The 10 Best Advertising Anecdotes ... Ever!

From using a Sooty puppet to not-so-gently let down a young creative, to 'doing a Lewinsky' with the partners' cigar stash. John Tylee tells some of the stories that make advertising the fun business it is.

1. The Sooty show

This story must surely win the award for the most evil and downright sinister way to crush the hopes of a young creative. It involved Ron Collins, the "C" in WCRS, and is probably best described by his son Damon, now the Boots creative director at Mother. "You may have heard the story of the heartless adman who gave a student a book crit with his hand inside a Sooty glove puppet," Collins junior says. "Legend has it, Sooty flipped over the pages and then whispered into the man's ear. The man then spoke for them both: 'Well, I like it, but Sooty thinks it's shit.' That heartless adman was my father. And that Sooty was my glove puppet."

2. Kershaw's specs appeal

David Kershaw, a founding partner of M&C Saatchi, must quake inside when he remembers one pitch for a major slice of BT business. After he and his Saatchi & Saatchi team had gone flat out for 90 minutes, the BT executives thanked them and asked them to withdraw while they conferred. But Kershaw foolishly left his notes behind on the table, including one prominently displayed message to another Saatchi staffer that read: "The c**t in the glasses looks like trouble." To make matters worse, only one of the client reps was wearing specs. BT took the gaffe in sporting fashion, though. At a second pitch, the Saatchi team was greeted by a roomful of clients all wearing pairs of large-framed glasses. For the record, the agency won neither contest.

3. How Marsh won British Rail

Peter Marsh, flamboyant and eccentric, had a penchant for arriving at client meetings by helicopter. John Stubbings, a former Allen Brady & Marsh director, once walked into his office to find the chairman surrounded by life-size photographs of his own head and three senior acolytes advising him on his choice of spectacles by putting glasses on to the pictures.

The story of how Marsh landed the coveted British Rail account is a classic.

BR's top brass turned up at ABM for the pitch. An uninterested receptionist, filing her nails, made them wait in the foyer, which was decorated with coffee-stained tables and overflowing ashtrays. The minutes ticked by and nobody came to meet them. Furious at their treatment, the BR managers were about to storm out when Marsh and his team appeared. "That's how the public sees BR," Marsh told them. "Now let's see what we can do to put it right."

4. The infamous Lace e-mail

More than a year on, the authorship of adland's most infamous hoax e-mail remains a mystery. For anybody who's been living on another planet all that time, it should be explained that the e-mail in question implicated Garry Lace, then Grey London's chief executive, in a plot to go into business with Drew Thomson, the Air Miles managing director and one of Grey's clients. Lace insisted there was no substance to the claim but left the agency a month after the e-mail had been sent to a selection of the most influential movers and shakers in UK advertising.

5. Cigar wars at M&C Saatchi

Tiger Savage, M&C Saatchi's head of art, and a group of the agency's female employees were working late at the office one night, when they decided to take the lift to the partners' floor to mess about. There, on top of a pristine desk, they found a cigar humidor packed to the brim with fat and expensive stogies. Unable to resist the temptation, they proceeded to "do a Monica Lewinsky" with the contents before putting them all back where they found them. Savage admits it has been more than a little cringe-inducing every time she has seen one of the partners puffing away on a cigar ever since.

6. Desmond's Nazi tirade

Enthusiastic. Non-conformist. A proprietor without propriety. Choose your own epithet for Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star, and the former owner of Asian Babes, Pantie Parade and Horny Housewives.

Tales of Desmond's management style are plentiful and varied. But by far the most notorious is his Fawlty-esque goose-stepping and loud rendition of Deutschland Uber Alles at a meeting with executives from The Daily Telegraph, when it looked as though the paper might be taken over by the German publisher Axel Springer. According to reports at the time, he also called the Telegraph chief executive, Jeremy Deedes, a "miserable piece of shit" and added that the Germans were "all Nazis". All the more ironic when you consider his own takeover of Express Newspapers was financed by a German bank.

7. Fink's quiver of shame

Funny stories about Graham Fink? Take your pick. There's the time the temperamental creative-turned-commercials director left WCRS after throwing a yucca plant at a colleague during a row over using the equally temperamental Tony Kaye to direct one of the agency's films. Or the night he tipped up at the opera in full Mozart costume. Best of the lot, though, was his appearance at the British Television Advertising Awards dressed as Robin Hood, compete with hat and tights, secure in the certainty that he would collect a quiverful of the BTAA's arrow-shaped awards trophies. Alas, he was wide of the mark - at the end of the evening his quiver remained embarrassingly empty.

