Me and my mentor

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 September 2007 12:00AM

Want to get ahead in advertising? Get yourself a mentor and benefit from their experience and advice. Here, four apprentices reveal how their masters have inspired them throughout their careers.

STEVE ALDRIDGE ON NIGEL LONG

I never thought I had a mentor until I started to think about writing this piece. For me, a mentor is not so much a guiding light, or a genius in that specialist field, but a counsellor and confidant, someone who has been there, done that and seen it all before. And has learnt from the experience. Someone who can see how different decisions can affect people and, crucially, how those decisions affect the product we create.

For me, that person is Nigel Long: he has been a constant in my business life for almost ten years. I met Nigel in the early part of 1998 and was immediately struck by his single-mindedness and focus. I was also charmed and seduced by his belief in my ability and passion for a creatively driven direct marketing agency, which I subsequently started with Phil Andrews. Most importantly for me, Nigel has always been available, often at very inconvenient times, to help me with the more challenging aspects of my working life. Essentially as a sounding board, but often by helping me to think differently, challenging me to react in different ways, or to take time to think through a problem. Often just talking about the issue can resolve it in my own mind.

There are plenty of people around me I could talk to. I have a talented business partner and many experienced heads in the business, but Nigel offers something different. Patience and accessibility are just two of his qualities I have drawn on. The breaking point seldom comes between nine and five, and that no time is a bad time to call has been invaluable to me.

A good example would be dealing with resignations and talented people leaving. I have a utopian dream that ours is a company where people will stay forever, creating better and better work. I take resignation very badly. But Nigel helped me see it as a positive. For the business to grow, people have to leave and new people with new ideas need to come in and reignite the business to keep it moving forward.

Throughout the past ten years, Nigel has always been there. I have watched his own career develop even further, from Euro RSCG to Naked. And I've learnt a lot by watching him change and adapt with it. He has a tireless work ethic and energy, with a healthy balance and perspective on life. His encouragement, belief and a nothing-is-impossible stance inspire me to aim higher every time I walk through our doors.

- Steve Aldridge is the creative partner and chairman at Partners Andrews Aldridge

"It's rewarding to be called Steve's mentor because we never set the relationship up to be that way, it just happened. Nor is it as simple as the wise business brain guiding the flamboyantly coiffured artist. We learn from each other. I just have the benefit of distance from the issues."

- Nigel Long is the group chief executive of Naked.

JAMES MURPHY ON JIM KELLY

Jim is a natural mentor - not one that relies on 360-degree appraisals, 90-day goals or balanced CPD scorecards. You didn't get tuition, you learned by working with him.

Jim revelled in everything that comes with running a creative business, the team ethic, the constant challenge to create something new, the victories and the crises.

His enthusiasm is best captured in a number of key phrases, pearls of wisdom that he would deploy at crucial moments - known as Jim-isms. The night before a pitch, or with the news that your celeb wouldn't make the shoot as she'd overdosed on sleepers, a Jim-ism could cut through and clarify the situation.

1. "What we're dealing with here is the law of unintended consequences." Anything that can go wrong will. Don't get upset, revel in it, and revel in sorting it out.

2. "Who's driving this bus?" Great creativity isn't an exercise in democracy. It results from a strong sense of ownership - who's taking charge?

3. "Don't think twice, it's alright." Decision-making theory care of Bob Dylan - the moral, don't become paralysed by a huge number of pros and cons. Keep moving, make a decision, if it's the wrong one, then you'll find out quickly and change course.

4. "I see a lot of wool, but no cardigan." No amount of strategy charts, creative layouts or permutations of media strategy will make up for the lack of a simple, memorable idea.

5. "Is someone going to recognise the elephant in the corner?" Agency folk are natural optimists, but we're not being honest with ourselves about the real issue here.

6. "I love the smell of spraymount in the morning." The adrenaline rush of new business often sees agencies at their best - yes, we've worked three weekends in a row, and been up for 36 hours, but we're about to go in to pitch and we've got a whole room full of fireworks to set off.

7. "It's not good enough to win, someone has to lose." Like the Premier League, agency-land has a finite number of really good teams competing fiercely. Agencies poach each other's stars and second-guess opponents' formations on the pitch. Unlike other businesses, you don't succeed or fail over time, or by increments ... you either win or lose pitches.

8. "I'm gossip positive." This competitive spirit makes the business gossipy and exciting. Jim's thrill in finding out a big story before everyone else was infectious.

If you want to convince someone that it's still great to work in agencies, get them to spend some time with Jim - when you worked for him, he made you feel great about the "shared endeavour". When you were his client, he made it feel like you were on an exciting and epic journey together. Probably the best thing any mentor can do is keep you this excited about what you do.

