Ben Smith, Founder, PRmoment.com
This week, in the latest of our life stories podcast, I’m interviewing Scott Wilson, president Europe and Africa at Burson Cohn & Wolfe (BCW).
Scott started his career in journalism, before becoming head of media at Porter Novelli and then managing director of consumer at Weber Shandwick.
Scott then moved to Cohn & Wolfe to become UK CEO and later MD of EMEA. And when Cohn & Wolfe and Burson Marsteller merged one year ago he got the nod for the president Europe and Africa job at Burson Cohn & Wolfe.
BCW global revenues are estimated at $700m and it has approximately 4,000 employees globally.
Thanks to our PRmoment podcast sponsors PRCA.
Here is a flavour of what Scott and I discussed:
[00:01:15] As an ex-jouno turned PRO – why has public relations worked out for Scot when it hasn't for so many journalists who attempt to make the same move?
[00:02:48] Did Scott move to PR from journalism because it paid more?
[00:03:29] Why the head of media role is a good bridging job for a journo looking to get into public relations
[00:05:30] Why his time at Weber Shandwick was such an important job in the story of Scott's career.
[00:06:13] How Scott moved from a corporate role at Porter Novelli to a senior consumer role at Weber Shandwick.
[00:07:46] How Scott grew Weber's UK consumer practice from circa £1m to £5m during his time there.
[00:08:49] Why the pressure of not having to hold on to something, with the emphasis on the forward momentum of a business, can be liberating.
[00:09:25] Scott reveals the state of the UK office of Cohn & Wolfe when he joined as UK CEO in 2010.
[00:11:05] Why Scott joined Cohn & Wolfe with a combination of excitement and terror – and worried whether he was the person who would be able to turn it around.
[00:11:26] How Scott turned Cohn & Wolfe from a £5m business in the U.K in 2010 to a £20m pre-merger in 2018.
[00:11:38] What are the lessons from that time on how to turn a PR firm around?
[00:12:35] Why pulling an agency out of a period of ongoing decline it is really the most difficult (agency) job of them all.
[00:12:46] What the classic death spiral of a failing agency looks like.
[00:13:59] How you can develop a degree of momentum in a turnaround if you haven't been given a cheque book to hire new talent.
[00:14:54] How when Scot joined Cohn & Wolfe in 2010 there were not any practice managing directors left.
[00:15:33] Why it can be dangerous when you join a firm as a leader to bring too many people in quickly from the outside.
[00:16:05] How Scott takes the risk out of recruitment.
[00:18:13] Why for any global agency London tends to be the second biggest office after New York.
[00:18:47] Why his professional relationship with Donna Imperato will probably define Scott's career.
[00:20:48] Can BCW still be a challenger brand when it is the third biggest PR firm in the world?
[00:21:49] How a modern international holding PR company today is different from what it was a decade ago.
[00:21:57] Hear Scott talk about how, during this incredibly successful professional time in his professional life, he's had to deal with huge personal tragedy. His daughter Edie was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and after a long and brave battle passed away in May last year.
[00:22:16] Scott pays a tribute to his daughter Edie and describes the impact her illness and passing has had on his personal and professional life.
[00:26:36] How Scott allowed Edie's illness to become part of his everyday professional life and would talk about it with colleagues.
[00:28:02] How as a parent you have to find a way through, because the alternative to coping is that you fall apart.
[00:28:56] How much of a surprise to Scott was it that Burson Masteller and Cohn & Wolfe.merged?
[00:31:19] Where do you start when trying to merge two big consultancy business together?
[00:32:56] How there were 12 simultaneous merger work streams running because of the magnitude of the merger.
[00:33:58] Why anxiety is the biggest risk in any merger.
[00:34:51] Why getting the market leadership right has been critical to the merger’s success so far.
[00:37:11] Why in a merger environment you need to balance the pressure to make quick decisions with the need to make considered decisions.
[00:37:16] Why you can't make a decision on the basis of a balance sheet alone.
[00:38:35] How Scott has had to take tough calls and had difficult conversations with people he likes, admires and respects.
[00:39:36] How long does Scott expect this integration to take?
[00:43:31] How to retain a client client centric approach during a merger.
[00:44:25] How integrating the culture of Cohn & Wolfe and Burson Marsteller has been critical.
[00:46:54] As a long-term WPP employee how does Scott view the vision of Mark Read in the post-Sorrel era?
[00:48:22] What is the long-term vision for BCW?
[00:51:03] Why Scott enjoys the scale and opportunities that working in big PR firms gives him.
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