FEATURE: Renaissance ad man - Advertising guru Trevor Beattie is adamant that ad agencies are overlooking PR at their peril when pushing brands in a multi-media world. Kate Nicholas reports

Trevor Beattie is uncharacteristically subdued when I arrive at the offices of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer. It is May 4 - D-Day for anyone involved in the London mayoral campaigns - and at 10.30am Beattie’s client Frank Dobson has notched up just 13 per cent of the votes, as opposed to Ken Livingstone’s 41 per cent. ’The polls were frighteningly accurate weren’t they?’ muses Beattie.

Trevor Beattie is uncharacteristically subdued when I arrive at the

offices of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer. It is May 4 - D-Day for anyone

involved in the London mayoral campaigns - and at 10.30am Beattie’s

client Frank Dobson has notched up just 13 per cent of the votes, as

opposed to Ken Livingstone’s 41 per cent. ’The polls were frighteningly

accurate weren’t they?’ muses Beattie.

Beattie, creative director of TBWA, claims to be one of the few ad men

who understands the power of PR. He is frequently quoted as being only

interested in creating ’famous advertising’ and has, in turn, become as

famous as his message, his previous enterprises such as the creation of

French Connection’s fcuk and Wonderbra’s ’Hello Boys’ campaigns having

generated acres of editorial coverage for his clients and his


Despite a sideline writing for the Guardian and GQ (which put him on its

Men of the Year Awards shortlist, together with the likes of Chris

Evans, Richard Branson and Paul Smith) and fronting programmes on

Channel 4 and BBC, Beattie says that the industry view of him as a

self-publicist is a misnomer.

’What happens is that journalists phone me up and I have the good

manners to return their calls. Most people in my business, especially

creative people are terrified of journalists. I am very proud of this

business and I am not afraid to talk it up, and if a journalist asks me

a question about advertising I will answer it. Has anyone ever seen me

on television not mentioning the names of my clients?’

Beattie has always had a bit of an edge. He started his life in

advertising in the early-1980s at Allen Brady and Marsh. His early work

included an ad for Weetabix featuring Bob Hoskins telling kids to eat

the product ’if you know what’s good for you’ and the memorable ’One too

many and you might turn Bertie’ TV campaign for Bassett’s liquorice


Beattie joined TBWA in 1990, and then left again to join GGT Simons

Palmer (having pinned his resignation to the notice board in 1997), only

to be reunited a year later when the two firms merged.

It was in 1994 that he really made his mark with the ’Hello Boys’

campaign for Wonderbra which prompted accusations of sexism and a

long-running media debate. This was followed by the infamous ’fcuk’

campaign, to which French Connection chairman and CEO Stephen Marks

attributes the bulk of a 84 per cent increase in profits in the first

half year of the campaign.

Media coverage included shots of a victorious Lennox Lewis sporting the

fcuk slogan across every front page of the nationals.

More recently his creation Fi-Fi the cyber babe for PlayStation prompted

media speculation as to the identity of this digitally enhanced beauty,

and a series of subliminal advertising posters and a TV campaign have

prompted a predictable response.

By comparison, the campaign for Dobson was unusually low key. ’The idea

was to retain our dignity,’ says Beattie. ’We wanted to introduce ’Frank

the man’ to people because research groups were saying ’we think we know

Ken, we don’t think we know Frank ... Tell us something about him’. So

we wrote a letter to London saying ’I’m a grown-up bloke for a grown-up


We went on to say: ’If you make the wrong decision, it might just cost

you. Have you thought about that?’.’

An avowed socialist, whose involvement with the Labour party included

work with Peter Mandelson as part of the Shadow Communications Agency,

Beattie has now been brought in to mastermind the Labour campaign in

advance of the the next election. Beattie is already crucially aware of

the lessons that can be learnt from the London elections. He attributes

part of Ken’s landslide victory to a low turnout when voters assumed

that Ken’s election was a foregone conclusion, and is aware that Labour

could also suffer from differential turnout.

Although an election date has yet to be set, there has already been much

media speculation as to the tenor of a Beattie-inspired campaign, with

predictions of a return to combative campaigning and an emphasis on


Some claim that Blair will be cast as the leader of a patriotic party in

a direct snub to the Tories; others that the ads will ridicule the

Tories, with William Hague depicted as a joker and ’Michael Portillo’

cast as a frightening ideologue in the ’Demon Eyes’ mould. Beattie is

adamant that it is too early for him to be drawn on proposals, but says

that these kind of tactics are only appropriate for a party in


’They are guessing on my past record, and they are wrong. In Government

you are defending your record; Labour has a great record, we will defend


But there is no getting away from the fact that with capped campaigning

budgets, any advertising campaign that can make a client’s money go

further by stimulating debate and editorial coverage would be a bonus.

And as Beattie is keen to point out, TBWA produces ads that get talked


’All ads should have something in them that the public at large can

enjoy and talk about down the pub and that journalists can write a story


However he denies that an ad needs to shock in order to generate the

knock-on PR effect. In particular, he points to the casting of Gary

Lineker as ’No more Mr. Nice Guy’ for Walker’s, and Beattie’s own

’Gorilla’ ads for Strongbow which features Big Breakfast presenter

Johnny Vaughan as a ’loafer’, as ’PR-ideas’. ’It is designed in. It is

in the DNA of the ad,’ he explains.

Beattie has worked with a number of agencies on a project basis

(including Mark Borkowski and Jackie Cooper which handle Wonderbra ),

but says that all too often , PR people are shut out of the ’closed

world’ of advertising, and even when they are recruited into integrated

campaigns they are put on the back foot by being brought in too late in

the day.

He attributes this to an endemic ’ivory tower’ mentality that is

divorced from commercial reality - a view possibly tinged by the fact

that he remains conspicuously absent from the D&AD awards list.

’(They) only care about their little world and their little 30-second

commercial. The old adage is that the ad must be able to sell itself.

You can think that but go and check the Financial Times and the current

standing of fcuk profits. That is what I deal in. I don’t do art. I am

trying to flog things. And I will do anything in my powers to help my

clients sell their stuff. If purists think that is vulgar, tough.

Because in a few years time, they will all be doing it.’

In particular, Beattie believes that the proliferation of broadcast and

internet channels of communication are going to force the industry to

take a more integrated view of advertising and PR. ’You have a thousand

channels, so where is your customer? You have one message to tell, and

you have to make sure they get it. It is not about the double-page

spread or the 30-second commercial any more, it is about the noise you

create around the product, wherever that may be, on the internet, on

radio, in the News of the World. The big struggle is going to be finding

our consumer in this decade, so we have got to find out where they are

and tell them the message over and over. The ad needs every bit of help

it can to get it talked about because it makes the money go


Beattie was unable to quote the quantifiable benefits of the ’noise’

created by his work, but says that PR as a discipline sells itself

short. ’They should charge more,’ he says with a more characteristic


’What I am doing is the future, what they (other ad agencies) are doing

is the past. Public relations is essential to the future of


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in