CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/CHRIS PINNINGTON’; Nuts and bolts man’s maxim is to work like stink

Emma Hall reports on the self-effacing chief happy to be in a backroom role

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.’