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
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
’If your creative people are constantly in meetings, talking to the
advertisers, when are they going to have time to produce great creative
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
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.’