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ITIAPTWC Episode 41 – George Prest

Here’s my chat with George Prest, former ECD of DLKW, DLKW Lowe and RG/A.

He’s now a partner at You and Mr. Jones and a founder of Blood Global.

His journey from copywriter to those things is an interesting one, mainly because of the left turn his career took between Lowe and RG/A.

We discuss all that, along with the state of the industry now and what the future might hold, as well as…

Going from the information department at M&C Saatchi to Watford.

…and on to BBH.

Working on the stuff no one wants to work on.

Wolfboy!

Lowe.

‘Turbulent but creative.’

Le Sacrifice.

A new Lowe.

DLKW.

The dream job that wasn’t.

SXSW.

RG/A (& Unilever).

The need for a different kind of company.

Blood.

No departments or job titles.

A different kind of pricing.

And a different kind of agency (that isn’t an agency).

Ethics.

George and Mr Jones.

We have no idea of what this is going to look like.

Driving a car at 100mph and ramming it into reverse.

A post-advertising age?

But still a creative age.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link, as well as some of George’s best ads:

 

 



I’m not denying, we’re flyin’ above it all. Hold my hand, don’t let me fall. You’ve such amazing grace, I’ve never felt the weekend.

Karl Lagerfeld’s sideways library (thanks, D).

All of Saul Bass’s movie posters.

The ten best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe (thanks, P).

Time travel subway car (thanks, D):

The 20 worst directors of the 21st century so far.

Sportswriting’s ‘filthiest fuckup’ (thanks, T).

Bike Life:



Here’s a very good ad

It’s been a while since I saw one…



ITIAPTWC Episode 40 – Danny Brooke-Taylor

Sorry about the gap since the last one (how have you coped?).

Anyway, rather than dwell on that, here’s Episode 40…

When I emailed Danny to ask if he’d chat with me for an hour he happily agreed, I then said I hoped he’d been inspired to enter the industry by the ad agency his dad worked in on the show Me and My Girl, which also featured ‘wild child’ Joanne Ridley, and Robin’s Nest star Richard O’Sullivan. Danny then explained that Tim Brooke-Taylor was actually his uncle, but he certainly remembered the output of the Eyecatchers ad agency.

We didn’t talk about that, but we did talk about his journey from non-London agencies to London agencies to starting Lucky Generals, which means this episode kind of continues my mini-start-up series.

We also discussed…

From Manchester to Watford to Manchester to London.

Making Tories look stupid.

Raising your game.

TBWA post-Trevor.

MCBD.

A lovely pisshead guy.

Dare developments.

A little bit of Mother.

Working out who you are.

Do what you’re best at.

Just say no.

A creative company for people on a mission.

If you’re a creative company, you have to create.

Keeping an open minge.

The self-proclaimed nicest guy in advertising.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link.

 



But I know I’m on a losing streak ’cause I passed down my old street. And if you wanna show, then just let me know and I’ll sing in the weekend.

Mountain of Hell race (thanks, E):

Russ Tamblyn dancing:

Each US state depicted by one representative photo.

Stripped back brands.

Cool abandoned places.

Did this Ian Botham interview inspire David Brent? (Thanks, J.):

Fuck-off amazing sandcastles:

The best rappers deconstructed (thanks, P):

Websites for time wasters (thanks, D).



Looking like soldiers waiting to drown, and I’m not around no more. And looking at people that don’t make a sound when music’s around the weekend.

Cool vid:

2 years and 2000 attempts:

The story of Losing My Religion:

Cool animation:

A very famous farter (thanks, D).



ITIAPTWC Episode 39 – Vic Polkinghorne

I’m not sure which episode of my start-up series this is, but does that really matter?

Of course not!

Here’s Vic Polkinghorne on how the excellent Sell! Sell! began, and how it’s still going strong after twelve years.

We also the discussed the very interesting start of his career, which led me to write the following vaguely cryptic descriptions…

Dropped out of art school/shitty jobs/started a band/promoted the band.

‘A good use of your brain.’

Not exactly a bidding war.

Read all the advertising books.

And create a fully-finished portfolio.

Kind of a bidding war.

The madness of St Luke’s.

Teaming up with an account guy.

Off to Lowe (for a few months).

“I assumed I was going to start my own ad agency.”

Karmarama.

18 months planning Sell! Sell!

Getting the creative work to be brilliant for a reason.

“It was a bit bumpier than all that.”

“We had no idea of what we were doing, really.”

More expensive than M&C Saatchi.

Why ‘Sell! Sell!’?

Initial clients.

Matt’s departure.

12 years in: longevity?

You can find all the fine work of Sell! Sell! right here.

And here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link.

 

 



Snooker loopy nuts are we, me and him and them and me. We’ll show you what we can do with the weekend.

Best subtitles ever (thanks, D).

Pet brothers from other mothers.

Cool vid made with no CGI (thanks, J):

And behind the scenes:

Seven seasons of Game of Thrones in a tapestry (thanks, G).

Fun base jumping off a cliff (thanks, T).

Very fat cats (thanks, L).

