When Neil Dawson and Clive Pickering left Leo Burnett for jobs in
South Africa, a colleague told them they would never work in London
again. It’s a story they tell me with not a little satisfaction when I
meet them shortly after the Campaign Press Awards, where the pair picked
up a slew of awards, including the coveted gold for best individual
It would be easy to imagine that picking up seven awards in one night
might have gone to Dawson’s and Pickering’s heads a little, and I was
fully expecting some healthy arrogance, a little naked ambition,
In fact, they come across as two of the most relaxed and unpretentious
people you could hope to meet in an ad agency.
An impression that is confirmed by BMP DDB’s executive creative
director, Larry Barker.
’They are a joy to work with because they are so unassuming,’ he
’They don’t come in kicking and screaming about what they’ve got to show
you; they have a quiet, studied approach that belies the originality of
Part of the reason could be that recognition has been slow to come.
Dawson, an art director, and Pickering, a copywriter, teamed up nine
years ago when they were working together at Leo Burnett. But the
exciting briefs proved unforthcoming and, in search of an adventure,
they left to find work in pre-election South Africa.
’Everyone said we were mad, but we’d seen a few South African ads in the
D&AD books so we knew we could do some good work there, and we thought
at least it would be exciting,’ Dawson says. ’It was an extraordinary
time to be there - everyone here thought there would be civil war and
we’d both be killed, but things always look worse from the outside.’
In fact, going to South Africa was the best thing Dawson and Pickering
could have done. Coming from a London agency, their views on ads were
listened to and they were given the best briefs. Having gone there with
a book that by their own admission would not have got them a brief at
Leo Burnett at the time, they spent the three years they were there
putting together a whole new portfolio.
’One advantage of working there, though it doesn’t sound like an
advantage, is that there are 13 official languages,’ Dawson says. ’That
means your ads have to be very visual indeed. You can’t do word plays
because English can be someone’s second or third language. You have to
It’s a skill that they have demonstrated to stunning effect in
’wedding’, the award-winning Volkswagen Polo ad that features an
out-of-focus newlywed couple in the foreground with the words ’Polo L.
pounds 8,290’ in sharp focus in the background.
A continuation of the ’affordability’ campaign, the ad combines a
powerful message with a simple execution and is visually arresting and
instantly recognisable as a VW commercial.
The brief the pair gave themselves was to make the ad as visual as
The VW ads they had done before had been more verbal - in one, for
instance, the price of the car is printed above a telephone number for
St John Ambulances.
With characteristic humility, Dawson and Pickering say they were not
expecting the mass of attention the finished product has attracted -
they were just pleased to have got something past their creative
director, Jeremy Craigen.
When they returned to the UK two years ago, they expected to have to go
through the slog of seeing creative directors, being forgotten and then
asked to come back to see someone else a few months later. In fact, they
showed their book to Craigen, who immediately took them to see Tony Cox,
then BMP’s executive creative director.
’It was one of those dream appointments you think never happens,’ Dawson
says. ’We just came to see Tony one afternoon and he said, ’can you
start on Monday?’, and suggested a salary. We said yes straightaway.
Then he looked at the figure he had come up with and said, ’actually
that doesn’t sound much’, and added some more.’
According to Craigen, what had impressed Cox the most was their
’Tony admired anyone who could just take off to South Africa without a
job to go to and reinvent themselves,’ he remembers. ’They could have
just stayed on at Leo Burnett for years but they had the courage to risk
giving something else a go.’
The pair were given the VW press and poster brief almost as soon as they
joined and have won awards for previous executions in the campaign,
including ’risk of shock’ and ’for your safety’.
They have also worked on several other big BMP accounts, including the
Gary Lineker-fronted Walkers Crisps campaign, Sony and London
But their biggest triumph has been VW, and Craigen credits them with the
successful transition of the campaign to print.
Dawson and Pickering look like they still can’t believe their luck at
having landed a job at BMP.
They tell the story of how a former colleague from South Africa came to
visit the agency’s gong-laden offices in Paddington and remarked on how
crowded the place seemed. ’You’ve even got someone working in the awards
room,’ he said. ’Er, no,’ replied the pair. ’That’s John Webster’s
’Wedding’ is an ad that will no doubt have the job offers pouring
But a word of warning to any creative directors tempted to get their
chequebooks out: these two are going to take some prising away from
’This is the best and nicest place we have ever worked,’ Pickering
’Everyone helps you out, which is quite unusual. I’ve not really
encountered it anywhere else in the UK. When we came back to London, we
expected to have to cope with the politics of working in a big agency.
But we couldn’t have been more wrong.’