Alan Twigg: Preparing to charge

The tough-talking boss of start-up agency The Light Brigade on consumer PR, Cantona and the cavalry. Nikki Wicks reports.

Alan Twigg: 'At times I can be over the top and a bit dramatic and theatrical'
Alan Twigg: 'At times I can be over the top and a bit dramatic and theatrical'

Combative Glaswegian boss Alan Twigg is not a man to be messed with. Even his newly launched agency's recruitment is straight to the point, with a 'NFN employment policy' stating it will tolerate 'No F*****g Numpties'.

When PRWeek meets Twigg at London's Light Bar on St Martin's Lane, even before our drinks arrive, Twigg is telling a story about squaring up to Manchester United football legend Eric Cantona on a press shoot after the Frenchman wanted to finish it early.

'He was twice my height,' says Twigg, who despite living in London for much of his adult life has retained his distinctive Scottish accent.

'I got more Glaswegian as it went on to try to scare him a bit. I don't think it worked but we got the job finished and he was happy,' says Twigg.

A 20-year consumer PR veteran, Twigg has spent the past four years as managing partner at thriving Fishburn Hedges-owned consumer agency Seventy Seven PR.

Following the shock walkout of the agency's entire senior management team last month (prweek.com/uk, 22 September), Twigg officially launched his new venture, The Light Brigade, this week.

With a strong track record working with food and drinks brands, it comes as little surprise that his consumer shop launches with clients such as fine foods manufacturer The East India Company and luxury ice cream brand Ticco.

At 49, Twigg has reached a point in his career when he feels it is time he owned a stake in his business and is now a majority stakeholder in The Light Brigade.

Commenting on the walkout at Seventy Seven, Twigg says: 'For me to have stayed, I would have wanted a significant stake in the business or been allowed to buy it out.'

The Light Brigade borrows its name from the ill-fated charge of British cavalry against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.

Having recently read a story about one of the survivors of the historic battle, Twigg says he was inspired by 'the valour, bravery and devotion to the cause', values that he plans to feed into his business.

Despite the serious element of the naming of his agency, Twigg is quick to lighten the tone and says the company's underlying ethos is 'life will never be dull'.

Frank PR's boss Andrew Bloch describes Twigg as 'great fun, always up for a laugh and doesn't take life too seriously'. Bloch also notes that he is 'straight talking, opinionated and never afraid to fight hard for what he believes in'.

So when quizzed about the time he cornered a PRWeek journalist to argue that the consumer sector should receive greater coverage, it comes as no surprise that pint-sized Twigg sticks to his guns.

'Some of the most exciting things in PR in the past couple of years have been in consumer, and I'm not sure it gets as big a hit as it should sometimes,' he argues.

A passionate advocate for the industry, Twigg confesses that he 'can talk until the cows come home' and admits that he sometimes has a 'reputation of shooting from the hip'.

He believes that he has a responsibility as a consultant to tell clients - and colleagues - what he really thinks and says too many PR professionals simply tell people what they think they want to hear.

'I will act instantly with clients in a pitch,' he declares, answering each question just as quickly.

'It's my instinct and I trust that. I have sat with people over the years on my side of the table who have got slightly edgy about how quickly I respond to something, and who think that I have not thought an issue through.

'At times, I can be over the top and a bit dramatic and theatrical, but clients also know my advice comes with some bloody good judgement. My tongue and brain are connected,' he laughs.

As his LinkedIn profile says, Twigg has worked in 'consumer PR for bloody ages'. After working as a journalist for three years at Southern News, he had a spell working in PR in London before moving back to Scotland to join Harrison Cowley's Edinburgh office in 1991.

Despite the Scottish capital feeling like a 'completely different country' to his home town of Glasgow, it was here that Twigg became hooked on PR and was given the opportunity to rebuild the agency's consumer division from scratch.

Eventually, he moved back to London to head Harrison Cowley's 25-strong consumer team.

After 12 years at the firm, he was lured away in 2003 by Nexus, to head its consumer team. At Nexus, Twigg worked on one of his most notable campaigns when he came up with idea of the 'self-timing' egg for the British egg industry. The agency set out to promote the Lion Quality eggs to consumers and Twigg came up with the idea to announce the development of an egg that tells you when it is boiled, using heat-sensitive ink.

The campaign was a global success as the story spread worldwide, although the self-timing egg never made it through the research and development stages.

'I do this job because it excites me,' says Twigg. 'That is why I still leap out of bed at six every morning for the same reason I did 20 years ago.'

Premier League footballers beware - there is plenty of fight left in him yet.

 

CV

2011 Founder/owner, The Light Brigade

2007 Managing partner, Seventy Seven PR

2003 Director, Nexus PR

1991 Consumer director, Harrison Cowley

 

TWIGG'S TIPS FROM THE TOP

- What was your biggest career break?

Being asked to build Harrison Cowley's consumer business up again from scratch, which was effectively like giving me my own business. In the space of just a couple of years, I learned an enormous amount.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

My father always encouraged me and taught me to fight for what I believe in. As far as the PR industry is concerned, I have worked with countless people who have believed in and mentored me.

- What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

Don't be quiet, believe in your instinct, fight and, most of all, be passionate.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Be super-organised, interested in trends and have bucket-loads of spirit and determination.

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