Career Guide: Meet the team
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 07 October 2005 12:00AM
Alex Benady provides a guide to the kind of people lurking behind the doors of the average ad agency. They don't teach you this stuff at Watford. You have been warned!
Advertising, so the perceived wisdom goes, is a people business.
It takes a special blend of skill and character to win business, or keep clients happy year-in year-out, or control a team of irreverent creatives, or make a media strategy come alive.
Even a relatively simple piece of advertising draws on the creative, analytic, administrative and selling skills of a surprisingly large number of people.
Each function offers a different career path with different skills attracting very different personality types. In the average ad agency - should such a thing exist - you'll find all sorts of personalities, big and small.
OK, just as there's no such thing as the average ad agency, there's no such thing as the average creative director, copywriter or media strategist.
And yet ... there are certain character traits that you might find in this average creative department, or planning department or agency boardroom.
There are those little ticks that are a product of particular career paths, and little mannerisms that are the studied tools of a particular agency-department trade.
Not that this is an industry of bloated cliches in expensive suits, mind.
Perhaps it's just that certain types of people choose certain careers and you're more likely to end up as a media strategist if you're the type who likes baggy jeans and free T-shirts.
Here's a guided tour round the cliches working in that non-existent average ad agency. All add a vital dimension to the production of a great ad campaign, though not all of them are the sort of people you might choose to share a beer with down the pub after a hard day at the advertising grindstone.
MATT BLACK - AGENCY, MANAGING DIRECTOR
The managing director, Matt Black, is probably the most charming person you will ever meet. From the collar of his Oswald Boateng suit to the tips of his Tim Little shoes, he oozes delightful, engaging, soothing boyish charm. He thinks that's why he is nicknamed "The Prince" in the agency. In fact, it is after the eponymous handbook for opportunist leaders of men by Niccolo Machiavelli. For Matt's charm is rivalled only by his astonishing ambition, in pursuit of which he will stop at nothing.
You wouldn't know it from his Sloaney drawl but he went to a comprehensive in the East Midlands. Durham, the Milk Round and the ability to provide clients with what he calls "Olympian levels of service" saw him rise to board account director at 28. Three years running the agency's flagship Lemon telecoms account and now he is MD.
These days, in his own self-deprecating words, he devotes himself to "ensuring that the agency's revenue and cost lines are kept as far apart as possible". He was responsible for refurbishing the building last year, including installing a small yacht in reception to serve as a meeting-room-come-shiatsu area. And he is the last port of call for any problems with any of the agency's clients.
More significantly for you, he is also in charge of staffing in the agency and gives the final interview to all account handlers and planners. Not that you will be able to tell what he thinks of you because your brain will be rendered spongy and uncritical by his charismatic, emollient presence.
PHIL SHEPHERD - NEW-BUSINESS DIRECTOR
Grotesquely unfair though it may seem, advertising agencies don't actually have a divine right to exist. Business does not simply walk through the door of its own accord, although it often seems to have no problem exiting completely unaided. So it is the job of the new-business director, Phil Shepherd, to keep the leaky agency bucket topped up with new accounts.
Unlike other new-business directors he could mention, Phil does this not by flashing cleavage and yards of stocking-ed thigh, but by developing an original and engaging point of view on every prospective client's communication problems.
Phil is acutely aware that some clients think of ad agencies as shallow and mendacious. So, despite the fact that he understands the importance of presentation, he is surprisingly non-descript in his personal appearance.
His suits in accountant-grey, dull shirts and recessive ties scream: "Judge this book by its contents not its cover."
His duties include maintaining the agency database of business prospects, co-ordinating its public relations efforts and cosying up to prospects who might be unhappy with their present arrangements.
But it is in the competitive pitch for new business, in which agencies show off the brilliance of their strategic insight and the exceptional quality of their creative thinking, that Phil really comes into his own.
Here, he knows that command of detail is all. But two years ago, he nearly topped himself after the people from Kleenex came in and he realised to his horror that the agency loos were all supplied with Andrex.
RENEE DESCARTES - ACCOUNT PLANNER
Renee, as she never tires of telling people, is a descendant of the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who said: "I think, therefore I am." As the brightest person in the agency by some way, it could be her own personal slogan.
Other slogans that could equally well apply include "I feel, therefore I am" and "I buy, therefore I am". For not only does Renee have a brain the size of Nebraska, she has the emotional depth of the Mariana Trench and still finds time to shop for England.