Where do ideas come from? (Thanks, J):

McGregor/Mayweather bad lip reading (thanks, J):

Slash piano (thanks, M):



I’ll just leave this here…

Dear John: A break-up letter to advertising

By Bo Hellberg and Nadya Powell

I’M SORRY. I CAN’T. DON’T HATE ME.

I’m at the point where I think I have to break up with advertising
I really don’t want to. I’ve really enjoyed what we had.
It was great and we used to have a really good time.
I like ideas. You liked ideas.
I like brands. You liked brands.
We liked to make stuff that made people laugh and feel things.
Make people dream.
And we could, because we used to see the world differently to anybody else.
But things have become difficult and you are no longer making sense to me.

YOU DON’T HAVE ANY DREAMS ANYMORE

You stopped talking about what we could do.
You started cutting corners.
Doing things on the cheap.
In less time.
And what’s worst is that you don’t seem to care.

Remember how we used to do fantastic new things?
You remember the weird and wonderful stuff we used to do in digital?
All you want to do now is cheap display.
You stopped caring about ideas and craft.
Stopped having a point of view.

YOU HAVE A NEW LOVE. AND SHE’S CALLED DATA

Data.
You just do what she tells you to, without thinking twice:
Data tells you the target market is always millennials.
Data tells you that when everybody zigs, you should zig too.
Data tells you that a 3 millisecond view by an online bot is a reliable measure.
Data tells you that only way forward is programmatic everything.
And you just agree.

As if that Data knows anything about humans or originality.

The worst thing — is how she and you have turned our amazing planners into insurance salesmen whose sole job now it is to de-risk.

NOBODY WANTS TO HANG OUT WITH YOU

You used to be fun and glamorous.
Everyone flocked around your great ideas, stories of travels and the headlines you made.
Now you’re a shadow of yourself.
Always harking on about the old days.
What are you doing that holds anyone’s attention today?
That would see eyes light up?

And it’s not just that people are leaving you.
It’s that they are not joining your club in the first place.
Because people are looking for purpose and passion
And you have neither.

YOUR NEW ‘FRIENDS’ THINK YOU TALK SHIT TOO
So you’re trying to catch-up, get with the programme.
You’re running around with a bunch of kids.
Influencers you call them.
But you haven’t got a clue and they just smile and take your money.
It’s like Britain’s Got Talent for advertising.
And you buy anything Google and Facebook tell you.
Because you secretly want to be them.
You’re drunk on buzzwords like custom audiences, moon shots, machine learning and AI without a clue what it all means.
And when I confront you, you bring your friend Data to intimidate me and tell me I’m wrong.

YOU CAN’T STOP LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

You use words like modern and diversity.
How open minded you are and how you get culture..
Really? I don’t think you give a shit.
You’re about as cultural and inclusive as the KKK.
You don’t represent the world you want to influence — because you have no respect for that world.
You just want to be with people who look like you.
You’re in love with your own image.
But there’s a whole world out there and until you see it, you’re not worth my time.

YOU HAVE NO BALLS AND NO IMAGINATION.

You used to have a lot imagination.
Be fearless and bold and try new things.
Seek out and reward originality.
But now your benchmark is called mediocrity.
And you lack the balls.
When someone says jump, you ask how high.
I’m fed up with your lack of an honest point of view.
That you never protect ideas.
So fuck you.
You can have your offices, your ‘friends’.
You can spend all your time with your fatso friend Data.
Hope it makes you happy.

I’LL BE MUCH HAPPIER SINGLE.

I’m off to find someone else. Or stay happy and single.
Because there are many others out there who think creativity is a great thing.
Who want originality.
Who get that there are other audiences beyond millennials.
Others that want to do new interesting things.
Work with people who aren’t like you.
Do things that makes people feel something.

BUT I’M WILLING TO DO COUPLES COUNSELLING.

Despite all this I hope you can change.

(Put your friend Data in therapy too so she can learn about people and not just numbers).

Maybe you need to scale back a bit and think about what’s important.
Sell the big office. Spend time with real people again.
Read a book or two, rediscover how and why the world is changing
And maybe you will start using the power of creativity for the right things.
Interesting things.
Maybe then, just maybe, I’ll come back again.

 

(Ben again. There’s more stuff here.)



Two sides of the coins

Let me tell you about a situation that happened to me in my relative youth:

I was due to begin a morning radio recording session at 9:30, so the day before I asked the producer to order a cab to pick me up at 9.

She was a little taken aback and asked why I couldn’t just make my own way to the session, in effect altering the destination of my morning commute so that I ended up at the studio instead of the agency. I explained that I walked to the agency in the morning, making my morning commute free of charge. Getting to the studio would involve me paying money for a bus, tube or cab and I didn’t see why I should do that. As a reasonably-paid middleweight copywriter I had an OK salary, but compared to the agency’s my financial resources were paltry. If the session had been at 2pm we’d have taken a cab from the agency, so why should this be any different?

