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
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
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
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
Sets up Beattie Media news agency
Sets up Beattie Media PR division
Sells news agency
Closes Beattie Media’s public affairs division