All of which make her ideally suited to her role as a provider of quality consumer insight to the agency creative teams. She crunches data like she has a selenium chip in her head and her group discussions, or "focus groups" as the press calls them, are more like mass psychoanalysis than market research. She writes learned, ground-breaking academic papers on measuring advertising effectiveness and, quite nauseatingly, works the phones for The Samaritans at weekends.
"Advertising may look as if it was dreamed up in five seconds on the back of a fag packet," she tells new recruits. "But it takes weeks of hard slog to understand exactly how consumers use a product and what buttons to push to get them to buy more of it." Or as she tells her grandmother: "I tell the creative teams what they have to say; they decide how to say it." Or as she tells her boyfriend: "Someone's gotta keep a grip on those creative dorks."
SMITHY - HEAD OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT
It's hard to conceive of just how little 100 bright, industrious, well-motivated people will produce unless they constantly have their arses kicked. Chief among arse-kickers is Smithy, the head of the posse of Ralph Lauren-wearing chancers, charmers and fixers who used to be known collectively as the traffic department but now go by the more august monicker of "project management".
And does Smithy kick arse? Whenever there's a new creative brief, Smithy is there slouching into people's offices, fag in mouth, making sure that everybody who needs to signs it off. Kick, kick, kick. When a poster or press ad is being shot, he gets quotes from the photographers. Kick, kick.
And when it goes into production, Smithy negotiates with printers over a few beers, gets proofs and chivvies them along until the creative team is 100 per cent satisfied with the results. Kick, kick, kick, kick.
But he does it with such a light touch that most people actually think they've had a conversation about the problems of playing Jermaine Defoe alongside Robbie Keane in the Spurs attack.
Mind you, arse-kicking isn't all Smithy is good at. He's also a financial genius. He's well-paid, of course, but everybody marvels at the way he runs a Merc CLK 320 coupe, plus houses in Soto Grande and Chingford - all on one salary. Nice one, Smithy my son.
ROSIE LEE - TEA LADY
Skirts wider than they are long are normally the province of thong-flashing supermodels. But Rosie who stands 63 inches high and 46 inches round the hips, wears hers wide with pride - and, unsettlingly, often a thong.
She only became a tea lady in the first place to help pay off her son Delkevin's fine for taking and driving away. But that was eight years ago, before the agency sold out to MegaPublicGroup. The shares she received under the employee share scheme are now worth north of one hundred grand.
No wonder she laughs and laughs and laughs.
But that doesn't mean she has bought into noncey middle-class values.
Unlike everybody else in the agency, she is not dazzled by the fact that she works in the media. So she treats everyone - directors, staff, even clients - with the same foul-mouthed but kindly disdain. As her job title suggests, Rosie makes the tea. But as she is fond of reminding people: "That doesn't mean I'm a fucking waitress."
She is not a friend of all that "healthfood shit" and keeps the kitchen stuffed with an astonishing array of triple-choc biscuits, full-fat Coke, ultra-lard crisps and one ageing apple.
She's also responsible for laying on refreshments for meetings. But woe betide the account executive or PA who doesn't give her enough notice.
Her real bete noir, however, is used cups. The sight of her massive booty swishing through the agency in search of dirties instils fear into even the smoothest operators.
CHARLIE MARKS - MEDIA STRATEGIST
With his 72-hour stubble and continental cigarette welded to his lips, you could easily mistake Charlie Marks for some kind of radical Parisian intellectual. In fact, he's a home-counties suburbanite who helps flog cold cures and new exhaust pipes on the Snot Gone and Slick Fit accounts.
It's not that he's pretentious, it's just that he happens to believe that there is only one way to escape the alienation of contemporary society and that is to retreat ahead of it.
Charlie became a media strategist seven years ago when he spotted it as the coming thing in advertising. It used to be a dryish discipline that would grapple with questions such as: "What's the difference in readership between the Express and the Mail?" Now, according to Charlie, it's about how particular cultural environments shape meaning. "C'est le plus sexy sujet en publicite aujord'hui," he explains to the agency PAs in the bar after work.
But Charlie is on the horns of a dilemma. "Retreating ahead of society" involves some element of anticipating, even embracing change. But now his bosses, whom he naturally despises as reactionaries, are asking him to expand his analysis from media to any means by which customers experience brands. This is as likely to be beer- mats, sales promotions and the inside of handkerchiefs as it is a new film or piece of music.
