Profile: Matt Peacock, director of communications, Ofcom

It is quite difficult to imagine Matt Peacock on the saxophone accompanying blues legend Eric Clapton, or as a member of the support band to raunchy rocker Suzi Quattro.

Nonetheless, Ofcom's slick, clean-cut director of communications does indeed have a colourful history as a semi-professional saxophonist – notching up 300 gigs a year during his time as an English student at Oxford University. 'I spent a lot of time supporting crap bands in the 1980s,' he reflects, reeling off names such as Paul Young, Curiosity Killed the Cat and Wet Wet Wet.

It is almost as difficult to visualise the 39-year-old father-of-three ducking mortars and dodging soldiers in the most dangerous conflict zones. But after abandoning his sax for a reporting career with the BBC in 1989 ('I could not have done both'), Peacock spent a decade covering disasters, both natural and man-made, in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia and Pakistan.

Today he leads a 17-strong team at the media super-regulator, currently under the spotlight over calls to ban the advertising of junk food to children.

The body has been criticised by consumer groups and health campaigners impatient about its 'failure to act' on the issue. It is two years since the Government asked Ofcom to develop stricter controls on advertising to kids, yet plans have not progressed beyond the consultation phase.

Peacock argues that while curbs on advertisers may seem desirable in principle, a blanket ban would prove unworkable. 'Children's commercial TV in some areas would not be able to continue [if we imposed a ban] as they would lose 25 per cent of their advertising revenue,' he says.

His experience of conflict has prepared him well for this battle between competing interests. He is calm and impassive as he discusses his brushes with war and death: 'The thing that stays with you most is your own fear, and your own grief. Then there is other people's grief, which takes a lump out of your soul.'

Peacock recalls reporting on an outbreak of bubonic plague in India for the BBC: 'I was walking around [hospital] wards and taking about 30 pills per day to fend off infection. I took so many antibiotics that when I came back to England I was banned from taking any more for three years.'

These glimpses of mortality were brought into sharp focus by the death in Croatia of Peacock's friend and colleague John Schofield in 1995. 'We were trying to get from Zagreb, past the checkpoints to the conflict,' he remembers. 'That morning we tossed a coin to see who got the seat in the armoured vehicle. John won, but as the crew got out of the vehicle to film later that day they were ambushed by a Croatian platoon. Two colleagues were wounded and John was killed.'

Peacock continued to report for two years after Schofield's death, but says it was 'never the same again'. After that incident and, he says, because of his wife's influence – she is a former head of corporate comms at the British Airports Authority – Peacock turned to PR. 'All I was doing [at the BBC] was running around with a microphone after bad people who had done bad things, so I asked myself: "What skills do I have?". Most journalists have an idea about PR that is fundamentally skewed. They think it is all about media relations and presenting facts in a way that is misleading, but they are wrong.'

Despite seeing himself as 'driven' and 'focused', Peacock says he never had a master plan for his career, describing it as 'a series of accidents'.

His baptism in the industry came at crisis comms agency Regester Larkin. But it was as AOL comms director that he earned himself a ferocious reputation, successfully lobbying Ofcom's predecessor Oftel to make BT introduce flat-rate internet access. His successor at AOL, Jonathan Lambeth – at the time a Daily Telegraph journalist – says Peacock 'was good at playing the crafty, behind-the-scenes underdog'.

Given his background, Peacock should find being on the front line of the food war relatively painless.

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