Finance boss leaves Engine Group – has Peter Scott’s ambitious marcoms effort lost its way?

Engine Group CFO Peter Harris has been replaced by Ashley Martin, the third big change in recent months at Peter Scott’s marcoms company Engine Group, owner of UK agency WCRS. Harris only took over from predecessor Ian Day two years ago.

The move follows hard on the heels of veteran US adman Martin Puris stepping down as chairman of the group’s US operations and the departure of Phil Andrews, founder of Engine’s direct marketing operation Partners Andrews Aldridge.

Such changes are not unusual in the choppy waters sailed by ambitious marcoms companies, especially when they’re headed by a hard-driving individual like Scott (pictured), one of the original founders of WCRS back in the 1980s.

But Engine, which sold a big stake to US venture outfit HIG Capital for £62.5m at the end of 2010 and formed a limited partnership to offer shares to staff at the end of 2011, has not been its buoyant and acquisitive self recently. Cornerstone agency WCRS is also facing the loss of its important Sky account.

Most of the smaller UK-based marcoms companies have struggled in recent years as the behemoths of the business, like Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP, hoover up big global advertisers and the better independent agencies. WPP recently bought digital agency AKQA for $540m, a deal its smaller rivals could only dream about.

Don Elgie’s Creston sold flagship agency DLKW to Interpublic’s Lowe & Partners while Media Square, owner of Dave Trott’s agency CST, went bust in December 2011 to emerge phoenix-like as MSQ Partners. The best performer among them, Lord Bell’s Chime, has had a turbulent year, culminating with Bell’s decision to leave and take the company’s Bell Pottinger PR business with him.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.