8. Wnek and Langdon: from start-up to bust-up

A partnership between two personalities the size of Mark Wnek's and Ben Langdon's was always going to be a highly combustible one, but nobody expected their start-up to blow up just 116 days after leaving the launchpad. Ben Mark Orlando, the agency the pair set up with Orlando Hooper-Greenhill, was forced to shut up shop - despite winning the Bacardi account as its first piece of business - after Langdon unceremoniously dumped his mates to take the job that Wnek had left to do the start-up in the first place - the UK group chairmanship of Euro RSCG London. Even Langdon admitted at the time: "I've made a bit of a pig's ear of this one," adding: "I now know that I am not a natural entrepreneur." No kidding.

9. The ultimate short story

Sir Martin Sorrell is not a man to offend, particularly if you work for him and want to get on in the advertising industry. So imagine the horror of Simon Burridge, at the time a managing partner at JWT, when he inadvertently left off a crucial letter in an e-mail to his mighty leader. His embarrassment was only exacerbated by the fact that Burridge - whose family owned the legendary racehorse Desert Orchid - is a well-spoken man of considerable charm, and is known for his eloquence and politeness.

The story goes that, in a rush on the way to a meeting with the diminutive Sorrell, Burridge dashed off an e-mail, intending to sign his message with: "See you shortly." Sadly, he missed off the vital "l" and mistakenly typed: "See you shorty." Cringe.

10. Saatchi brother orders a beer

Maurice Saatchi, despite being a Lord, has always liked to believe that he has the populist touch. After M&C Saatchi had picked up the Foster's and the Foster's Ice creative business, he was briefed by Moray MacLennan, the agency's joint chief executive, to order a pint of the amber nectar at the celebratory drinks party. In front of the Foster's marketing director, an executive asked him what he would like to drink. With MacLennan's instructions ringing in his ears, Saatchi replied with the unfamiliar words: "I'll have a Foster's, please." "Ice?" the executive enquired. "No," Saatchi replied, with a knowing look at the client. "No ice in my Foster's, thank you."

THE ONES THAT DIDN'T QUITE MAKE IT ...

Derek, the famously forthright guardian of Young & Rubicam's car park, once confronted the doyen of DM, Lester Wunderman. "You can't fucking park there," he said. "But I'm Wunderman," the agency's owner replied.

"I don't care if you're fucking Superman, you can't park there," Derek said ... An unscripted addition to KMM's 1994 pitch for the £6.5 million Iceland account when the boyfriend of a disgruntled ex-KMM employee burst in and set about the agency's chairman, Kevin Morley. One version has it that the assailant tried to ram Morley's head through the boardroom table. KMM didn't get the business ... The art director Dave Horry was a great practical joker. At Collett Dickenson Pearce, he arranged for the office of an unpopular colleague to be plastered over on a weekend, leaving the man desperately searching for his office door on Monday morning ... M&C Saatchi's repitch for the British Airways account will doubtless evoke an embarrassing memory of the last time the agency contested the business.

The group account director Marcus Peffers, charged with sorting out the pitch stationery, ordered 3,500 pencils with "M&C Saatchi" written on them. On the morning of the pitch, the pencils were unwrapped but written on the side of each one was "Bembo 115 Tracking", the name of the typeface the agency had chosen for its logo. The name of the company that supplied them? Promotion Reliability ... Among tales about pitches from hell, the 1994 Bates Dorland bid to win the £10 million PowerGen account is hard to beat. First came the discovery that the consultant member of the client team was none other than Bill Barry, who had fallen out with Andrew Cracknell, the Bates creative chief, and Les Stern, the planning director, when all three worked at FCB. This was before Michael Bungey, the agency chairman, decided to hog the first 20 minutes of the hour-long pitch with a creds presentation. These, however, were eclipsed by Cracknell's own masterstroke of developing a raging nosebleed just as he began his spiel ... JWT's worldwide chief executive, Burt Manning, liked to call newly promoted network executives to congratulate them. Trouble was, he sometimes forgot that not everybody was in the same time zone as New York. In the early hours of one morning, the phone rang at the London home of a senior JWT executive. "Hello, this is Burt Manning," the voice at the other end of the line said. "I'd like to offer my congratulations on your promotion." The bleary-eyed executive thought the caller was claiming to be Bernard Manning and that his mates were winding him up, so proceeded to let loose a string of expletives to his bewildered boss before slamming down the phone ... The late Don White, the camp McCann-Erickson executive creative director, added a new dimension to the season of goodwill to all men one year by sending out a Christmas card with a picture of himself lying naked on a sheepskin rug with only a bottle of Bolly to protect his modesty ... Nothing ever fazed Roger Edwards, the former Grey London chairman, but on one pitch to a group of senior executives, Edwards found his words interrupted by a projectionist who had accidentally left the sound system to the pitch room on and was telling a filthy joke to a friend. Edwards' patter didn't falter as he edged towards the loudspeaker. Ripping it from the wall, he could only watch helplessly as it hung from its wire and the voice continued. "Gentlemen," he said. "I've done my best. We might as well hear the punchline."

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