The prospect of deconstructing beer-mats is as alluring to Charlie as drinking a litre of Sir Martin Sorrell's vomit. The trouble is that he recognises that the bourgeoisie is now retreating ahead of society, ahead of the intellectual. Que faire?
ANNE VILLE - MEDIA BUYER
If, in future years, they were to make a film about the life of the media buyer Anne Ville, it would be called something like Triumph of the Will.
Not that she's a fascist, just that this particular uber-babe likes to win.
Blonde, blue-eyed, 174cm tall, she would be beautiful were her lips not quite so thin and her demeanour quite so grim. Still, she's a long way from the old "gorillas with calculators" image of media buyers. But she has a steely determination to win, an almost pathological desire to get a good deal and grinds on and on until she gets her way.When she was thinking about advertising as a career five years ago, her father told her to "follow the money". So she did. Which is why she's now a media buyer, in charge at the age of 28 of buying £20 million-worth of TV airtime for her clients.
Although she's not especially numerate, she got her first job by successfully working out 7 per cent of 70 in her head, in an interview. (No, the answer is not ten or seven.) Anne survived an early disaster that would have scuppered most people's careers when she booked a 90-second "epic" launch ad for a new BO Ferries campaign slap bang in the middle of Titanic.
Now she's the buyer TV salespeople fear most. She's thick-skinned and seems to relish conflict, so she's almost overwhelming in negotiations.
But there is method to her savagery. That is: she knows when to stop.
She understands that the real art of the comprehensive victory is to leave the defeated a few crumbs of spoils, so that they will come back to be trounced again.
WAYNE KING - CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Deep down, Wayne is scared. Scared of the responsibility, scared he isn't really up to the job, scared of losing his 400 grand-a-year salary and terrified he's made his secretary pregnant. In fact, as he told his best friend just before he left Australia for London: "I give 'em two years, mate, before I'm rumbled and they come for me in the night."
Can you blame him? At 29, he finds himself in a strange city half-way round the world, carrying the expectations of the agency on his shoulders.
As guardian of the creative flame, he is responsible for nurturing the one thing the agency does that cannot be copied by any old group of account clerks from the gas board who fancy setting themselves up in business.
But any vulnerability is buried deep beneath layers of anger and sarcasm.
This hasn't endeared him to many in the agency. As Matt Black, the MD, warned him only last week: "Wayne, if you were knocked over by a bus in the street tomorrow, half the agency wouldn't even leave their desks. The other half would go outside and cheer."
But the creative department loves him. He may be a diffy bastard but once he believes in an idea or script, he fights for it like a beserker.
And, under him, the agency has started to win creative awards. For that reason alone, his job is safe until at least June.
DAZ AND LAZ - COPYWRITER AND ART DIRECTOR
Daz and Laz are the Gilbert and George of the creative department - the people who actually think up, write and design the TV commercials, posters and press ads that punctuate our lives at every turn these days.
Daz is the copywriter, Laz is the art director. Or is it the other way round? Because a) nobody in the agency can tell them apart - they are seldom seen separately and, since art college, have dressed more and more like each other; b) they both write the words and they both do the pictures, and c) they fondly think of themselves as joined at the brain and, professionally speaking, regard themselves as part of the same organism.
In fact, in a few years' time, Laz, who is the less talented of the two, will dump Daz, who is the less pushy of the two, for a spectacularly well-paid job in San Francisco, where he will eventually discover that he is gay. This will be revenge for what he sees as Daz's betrayal in getting a girlfriend.
But, for now, they are the least impressive but most important characters in the agency. They lead a sort of troglodytic existence, taking their work so unbelievably seriously that they rarely do anything else, especially smile.
This doesn't mean you'll see them around much. By day they are constantly "researching" new ideas and techniques. This means spending every afternoon in cinemas watching films and visiting the occasional photography exhibition.
Their best work is done between 7pm and 10pm when the agency is quiet and most people are having sex on tables in the agency bar.
Like many creative people, they are strong on original thought. In fact, they are incapable of approaching even the simplest subject from anywhere other than left field. But they are pathetic on context and analysis.
So they neither know nor care very much about clients' business. As Laz - or is it Daz? - likes to say: "The less we know the better. If we understand client problems, we might start becoming reasonable. And that's not what we are paid for."
They also tend to spend hours in pubs mumbling to each other in incomprehensible northern accents about "fooking soulless consumerism" and about how "they - you know, the powers that be - are just trying to make everybody the same", oblivious to the irony that they are "they" and that they are the ones who give consumerism its voice.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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