PROFILE: Mike Mathieson, Cake - Mathieson energies propel Cake forward. Agency founder Mike Mathieson takes up newly created CEO position

The path from aspiring rock-star at 17 to chief executive of a

multi-media business at 37 is not an obvious one, but it's one Mike

Mathieson has forged with energy. Having this month promoted himself

from MD to a newly created post of CEO at west London-based Cake,

Mathieson retains an infectious enthusiasm for his agency - despite the

sleepless nights occasioned by the arrival last month of his first


Cake made its name in the late 1990s with its alternative take on

product promotion. Stunts such as fitting jeans onto the chalk hillside

giant at Cerne Abas in Dorset, painting a Salford street bright pink and

driving (empty) Pokemon branded lorries over Westminster Bridge have

earned its clients, as well as the company itself, huge media


'We've got great people coming up through the company, but they've

nowhere to be promoted to. I've been doing the MD job for years and want

to focus on new directions,' he says.

'I also need to learn more about the business and financial side of

things,' he adds, with less enthusiasm.

Part of Cake's success is the commitment staff have shown - a commitment

accounted for, in part, by Mathieson's ability to delegate. He claims

this as one of his strengths, and his move to CEO supports the


He's also big enough to point out that as he nears 40, he's not going to

turn his nose up at input from 17-year-olds, particularly in selling to

the youth market.

When he started out, of course, he was the youth market. His first job,

aged 18, was as a record plugger for the then Stiff Records - he sat

through unprintable responses to his early cold calls. Things improved,

and by 1989 he was head of PR for Virgin Records.

But the job, even at 'the finest record company around', didn't hold its

charm and 18 months on he set up For Further Information (FFI), an

independent plugging company, with Julian Able. Five years of working

with acts such as The Verve, D:Ream, Lenny Kravitz and Manic Street

Preachers changed both their ambitions, and in 1995, they parted


Mathieson switched his energy from bands to brands, working on Red Bull,

Converse and Dr Martens, initially on his own. The company grew, and in

1998 with eight employees and 12 retained clients he got together with

ad strategist Mark Whelan and creative Ben Jones. Cake was born.

Four years on, Cake employs 61 staff and clients include Budweiser,

Rizla, Nintendo, Reebok, Evian and Kellogg's.

But growth has forced the pace of change and Mathieson has decided to

take a more strategic role. 'I want to develop Cake as a brand in

itself,' he says, hinting that major corporate change is in the


The company is certainly a broad enough church to warrant acquirer


It already sells advertising, PR and brand consultancy as well as

headline-grabbing stunts, and last year linked up with US viral marketer

Electric Artists. Joint venture Electric Cake promotes entertainment

clients online, using fans to disseminate information. Cake also has an

interest in Form Talent, a London-based sports and entertainment talent


To reflect increasing demand for services such as online brand

reputation management, Mathieson is keen to develop Cake's new media

division: 'The crash was a good thing because only the fittest

will survive. To succeed in that market now, you have to have a

convincing product,' he says.

He attributes Cake's success to persistence - its ability to 'get a foot

in the door, then follow it with the whole leg, then a shoulder or


There is also an emphasis at the company on flexibility, allowing staff

to work outside the confines of job titles, and on fluidity, with all

staff involved in creative brain-storms. Although he's new to parenting,

Mathieson has been practising the paternal act on his staff, taking them

on regular out-of-town team-building weekends.

Clients approve. Simon Dornan, Virgin Megastores PR and events manager,

who has worked with Mathieson for three years, lauds Cake's no-waffle

approach. 'The office is busy, energetic, welcoming and everyone looks

to be enjoying themselves. It personifies Mike.'

Having worked through the last recession, Mathieson is keen to maintain

a level of solvency at Cake that could see it through another. 'Mike has

boundless ideas and energy, but is practical, and conscientious - you

always know he's going to deliver, and you feel he's put his heart into

the job,' says another client, Lisa Davis-Evans, head of customer

marketing at Imperial Tobacco, which has worked with Mathieson for more

than six years on the Rizla brand.

With the option of selling up within a couple of years apparently now

tempting him, he has come a long way since being a 17-year-old with

rock'n'roll ambitions.


1989: Head of PR, Virgin Records

1990: Founding partner, FFI (For Further Information)

1998: Managing director, Cake

2002: Chief executive, Cake

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