NEWSMAKER/NICK HASTINGS: Creative chief who swapped drifting for ambition. After a relaxed start, Nick Hastings sets the pace at DMB&B, Emma Hall writes

There’s just time to grab a quick cup of coffee from a stall at Victoria station before I disappear into DMB&B’s offices to meet Nick Hastings, who officially took over as creative director from Jeremy Pemberton last week (Campaign, 6 March).

There’s just time to grab a quick cup of coffee from a stall at

Victoria station before I disappear into DMB&B’s offices to meet Nick

Hastings, who officially took over as creative director from Jeremy

Pemberton last week (Campaign, 6 March).



Luckily, I’d remembered that the coffee served at DMB&B isn’t up to much

and had factored a few extra minutes into my morning to allow time for

some quality caffeine. As I sipped, I reflected that a lot has changed

at DMB&B over the past few months, and thought maybe the coffee had

improved in line with the planning department and the new-business

record.



No such luck, but at least Hastings has the grace to apologise as he

pours out the beverage. He seems nervous during the preliminaries but,

as he dives into his life story, it becomes clear that underneath he is

very sure of himself.



A ring-round of his former colleagues led me to expect an intense and

slightly edgy interview and Campaign’s picture of him invites the same

preconceptions. Hastings’ image, clothes and manner suggest an

old-looking 32-year-old who has overdone the cigarettes and late nights

but, surprisingly, he is actually a 39-year-old father of three.



This places him at the same stage of life as the more benign-looking

managing director, Barry Cook, and just a little ahead of the marketing

director, Nigel Marsh. The three men, along with the planning director,

Max Burt, are working hard to improve DMB&B’s standing in London.



Cook welcomes Hastings to the top table: ’Nick is a natural enthusiast

like me, and he doesn’t believe that creativity is the sole preserve of

the creative department.



We are both very passionate that we can create a great agency and yet

stay the way we are.’



Hastings’ promotion is the result of a deliberately planned and

remarkably smooth succession. He has hired six or seven of DMB&B’s 20

creative teams and, after three years at the agency, is well-known to

all his department.



His career, however, has been anything but planned and smooth. Although

he started out with all the advantages - Dulwich College, Cambridge

University and an older brother who was already successful in

advertising - Hastings perversely sought out the hard route to the

creative directorship of DMB&B.



There was a false start after he graduated when he joined Bates Dorland

as a trainee in account management. After seven months, he was

frustrated by his lack of input into decision making (’although it was

my own fault for not being dedicated or pushing hard enough’), and quit

Bates to revisit the scene of a happy student holiday, San

Francisco.



For two years he partied until 4am and roused himself in the late

morning to sell second-hand clothes with a business partner he met out

there.



Towards the end, though, he got ambitious and tried to persuade his

partner to take it more seriously. As Hastings tells it, the other man,

who had mysteriously funded their party lifestyle by regularly pulling

dollars 2,000 wads out of his socks, turned out to be the son of a New

York mafioso, whose regular shipments of cash made hard work

unnecessary.



Hastings discovered that his friend’s previous partner had apparently

been found in Mexico with a limb missing. It was time to go back to

London.



This is the bit where we expect Hastings to see the light and jump

straight on to the advertising fast track. But he hasn’t gone all

grown-up on us just yet. There was still another dissident year spent

working in Our Price, which ended ignominiously with the sack - Hastings

had called a customer a ’twat’ for buying a Paul McCartney record.



It’s almost impossible to interrupt Hastings’ flow and ask all the

questions his story is posing. How did his high-ranking RAF father react

to his ’drop-out’ son? Wasn’t it obvious that his Californian business

partner was dodgy? Was he still enjoying all the late nights that tend

to go with a McJob? When did he meet his wife?



When I jump in with a question it is dealt with briskly before Hastings

returns to his tale. He seems pleased with his version of his life

story.



I find it hard to reconcile the youthful drifter with today’s ambitious

and industrious figure but, in Hastings’ narrative, the turning point

was discovering his talent as a copywriter.



John O’Donnell, as creative director of CDP, gave Hastings his first big

advertising job. Hastings and his art director partner, Nick Godfree,

met while composing recruitment ads, did a D&AD student course and

pounded the streets until they got a job at Miller & Leeves WAHT.



The team’s breakthrough work was a drink-drive spot, directed by Tony

Kaye, which prompted the call from O’Donnell. ’I hired them on the

spot,’ he remembers, ’Nick is ambitious and industrious with a manic

dedication.’



Godfree’s and Hastings’ dedication kept them in a job while CDP crumbled

around them. When they joined in June 1991, there were 14 creative teams

- seven months later there were five. Amid all the turmoil, they kept

their heads down and produced some good work, particularly a McEwan’s ad

directed by Tarsem. Hastings and Godfree won a vital pitch for Benson &

Hedges’



Superkings and, before they knew it, were creative directors.



’It was two years too soon,’ Hastings, who was then 33, now

acknowledges. ’The naive bit was not interrogating the situation - we

had no idea that CDP was teetering on the brink. But it was invaluable

experience and I still think we made the right decision.’



After five months in the job, David Jones was succeeded by Ben Langdon

as managing director. ’Spade a spade,’ Hastings says economically, ’Dave

and I could not work with Langdon.’ They were made redundant in January

1994, just as their first year was up.



Hastings found himself opposite Langdon in the urinals at Wembley during

Euro 96, and admits he was tempted for a moment to adjust his aim.

However, Langdon fans will be pleased to know that Hastings is not

bitter, so he smiled and chatted instead.



The ousting from CDP was followed by nine months of freelance work

before Godfree and Hastings joined DMB&B as group heads. ’It was a tad

odd not being in charge’ Hastings says, ’but we knew we’d been made

creative directors too soon and Jeremy (Pemberton) gave us plenty of

autonomy which made it easier.’



At last we get to the plain sailing. For the past three years, Hastings

has been making steady progress towards the creative directorship of

DMB&B.



Bruce Macrae, the former head of TV at DMB&B, says: ’Nick has been

quietly exerting a large influence for a while now and the creative

department has been moulded to his wishes. There won’t be that shiver of

terror through the department that often accompanies the appointment of

a new creative director.’



’I am in a good position,’ Hastings concurs. ’I don’t need to make a

statement but I will be getting closer to clients, presenting at pitches

and being a public face of the agency - I enjoy that side of it, which

Jeremy didn’t as he will be the first to admit.’



Macrae adds: ’Nick will force the pace without unsettling the

conservative clients at DMB&B. He has enough of an edge to keep

challenging preconceptions of the agency.’



As well as taking on the new job, Hastings is also moving house. ’It’s

everything at once,’ he says, admitting he needs to work on his

time-management skills. Hastings has compensated for the constant

upheavals of an RAF childhood by settling for the long term in Notting

Hill, where he has lived for ten years, cosily located around the corner

from his brother, Steve, and his young family.



Hastings will not judge his success only by the quality of the agency’s

reel and reputation. Professional achievement is not enough for him if

he’s always too ’shagged’ to enjoy time with his wife and daughters.

’It’s about having a life too,’ he says.



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