Matt Peacock is a man with impeccable timing. No sooner had he
started as corporate communications director for AOL UK than he was
fending off calls from a hungry media wanting details about the
mega-merger between its US parent company AOL Inc. and Time Warner.
But he is well equipped to deal with the world of journalism. Before
entering PR, he was a reporter for BBC television and radio programmes
such as The World at One. Under this guise he covered some of history’s
defining moments of the last ten years - reporting from Croatia, the
Middle East and Northern Ireland.
And it was his lucky timing that gave Peacock his initial break in the
media. He was a raw recruit working the nightshift at Television Centre
the night the Berlin Wall collapsed, and suddenly found himself helping
to produce the BBC’s coverage of the event.
Peacock describes the experience as his epiphany and the moment when he
decided he wanted a career in the media. ’I never planned to be a
journalist. The only thing I planned on being was a musician - a
saxophone player. When I joined the BBC I saw it as putting money in my
pocket while I concentrated on my real career,’ he says.
But at BBC Television Centre he came into contact with veteran reporters
whose experiences captured his imagination. On the advice of these ’old
lags’ Peacock threw himself wholeheartedly into journalism, taking the
unusual step of moving into local radio. At GLR, Peacock covered crime
and home affairs, before moving to the Today programme, followed by a
stint on Newsbeat on Radio 1, after which he joined the The World at One
Martin Fewell, a former World at One colleague and now a programme
editor for Channel Four News, remembers Peacock’s first day. ’Matt used
to be an ardent motor cyclist and on his first day turned up in his
leathers before biking off to do a three-minute piece about post office
privatisation. He was dynamic, motivated, with a go-for-it
Peacock spent four years on The World at One, in which time he travelled
extensively. He was parachuted in to report on the first IRA cease-fire
in 1995, the Hebron Mosque massacre and the war in Bosnia and
Bosnia was another defining moment for Peacock. The experience of
witnessing one of his colleagues shot dead left him devastated and
caused him to reassess his priorities.
’I lost my hunger,’ says Peacock. ’I had spent a long time on the road
and one morning I woke-up and thought ’I don’t want to stand in the rain
for John Birt anymore’.’
Peacock’s wife, then a senior account executive at GCI Group, suggested
he try PR. ’I realised what attracted me to reporting could be found in
corporate communications,’ says Peacock. ’In reality what drives a
journalist is making a difference. I firmly believe that with corporate
communications you are acting as a corporation’s conscience.’
Peacock decided to move into crisis management and joined specialist
agency Regester Larkin, where he advised a wide variety of major
companies, supporting negotiations over oil rights off the Falklands,
dealing with the fallout from tanker disasters and handling Y2K issues.
One of his clients just happened to be AOL.
GCI Group chairman Adrian Wheeler admits: ’I tried to hire him at the
time that he joined Regester Larkin, that’s how highly I rate him.’ He
says: ’Matt is incredibly bright, hyper-intelligent, enormously
knowledgeable and like every good PR person has a brave and positive
attitude towards everything. The only negative is that he can be
impatient and is always in a rush and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. It
is going to be an exciting time for his team - if they can keep up with
him there will be no better inspiration.’
Since joining AOL, Peacock has wasted no time at all in restructuring
his team of ten to work across the company’s three brands - AOL,
CompuServe and Netscape Online. One problem he is finding is that the
general public think the AOL brands are competitors rather than members
of same internet family.
Ever the professional, when the conversation turns to the subject of
AOL’s merger with Time Warner, Peacock is quick to explain that AOL
Europe is a joint venture with German media group Bertelsmann.
’Since the merger was announced corporate communications has received an
awful lot of questions about the partnership but the reality is that the
message remains the same,’ he says. ’As far as AOL Europe is concerned
the only change is that one shareholder has just got a hell of a lot
Partner, Regester Larkin
Corporate communications head, AOL UK