Direct Marketing: Why we chose direct

Four direct marketing luminaries discuss the appeal of DM over the "bright lights" of advertising.

CHRIS THOMAS - Chief executive, Proximity London

Why did you leave advertising?

After three years at Lowe, there was a falling-out and I got fired. But I was soon offered a job at my former masters (Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO) to run Proximity. I've had to learn to operate differently - I couldn't have joined at, say, account director level. But the principle is what's important: an understanding of how consumers behave.

How do DM and advertising agencies differ culturally?

There are lots of similarities. Both are creative environments full of interesting and intelligent people. But on the direct side, they tend to be more commercially aware; more attuned to their impact on the client's business. Yet I do sometimes find that DM people are slightly less confident - there's a feeling that they are not quite as good. I remember being asked by an adman: "What are you doing going into junk mail?" There's an inbred arrogance at creative agencies, but this is changing very quickly.

Did you have a role model before you entered the business?

Simon Hall (the founder of Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray, which later became Proximity London). He and I talked about DM closely in the 90s, and I was very attracted to it. He was particularly helpful in my transition.

Any advice for a creative starting out in DM?

Don't lose sight of your idea just because there's a debate about its execution. Ideas can change the world. I passionately believe that.

DM or advertising - where would you rather be working?

I will finish my career in communications in its broadest sense.

NIGEL JONES - Departing chief executive, Claydon Heeley Jones Mason

Why did you leave advertising?

I left in 1998 (from BMP DDB) to set up Claydon Heeley. Increasingly, I felt that clients wanted more than just advertising. There was lots of talk of integrated campaigns, but they were difficult to do at ad agencies in the 90s.

How do DM and advertising agencies differ culturally?

You can't generalise about agency cultures. That said, the amount of paper-based work a DM agency does tends to influence its culture. I honestly think Claydon Heeley is a different kind of DM agency - completely ideas-focused, young and vibrant.

Did you have a role model before you entered the business?

No - I don't think I'd met anyone in DM before I joined the industry.

I'd say that Dave (Woods) and Peter (Harle, both creative directors) here are pretty inspirational.

Will DM forever lose its best people to advertising?

I don't agree with your hypothesis. Advertising has been seen as a stepping-stone that leads to other things, making films or whatever.

It's not so much the case with DM. I do meet a lot of people who don't want to spend the rest of their lives writing direct mail letters, but they don't want to leave DM in the broader sense. I think increasingly people will move between the disciplines throughout their careers, but at the moment there's an awareness issue.

DM or advertising - where would you rather be working?

Difficult one. They're very different. In a nutshell, the great thing about DM is that there's less pre-testing, which makes life more fun.

But then ad agencies tend to have bigger budgets to play with.

STUART ARCHIBALD - Managing partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton

Why did you leave advertising?

In Australia, DM was becoming more prominent, and I was drawn to its understanding of brands, behaviour and its accountability. When I came to the UK (where he worked at Evans Hunt Scott, Grey and BMP DDB) I was surprised by how traditional the market was, where DM and advertising are kept very separate. But to me the two can't be separated. I can't see how you can separate them. The industry drives a wedge between them to protect its own interests, not those of the client.

How do DM and advertising agencies differ culturally?

I suppose ad agencies come across as being more "creative", and in a DM agency, the place can feel more hard-edged. But what I find amazing is that DM agencies influence businesses just as strongly, but they don't act like it. I hear that the best way to tell them apart is that ad agency guys wear better suits.

Did you have a role model before you entered the business?

Bill Bernbach. He understood both disciplines. It's the modern practitioners who have split it up and tried to make a mystery out of both. As for agency role models, Crispin Porter & Bogusky gives us a nice comfortable feeling that what we're doing (the integrated approach) is definitely the right way to go.

DM or advertising - where would you rather be working?

I don't believe in ad agencies any more, and I don't believe in direct.

I only believe in integration.

PATRICK COLLISTER - Former executive creative director, EHS Brann

Why did you leave advertising?

Two reasons. First, I had to leave my job at Ogilvy (where he was the executive creative director and vice-chairman) because they hired a new chairman. Second, I got rather excited by the fact that advertising was, and is, changing. The future is one-for-one. It's just happening slower than I thought it would. I went to work for a Havas-owned company (EHS Brann) - a multinational run as a business for shareholders who are distant, driven by timesheets and budgeted projects.

How do DM and advertising agencies differ culturally?

Walk into an ad agency and it's organised anarchy. The whole point is to have ideas, to think the unthinkable. DM agencies exist to grow business incrementally. Yes, they need ideas, but arguably DM itself is the big idea. It's rare as rocking-horse shit that a client will go to a DM agency and ask for a genuinely strategic idea. One similarity is that you can do wonderful things for your clients, then the fuckers sack you. DM is even more fickle than above the line because you're dealing with clients at a lower level.

Did you have a role model before you entered the business?

David Ogilvy. He saw DM as fundamental to the way advertising should work. He never hived it off as a different thing. Terry Hunt is another great - very clever and passionate about what he does. As an apologist for DM, you'll find few better.

DM or advertising - where would you rather be working?

I wouldn't want to do either, I'd go to Crispin Porter & Bogusky. They're interested in brands and people, not channels. I'd kick, fight and struggle to get into an agency like that.

Topics