40 years experience. Not one year repeated 40 times.
Marketing is full of people who are brilliant at bigging themselves up. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll often find there’s precious little underneath.
Does that matter? Yes, if you want someone who can really solve your problem.
So with this website I’ve done my best to be as transparent and up front as possible. That’s why you can see lots of work, with some explanation of what I was trying to achieve – armed with this information you can make your own judgements about my abilities.
I’m also keen to be honest about who did the work. I talk about “We” but Stories that sell is mainly me. All the projects you see on this site were done by myself, but in partnership with other people – agencies, designers, art directors, consultants, clients and occasionally with input from my partner Sheila. So I sometimes talk in terms of “We”, not because I’m pretending that there’s a big Stories that sell team in a fancy office somewhere, but because “I” would be even more misleading. We/I hope that’s clear?
I went to a public school that was part of a monastery. Did the experience scar me? Obviously – I’m still recovering, but it’s going well.
I wanted to be an illustrator but ended up with a degree in English Literature. This is important for two reasons.
Some copywriters only focus on the words and tend to ignore the visuals – I think they’re equally important and that the best results are achieved when you combine both for maximum effect.
Secondly, I spent three years studying how the world’s best writers went about their business, and even passed the exams at the end – so at least I have some formal training in the theory and practice of story telling.
When I left Uni I had no idea what I wanted to do. Advertising looked exciting but I didn’t know where to start (and the careers people at Uni advised against it, telling me that people in advertising were “weird”). My first job was selling advertising space on Tyneside. Being a ‘Southern *****’ I was given the toughest sales patch (have you ever been to Jarrow, Boldon Colliery, South Shields, or Peterlee? Don’t. Grim or what, even now. In the late 70’s it was so bad that even the dogs walked around in pairs).
I then sold fluffy car seats covers (it was the 70’s, remember) on the quayside market under the Tyne Bridge for 18 months (part of my rehabilitation process after public school). I even learnt to talk Geordie, why aye.
Introduction to the agency world
I then managed to blag my way into an up and coming local ad agency as a trainee account executive. About three years later, in the early 80’s, I was head hunted by Saatchi & Saatchi (they wanted someone with contacts in the north of England, who wasn’t called Jeremy or Julian). My two years on Charlotte Street was a steep learning curve, with the agency unstoppable – every week we seemed to pick up another big account like British Airways, Silk Cut or British Rail. Plus we helped put Maggie back in number 10.
I was catapulted into a world being shaped by very flamboyant, bright and driven people – Maurice & Charles Saatchi, Tim Bell (advisor to Maggie, now Lord Bell, who founded PR firm Bell Pottinger and went on to advise various heads of state and oligarchs around the world), Paul Arden and Martin Sorrell (now Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive of WPP, an organisation he has turned into the world’s largest advertising company by revenue).
I was a junior, but I learnt a lot. It was like being a pilot fish amongst a school of ruthless and hungry sharks. Let’s just say you had to be quick witted to survive. Seeing how the creative department worked I realised where my future lay. But “suits” were barely tolerated by the creatives and transferring from one role to the other within the agency was out of the question.
Living in London was fun, for a while. But Bristol looked even better (as I was able to afford a house there). So I joined a young and successful Bristol ad agency as a trainee copywriter, then moved on six months later to the biggest ad agency in the South West (later bought by Saatchis).
I loved copywriting but was frustrated by the people around me – they just weren’t as smart as those I’d worked with up in town and the accounts we worked on were pretty dull. After three years, unable to contain my irritation any longer, I was sacked. Luckily I’d spent the previous 12 months exploring options back in London and immediately got a job as copywriter at Young & Rubicam, then the world’s largest ad agency (now owned by Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP).
Again I learnt a lot from some very talented and capable people. I worked on heaps of major brands including Colgate Palmolive, Heinz, Dairy Crest, Croft Port, Xerox, Fosters, Ford, Air Canada, British Gas, Suchard and House of Fraser. After the best part of four years I was made redundant (early 90’s, economy tanked, interest rates hit 15% and we had double digit inflation). Actually I was glad – commuting Bristol to London every day was no fun, the new Creative Director was one of the nastiest people I’d ever met, and the work-life balance was not good at a time when we wanted to start a family.
During the 90’s I did stints at various Bristol ad agencies whilst also building a large direct sales business as an agent for a huge American corporation. They fell foul of the DTI, the business collapsed in the UK, and I went freelance for good.
For the past 20 years I’ve been happily working with a handful of loyal clients – some design agencies and few direct clients.
I’m equally at home coming up with concepts for new advertising and marketing campaigns, writing copy to go in existing campaigns, or helping people create complete brand stories from scratch. I regularly work with a few design and marketing agencies as well a handful of direct clients.
Recent projects include advertising concepts and copy, websites, case studies, eshots, travel blogging, brochures, video scripts, press releases, articles, sales letters, point-of-sale and the creation of complete brand stories for new businesses or those relaunching themselves.
After 40 years in this industry am I not tempted to retire? Yes, but not yet. Most of my contemporaries are either dead, burnt out or hopelessly out of touch with the way marketing now works. I’m still very much alive and wouldn’t put myself in either of the latter two categories.
How come? I think it’s down to attitude. This business has provided me with a good living without ever becoming my life – so I’ve managed to maintain a healthy detachment from a lot of the stress, egotism and bullshit that plagues the profession. I think most of it is complete bollocks, but interesting at the same time.
I still enjoy the challenge of creating stories that sell – it’s really satisfying to take a jumble of features and benefits then turn them into a compelling narrative that wins hearts and minds.
This is doubly satisfying when you are working with people you like (and thankfully I have some very nice clients who have good businesses I’m proud to promote). Finally, I still find marketing fascinating. As a society we get the marketing we deserve, because selling is all about giving people what they want – the two are inextricably linked and so shape each other. I find it stimulating to work on the inside whilst also looking at the wider effects from the outside – then blogging my thoughts.