PROFILE: Peter Shilland, Shilland Ltd - Shilland is still riding the PR rollercoaster

Adrenaline junkie Shilland dusts himself off for his next comms challenge

Peter Shilland is a self-confessed adrenaline junkie. Not only does he ride a fast-looking Italian motorbike from Kent to Soho every day, but he also kidnaps journalists. Late last year he organised for a group of hacks to be picked up from their offices and muscled into waiting cars by tough-looking East End heavies.

Although the 'kidnapping' is obviously not as sinister as first appears (it was a stunt for the launch of PlayStation game The Getaway), Shilland has just gone through a real-life white-knuckle ride of his own. The company he founded 18 years ago went into voluntary liquidation last week, following a failed legal action against a former client. The unnamed client was sued by Shilland for unpaid fees, but the client countersued and eventually an appeal judge found against Shilland Communications.

That left the firm facing not only legal fees for both parties but also unlimited damages, taking the cost, he says, 'well into six figures'.

On the advice of his financial adviser, he placed the company into voluntary liquidation to 'protect staff and clients'. The biggest losing creditor of all appears to be Shilland himself.

A successor company has been formed (Shilland Limited) with ownership split between Shilland, as CEO, and MD Marquita Bowen, along with 'the opportunity for staff participation'.

Despiste some predictable anger ahead of the creditors' meeting, Shilland insists: 'Our creditors have been very understanding. The best thing for me is that we have secured jobs for all the staff. I am keen to ensure our employees do not suffer.'

A City of London Business School graduate, Shilland went on to 'fairly traditional' training in advertising for FMCG firms Nestle and Beecham.

That led to his big break as Levi's Northern Europe marketing director, where he was involved in the rebirth of the jeans brand with the help of Sam Cooke's soulful singing and the ever popular 501s brand.

Levi's allowed Shilland to set up an internal PR operation. 'In the mid-80s PR as a marketing tool was unsophisticated,' he says. Shilland then left to form his own firm, with Levi's as its founding client.

Fellow consumer agency boss (and former next door neighbour on Soho's PR Avenue, Poland Street) Jackie Cooper recalls Shilland for his work on Levi's and Brylcream. She says: 'He understood at the time how to put the finger on the pulse in terms of consumer brand amplification.'

Walking into the basement of Shilland's offices is like stepping into a fashion outlet, with rails of lush designer clothes surrounded by products such as perfumes. Hanging on the boardroom walls are limited edition designer denim outfits.

With former clients such as Arena and The Face magazines, it's no surprise one of Shilland Communications' more recent account wins was the launch of Jack, from the stable of former Loaded editor James Brown. 'We pioneered the use of fashion shoot photos for use in newspapers and magazines,' he claims. 'The trick was to get the right credit for the client so we secured wide coverage with an Arena shoot of David Beckham along with a Face interview with Ken Livingstone.'

Former Levi's work colleague in the early 1990s Roy Edmonson says Shilland is a 'deep thinker and comes up with inventive ideas'.

He also recounts what was a real test of Shilland's determination when pulling together two almost simultaneous press events in New York and London. Despite severely bruising himself during a skiing trip, Shilland pressed on to gain clearance from bosses on both sides of the Atlantic and pull American fashion magazine Visionaire on board for an event at New York's celebrated Rainbow Room.

'He was in extreme pain, but still did it,' Edmonson says.

As Shilland attempts to drive forward his re-born company with former Levi's stablemate Bowen, he admits that he faces tough times: 'Client margins are under pressure, and that puts pressure on ours. Pricing is crucial. It's about getting the right fee level and being able to devote the right resources to get the results.'

Currently a third of the agency's business is fashion, another third lifestyle with the remainder being a mix of music and what he terms 'social marketing', such as the Yellow Ribbon campaign he worked on for kidnapped journalist John McCarthy in the early 1990s. He now says he wants to attract more social marketing work.

In the meantime the married father of three is relishing his next adrenaline rush. Next month he goes bike racing in a competition where racers go as fast as they can on a track at Nurburgring in Germany, which he describes as '22 miles of terror'. The white-knuckle ride continues.

HIGHLIGHTS

1981: Head of marketing, Levi's Northern Europe

1985: Founding MD, Shilland & Co

1997: Chairman, Shilland Asia Pacific

2003: Chief executive, Shilland Ltd

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