Jim Moffatt thinks a chance encounter with Helen Calcraft while stuck in a lift after an interview for a grad scheme – for which he was three hours late because of train disruptions – may have "swung it" on how he got into Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.
Fast forward almost 20 years and the reserved, softly spoken man is now chief executive of Engine across Europe and Asia-Pacific, and he is making a big noise in adland, dropping the well-known 40-year-old WCRS brand.
Moffatt wants to create more collaboration across the business by removing the "internal barriers" and essentially working on one P&L. By doing this, he says it’ll be easier to bring teams together from different parts of the company.
"It’s much easier to think through what the right thing to do for the client is and, with that, we are starting to see that you can put cross-disciplinary teams together that normally wouldn’t have been in a position to work together – and that gives you different creative and strategic opportunities," he says.
Moffatt wants Engine to "help clients future-proof their business", because he thinks the C-suite of every one of the group’s clients is facing problems that they weren’t 10 years ago.
"The disruption of technology is really driving this and they’re struggling to get back to growth," he explains. "They’ve reached a point where being efficient isn’t going to answer their questions and, in some instances, it’s not an advertising or branding problem. It’s more fundamental – they need to find new markets to be in, new products, new services, new ways of engaging with the consumer."
By taking away the different agency brands, Moffatt believes it will make it easier to speak to clients with a "set of very clear capabilities". He has created three pillars on which the company is based: transformation, which will cover insight, data, consultancy and business innovation; creative and experience design; and communications, which is PR.
The management team has also had a reshuffle. Matt Edwards, chief executive of WCRS, becomes chief executive of Engine Creative and Experience Design. Billy Faithfull, executive creative director at WCRS, is now chief creative officer for the whole group, while Simon Peck, group managing director of Engine, has been named chief growth officer.
Emma Robertson, who has been running Engine’s consultancy division Transform, will lead Engine Transformation as chief executive. Alex Bigg, chief executive of MHP Communications, will hold the same role for Engine Communications.
With just one woman among the senior line-up, the lack of diversity is striking. Moffatt is quick to point out that he has "inherited" this leadership team, but he’s just as quick to say that Engine will continue to encourage junior and mid-tier women to take strides forward.
"Yes of course I’ve noticed that [lack of diversity] and on [my] list of things to do this year is to look long and hard at diversity," Moffatt responds. "It’s easy to pay lip service; but what can we do that’s actually quite meaningful?"
The loss of the WCRS brand will take place over the next few months leading up to the ad agency’s 40th anniversary. When Campaign broke the news last year that the WCRS brand was disappearing, there were many in the industry who stepped forward to mourn its loss. With a name that has such a heritage, why not run with it?
"It wouldn’t have allowed us to have people reappraise the breadth and depth of the capabilities that we have," Moffatt says. "Engine is at best neutral. We are losing some great brands that people are passionate about, but [the opportunity for staff now] is to be part of building a new company.
"Whilst the name may go, the spirit needs to live on – that passion for great work, that ambition to do things differently to break the rules, to be confident. In a way, it’s about taking all of the best bits of all of the different cultures and saying: let’s put them together and create something that’s fit for the next generation."
Who is Moffatt?
Moffatt has remained pretty under the radar as he has risen up the ranks, moving from the AMV grad scheme to Nike, then AKQA, later setting up R/GA in London and taking it from eight people to 250. Over the past five years, he has been doing something similar for R/GA in Singapore, but also setting up bases for the network in Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney and Melbourne. Moffatt says this has kept him very busy with his head down.
He adds: "Being quite blunt, some people love this stuff and they want their name in the headlines. I’ve never really been that person. I think do the right thing for your team and for the company and everything will work its way out. Right now, the right thing is telling the Engine story and raising our profile, so you should see more of me."