- James Murphy is a former chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"The advertising figure James most reminds me of is Mike Greenlees, who was my mentor as an account man. He has that same relentlessness, charm and passion for the business. I can't say he ever needed much formal guidance; in fact, James behaved like a proprietor from an early stage - now he's about to be a real one."

- Jim Kelly is a former chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.

TIM DUFFY ON RITA CLIFTON

In my view, a mentor has no responsibilities and no job description. They cannot be appointed either by themselves or by you. They may never even know that they are a mentor. A mentor is simply someone whose intelligence, skills and character greatly influence the way you think and behave. So the best mentors are discovered.

Rita Clifton was the planning director at Saatchi & Saatchi in the late 80s and early 90s. To me, a young planner finding his feet, she represented what I wanted advertising to be about: intelligence, insight, charisma, creative thinking. Rita has these qualities in abundance. I would marvel at the way she could captivate an audience - be it a creative department or a plc board of directors. More than anything, she summed up the Saatchis spirit for me: she would make the complex simple, she cut through the crap and she had boundless energy. A mentor should provide the reasons for you to believe in your career.

I would watch and try to learn.

Over the years, our paths have diverged, and Rita has moved outside of advertising and on to various grand chairman, trustee and non-executive director roles. Her curiosity about consumers and brands is greater than ever. I find our discussions valuable: it is a chance to think about issues beyond our day-to-day concerns. It is sometimes useful to keep your eyes on the horizon, and a mentor can provide a dispassionate perspective. Whenever we meet, I leave feeling refreshed and inspired. Even now, some ten or so years after we last worked together, I find myself asking: "What would Rita think?"

There are a few things about Rita I admire but cannot emulate: her ability to put on make-up at 70mph on the M4; her Champagne consumption skills; and her elegant style. My view is that, if you are going to have a mentor, you might as well have a glamorous one.

- Tim Duffy is the chief executive of M&C Saatchi

"I'm flattered, but I also feel a complete fraud. Tim was always going to be brilliant. Unbelievably bright, quick, committed and with a wicked sense of humour. Everyone wanted to work with him - all you had to do was provide a supportive environment and get out of the bloody way. Forgive the sick bag, but he was a total joy."

- Rita Clifton is the chairman of Interbrand.

STEVIE SPRING ON MIKE GOLD

I've never worked anywhere with an official mentoring scheme. So mine is an unofficial perspective on mentoring. For me, a mentor is someone you admire, who's been there, done that, got the T-shirt. They recognise and celebrate your potential. And best of all - they listen without prejudice (to quote George Michael).

Although I've never had an "official" mentor, in 30 years of working life (oh my God! Thirty years!), I've been blessed to have met some extraordinary people who've given generously of their time, experience and common sense: the Rogers Miron and Parry ... Lyndy Payne ... John Shannon ... and, for the past 20 years, Goldie (Mike Gold, the founder of French Gold Abbott and Gold Greenlees Trott, media guru and strategist - not Sarah Gold, the gorgeous MD at CHI & Partners!).

Goldie and I worked together for four years through some successful pitches ("Does you does or does you don't take Access?"), nightmare productions ("I'll see you in Courts!") and hundreds of credentials with me singing our jingle-laden showreel ("Hello Tosh, got a Toshiba?" ... "Ariston and on and on"). Until 1992. When he fired me.

Since then, we've remained close, and he's been there whenever I've needed unbiased advice, an independent viewpoint, or unconditional support. The most recent: should I take a public company role? Answer: no problem, it's all about integrity and delivery. Go for it!

In advertising, he taught me the value of a medium over a message; that impact matters first and foremost; that if the desired target audience doesn't see or hear you, everything else is academic.

Most important, he encouraged me to believe that nothing's impossible. Just because you haven't, doesn't mean you can't (this from a man who set up his own agency in his early twenties, sold it to the Americans, made a fortune. And did it all over again).

So, how do you find an unofficial mentor? In truth, I think, more often than not, that they find you. Almost without exception someone older (not threatened by your success), who sees a future in you that you may not even see yourself. They will take enormous pride and pleasure in helping you. Call it favouritism, nepotism, any old "ism" you like - it's a great safety valve.

And if a willing and worthy supporter doesn't emerge from within your company, then I recommend bravery and chutzpah - don't ask, don't get. Approach someone you've met whom you admire to mentor you. A coffee and a catch-up every month or so is not such a big ask. They may say no. But chances are they'll be flattered and happy to help.

It's worth the risk of rejection for the potential of striking Gold!

- Stevie Spring is the chief executive of Future

"This is more or less typical of my relationship with Stevie - she gets 450 words and I get 45. It's very flattering to have my Vicky Pollard-esque interpolations of 'yeah-but-no-but' described as mentoring, and I'm happy that she found them useful. The girl done good!"

- Mike Gold is the founder of Gold Greenlees Trott.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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