the fast-growing Marsteller

agency, and was alternately appalled and amused by the careless bravado

of his neon bow-tied new partner: ’Robin would come and stand outside my

office,’ he once recalled, ’in a huge panama hat, saying ’don’t worry,

no-one saw me’.’



The fact was that the enthusiastic entrepreneur was having difficulty in

persuading his potential compadres to give up their comfortable lives

and take the final plunge. ’I couldn’t get these guys to give up their

jobs,’ Wight now admits, ’so I decided to make their lives a misery

until they resigned and joined me.’



It was about this time that Wight began carting his new prospective

partners’ work around media independents. Ostensibly to win their

interest in the start-up, it also spread news of the venture faster than

free sweets in a playground. Soon, rumours of the new agency were so

strong that a decision could not be put off any longer.



The Gang of Four gathered one night in Scott’s flat with only one item

on the agenda, ’crossing the Rubicon’. That evening the waverers caved

in at last, turning ’project superstars’ into Wight Collins Scott

Rutherford.



The only hiccup was a call from Rutherford the next morning, complaining

that, since he was more famous, his name ought to appear before Scott’s

in the agency title. Scott graciously conceded, and Wight Collins

Rutherford Scott was born.



In the early days, an offer by Martin Boase, co-founder of the

high-flying Boase Massimi Pollitt, to help fund the venture had not been

taken up, and embryonic discussions about a joint venture with the US

agency, Wells Rich Greene, had also come to nothing. Wight had even gone

to see the Saatchis about money: ’They turned me down, on the basis they

only wanted one racehorse in their stable,’ he quips.



So the boys were on their own. They had never worked together before,

had no clients and only enough funding for six to nine months.

Haymarket, the publisher of Campaign, supplied some cheap office space

in Frith Street for the new agency. But since there was a two-month wait

for new phone lines, WCRS began life in a small suite at the Grosvenor

House hotel, where they waited for the fuss to die down and the clients

to start rolling in.



Campaign on 23 March 1979 had laid out, without comment, the founders’

rather lofty USP. ’The agency’s two central principals,’ the story ran,

’are to eliminate the non-productive middle-men in the client/agency

relationship and to invest in fewer but higher calibre people, with

particular emphasis on the creative area.’



Wight called it ’inside out’, others dismissed it as a gimmick. ’Why

can’t an agency start without coming out with implausibles like

’non-productive middle men?’’ groaned Boase in a Campaign article the

following week.



’If your creative people are constantly in meetings, talking to the

advertisers, when are they going to have time to produce great creative

work?’



John Hegarty, who was then creative director of TBWA but had been with

the Saatchis in the early days, pointed out that Maurice and Charles had

said much the same thing at the time. He went on with, no doubt, a fair

idea of the fiery



natures involved, to add another caveat: ’I hope the chemistry is right

- and not explosive.’



In any event, the idea of turning agency structure inside out to give

clients access to creatives proved very appealing to advertisers. Keith

Holloway, who was then European managing director of Timex, called it

’exactly what advertisers are looking for now. They offer a continuous

process from the point of the problem to the ad itself.’



So Wight and co found they did not have to wait long for business.

Within a few weeks, they had reeled in Portland Holidays, Brutus jeans

and their first really big account, BMW. Within 12 months, the agency

was growing faster than any other in the history of British advertising.

By the age of five, it was listed on the stock market and, in an

apparent move away from ’inside out’, had hired Max Bisset, Jacqueline

Bisset’s brother, to look after its growing band of account

managers.



Wight calls this a ’softening’ rather than a move away from his original

concept: ’What we found was that when we had multiple points of contact

(ie planners, media people, creatives) we needed people to co-ordinate

it. But they had to be better account directors than the old-fashioned

client service teams.’



It seemed to work. By the time WCRS was ten years old, it had spawned an

empire of 25 companies, over four different continents. Then came the

stock market crash, however, and by 15 years of age, a chastened Wight

Collins (now shortened to WCRS) determined to stick to making ads.



Five years further down the track, that determination is still there,

and the mature 20-year-old shop freely admits it has learned from its

errors: ’One of the sad things,’ says Wight with the benefit of

hindsight, ’was that if going public wasn’t a mistake, the way we used

the position was.’ In those heady days, he admits, growth was too fast,

and too far away from WCRS’s true strengths. Through it all, though, he

maintains the agency has stayed true to the spirit of ’inside out’.



Account management has become a valuable part of today’s WCRS, he says,

but it never gets in the way of a client’s dealings with creatives, and

the agency’s brand group system is designed to keep it that way.



’The agency is better today than we ever have been in our 20-year

history,’ Wight will say to anyone who’ll listen. ’We are a 20-year old

start-up, and we’re going to be even better.’



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