WCRS 1979-1999: Who the hell is Robin Wight? - Arrogant but modest with it, Robin Wight started his first agency at university and his enthusiasm is as strong after 30 years in advertising

’I first realised my future was in having ideas when I was 17,’ Robin Wight will tell you loftily. The barest of pauses and he’s off again: ’Of course, 90 per cent of them are crap ...’

’I first realised my future was in having ideas when I was 17,’

Robin Wight will tell you loftily. The barest of pauses and he’s off

again: ’Of course, 90 per cent of them are crap ...’



Seasoned Wight-watchers will be familiar with this vignette, Robin at

his most Robinesque. Crushingly arrogant one moment, and endearingly

humble the next. A brilliant mind, constantly fermenting sensory input

into a rich brew of original thought. Incisive, chaotic, enthusiastic

and irritating in equal measures, the whole wrapped up in boyish

enthusiasm and served with eccentricity. In short, Wight is one of

adland’s few remaining characters.



Take his office. A single glass wall separates Wight from the two

assistants he is said to run ragged from one day’s end to the next. On a

table sits an exuberant bunch of rare white amaryllis, reflecting his

interest in flowers. On the wall, a pile of rubbish lays suspended in

its own cocoon of colourless resin, testifying to Wight’s interest in

modern art.



’They wouldn’t let me put it in reception, so I hung it in here,’ Wight

complains, gesticulating at the corridor outside where the agency

Gestapo presumably lurks. ’But I was given permission to have another

idea,’ he continues. ’One of the great things about this agency is that

if they think my ideas are bad they say so.’



Combining an unceasing stream of insights with the resilience to accept

when they’re not wanted has been one of Wight’s hallmarks since he first

entered advertising as a trainee account man more than 30 years ago.



’The thing about Robin,’ confides Winston Fletcher, who gave him his

first job in advertising, ’is that he’d have so many ideas that it

didn’t matter if you rejected the first six, because he came back with a

second half-dozen soon after.’



Fletcher, now the chairman of Bozell Europe, was in those days

recruiting for Robert Sharp & Partners, a hotshop of the 60s that was

home, at one time or another, to Len Deighton, Fay Maschler, Salman

Rushdie, Martin Boase and Adrian Vickers. In this milieu, Wight didn’t

stick out as an eccentric but nor did he really fit in. For one thing,

it was a hard-drinking culture and Wight, even then, was too much of a

workaholic to be sidelined by mere grapes and hops.



’At that time, most people in advertising were cynical about it. Many of

them really wanted to be writers or artists, and were simply doing

advertising to make money,’ recalls Fletcher. ’Wight must have been the

first person in Britain to be totally committed to advertising. He was

never, never cynical about it.’



Wight was so interested in advertising that he set up his first agency

while still at Cambridge University, and chalked up his first runaway

success with the Union Ball. The Guardian heard about the phenomenon,

wrote a piece about it, and offers from agencies came flooding in.



Jeremy Bullmore, then at JWT, was one of the people who interviewed

him.



’From the start, Robin did his very best to put me at my ease,’

Bullmore, now a non-executive director of WPP, once recalled. ’He said I

should feel absolutely no sense of moral obligation about offering him a

job since he had been offered two already, and was far from certain JWT

was right for him. He asked me my view of Rosser Reeves’ Reality in

Advertising.



He much admired David Ogilvy’s development of the theory of brand

personality, but his greatest praise was reserved for Bill Bernbach. As

soon as the opportunity allowed, I agreed with him.’



In any event, the young Wight left Sharp after a couple of years to be a

copywriter at Collett Dickenson Pearce, from where he moved to Richard

Cope & Partners before leaving to set up his own shop in the late

70s.



’The time had come to jump out of the back of the aircraft,’ Wight

explains, ’and see whether the parachute worked.’



Peter Scott was part of this adventure, as were two of the hottest

creatives of the day, Tony Brignull and Neil Godfrey. Brignull and

Godfrey, however, decided to pull out, leaving the way free for Andrew

Rutherford, of Saatchi & Saatchi’s ’Labour isn’t working’ fame, and Ron

Collins, a star talent at CDP, to join. From there things moved pretty

fast.



’We were an induced delivery,’ says Wight. ’Campaign somehow got hold of

the story and put it on the front, even though Andrew hadn’t finally

agreed. To this day he still thinks I leaked the story to make up his

mind.’



Luckily, the relationship survived this misunderstanding, and the

quartet moved to a flat in the Grosvenor House Hotel - the only quick

way to get a phone line back then. Within weeks, Portland Holidays,

Brutus Jeans and, of course, the agency’s now flagship BMW account, had

all been reeled in.



Wight, who originally wanted a career in the Army (’but they wouldn’t

make me a general straightaway’), assesses WCRS’s niche in today’s

market in military terms.



’If BMP is the Brigade of Guards,’ he says, ’and JWT is the

Greenjackets, WCRS is the SAS.’



So now you know. If an intense, Lowry-like stick figure in a lime green

suit swings in through a window near you, it’ll be Robin Wight.



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