Profile: Gordon Beattie, Beattie Media: As close as you can get without burning - Gordon Beattie has built up a business through brash self-promotion

Gordon Beattie refuses to let the ’lobbygate’ scandal which has engulfed his agency in the last three weeks bring him down. ’We have not lost one client since the publicity,’ he asserts confidently. But two minutes later comes a sheepish qualification: Beattie Media has actually lost two clients - a charity he refuses to name and the UK Atomic Energy Authority, both previously on the books of the fledgling public affairs arm Beattie had to shut down earlier this month.

Gordon Beattie refuses to let the ’lobbygate’ scandal which has

engulfed his agency in the last three weeks bring him down. ’We have not

lost one client since the publicity,’ he asserts confidently. But two

minutes later comes a sheepish qualification: Beattie Media has actually

lost two clients - a charity he refuses to name and the UK Atomic Energy

Authority, both previously on the books of the fledgling public affairs

arm Beattie had to shut down earlier this month.



This retraction is classic Beattie: an overwhelming belief in brash

self-promotion as the only way to propel clients - and now himself - out

of a crisis, even to the point of skating over minor truths. By all

accounts, it worked two years ago, when Beattie spun the Lanarkshire

Health Board out of Scotland’s e-coli crisis - a case made much of in

Beattie’s promotional literature.



Applying this blind promotion-as-panacea doctrine - floating as it does

somewhere between arrogance and naivete - Beattie himself has risen from

small-time reporter to the head of Scotland’s largest independent PR

agency in 17 years.



He started his career as a reporter on the Wishaw Press, ’breaking my

parents’ hearts’ by not taking a place at university to read history and

politics. Ten years later, after several years floating in and out of

various local Scottish papers, he set up his own Lanarkshire-based news

agency, Beattie Media.



In 1987, ’a businessman came along and said: ’would you write me a press

release?’ I said: ’no, I’m a real journalist, I don’t do press

releases.’ But he offered me pounds 300, and I said: ’wait till I get my

pencil’.’ So, Beattie sold his hack’s soul to the PR devil.



He managed to keep the news agency running in tandem with what blossomed

into a PR business for 12 years, before Scottish news editors started

raising their eyebrows at Beattie-generated copy about Beattie clients

appearing unadulterated on their pages. He resolved this minor crisis in

his business by selling the news agency in 1994.



And Beattie has not looked back since, using the same business nous

which led him into public relations to capitalise on the outsourcing

boom among Scottish local enterprise councils in the 1980s to gain a

foothold in public sector PR.



He is a notoriously hard worker - and those who fail to meet his

expectations have felt the brunt of a temper he says is now ’a lot more

mild than it used to be’. But almost all former colleagues testify to

Beattie’s media relations skills. ’His approach is different from other

Scottish PR companies: he offers a press release that can almost be

lifted straight onto the pages,’ says Scotsman journalist Alison

Hardie.



The results are impressive: an agency which expects to hit a pounds 5

million fee income this year, with over 150 clients. Beattie’s only

apparent concessions to the high life are a Jaguar XK8, a holiday home

in Florida and indulging in his passion for food - ’I don’t cook it, I

just eat it!’



During his rise, Beattie has sailed close to the wind before - the

dubious news-cum-PR operation is an example. But he is now caught in a

far bigger crisis - a political scandal with potentially huge

implications for Scotland’s nascent parliament that even the most

generous dollop of PR may not stave off.



It is ironic that, as Beattie admits: ’I am not interested in politics.

I’ve never been a member of a party and I’ve only voted once in my adult

life.’ He admits with open humility: ’In hindsight you could say it was

an unfortunate decision to go into public affairs. If I’d been more

interested in politics, I would have paid more attention.’



This attention deficit enabled two of his public affairs consultants to

make ill-judged claims about the closeness of their connections to

Edinburgh and Westminster politicians before an Observer camera.



These claims themselves should not bring Beattie Media down, especially

if they prove to relate more to Draper-style braggadocio than true

access.



But they have triggered media and political interest in Beattie’s

stranglehold on public sector PR contracts for agencies which compete

for public money and inward investment. Jack Irvine, founder of rival

Media House, says he has been invited to pitch for just one of the four

juicy contracts Beattie currently holds.



It is these allegations which may prove more damaging in the long

run.



As Beattie himself has admitted in the past, his agency would have to

close if its public sector contracts were pulled out from under its

feet. Scotland’s political coming of age would then have found its first

victim.



HIGHLIGHTS

1982

Sets up Beattie Media news agency

1987

Sets up Beattie Media PR division

1994

Sells news agency

1999

Closes Beattie Media’s public affairs division



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