The producer did order the cab (I think the option of me expensing a bus ticket would have been a bit weird. Besides, at that time of day my chances of getting a bus with enough space to let me on was unpredictable. A cab was a guarantee that I wouldn’t be wasting the expensive studio time by waiting at a bus stop) but the reluctance was obvious. I’m not sure if there was a difficulty with the budget, but this was a massive client with plenty of cash. Maybe they had asked the agency to reduce its expenses, including unnecessary cabs, but one little tenner would surely not have made much difference. I could have ordered a £10 pricier lunch and the effect would have been the same.

Looking back, I can see both sides of the argument. My art director took the tube because that’s how he normally came to work, so he had a travel card, possibly making my request seem like an unfair luxury by comparison. In addition ‘cabs’ seem to fit into that deep-seated part of the brain reserved for lah-di-dah indulgences. A cab, you say? Would sir also like a butler to shine his shoes?

But fuck all that.

To me this was an interesting example of instances where we almost pay to do a job for millionaires, and that’s a slippery slope.

Here’s another one:

Around the same time my AD and I got wind that there was an open brief doing the rounds on one of the agency’s juicier accounts. It was one of those clients where awards seemed roughly eighteen times more likely to materialise than in the usual day-to-day stuff. So we found a bit of spare time and squeezed in some work. In addition we thought about it while watching TV, in the shower, walking home etc.

The next day the head of traffic came up to me and asked if we were working on the juicy account. When I told him we were he told me he needed extra help on a different, duller account, and if we had any spare capacity we should use it to work on that. I explained that this wasn’t so much ‘spare capacity’ as us kindly devoting our free time to agency business at no extra cost. He didn’t see it that way, instead insisting that if we had time to work on something that he saw as an unnecessary indulgence then we had time to work on some boring shite.

Again, I can see where he was coming from, but then I can also see where I was coming from. If he’d never been told that we were working on the juicy account he’d never have brought the issue up. We’d have worked on the fun stuff and nobody would have been any the wiser. But he seemed to think that any hours we might apply to the job were his to direct, which is a road to insanity. When did the agency’s hours stop and mine start? If I chose to give my spare time to agency business, wasn’t that a good thing? If I did the work I’d been given quickly enough to take on something else, could I use those hours, or did they belong to the company?

So when are you, as a human being, part of your place of work, and when are you not? In an amorphous job like creative advertising the definition of ‘working hours’ becomes one big grey area: you’re often asked to work outside your contractually stipulated 9-5:30, but many creatives often choose to do that because another hour or two might be the difference between a good ad and a great one, and therefore no award/an award, no raise/a raise, no promotion/promotion etc. But when does choice become obligation or expectation? What is it about certain jobs that mean their hours stretch like tedious elastic? How is it OK that a company gets 1.5 x You by making you work another four hours each day at no extra cost? Did we simply start working longer to advance out careers until it became the norm?

Ironically it’s many of the lowest paid creatives who are the ones flogging themselves to death for the benefit of a multi-million pound/dollar corporation. In an effort to seem amenable, hardworking, a team player and all that jazz, creatives immediately head down the path marked ‘your life is not your own’ and remain on it under the guise of the devoted artist, struggling to shape David or apply brush strokes to the Mona Lisa (or price ads for Curry’s and radio ads for 10% off green beans at Tesco). And when most people do this, the ones that don’t stand out, and not in a good way.

But if you look at it from 30,000 feet, it can be another instance of the subjugation of the worker to the corporation. Does Mercedes know or care if you missed your mum’s 50th birthday? Does Axa Insurance give a toss if you cancel a holiday to re-pitch for its business (obviously some clients would, by the way. I’m just talking about very large, faceless corporations)? If we go down to 15,000 feet, does WPP or Omnicom know or care about your increasing blood pressure or incipient drinking habit? At 5,000 feet, how much does your agency truly pay attention to your work-life balance? And by that I mean really care in a way that might cost them money, as opposed to paying lip service to the notion, or finally doing something when you work late yet again, drive tired and hit a lamppost.

As salaries fall, working hours increase, margins shrink and timelines shorten this is only heading in one direction.

Is that a problem? Well, when you compare it to the death of coal mining communities or the mass replacement of humans with robots in manufacturing, it’s small beer. But I don’t write a coal-mining or manufacturing blog, so I’m just pointing out the degree to which people in advertising willingly subsume themselves to wealthy, indifferent corporations. And it might feel fine on a day-to-day basis, but long-term, it might be taking the kind of toll that has deep, lasting consequences.

Do you want to know what the really funny thing is? It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no law that says you shouldn’t earn overtime pay. There’s no law that says you should work past 5:30 or miss a holiday or wedding. There’s no law that says your out-of-work hours are not your own. And there’s no law that says your agency should bend its knee to its clients, providing ever more work at an ever cheaper price.

Many current agencies have got themselves into this death spiral, making it harder to escape it. But if you’re starting an agency, why not see if you can prioritise the humans who work for you over the money they generate? Why not ring fence working hours? Why not create partnerships with your clients instead of supplicant ‘them and us’ relationships of submissive dysfunction? Why not give employees the choice of working late, then pay them more for doing it?

There’s no law that forbids any of that.

And there’s definitely no law against giving it a try.