He may not be well known to Campaign readers, but Mike Dempsey’s
impact on the advertising industry should not be underestimated.
This year’s D&AD president takes full responsibility for inventing the
new-style 1997 awards ceremony which takes place at the Odeon Leicester
Square in May.
As president elect last year, Dempsey wrote an impassioned letter to his
peers requesting that dramatic changes be made to the Grosvenor House
’I have taken a gamble by separating the awards from the dinner, but it
just wasn’t working at Grosvenor House,’ he says. ’It is tragic to see
people talking among themselves and only half-clapping the winners.
I know it’s a gamble, and the cinema could end up being a bit clinical,
but everyone can go to the Cafe Royal afterwards and get as drunk as
Dempsey has as much reforming zeal as Graham Fink before him, but his
approach is quieter, as befits a man in his 50s. He will preside over
the first interactive media category, and education initiatives will be
high on D&AD’s agenda - it continues to pursue a declared mission to
achieve greater respect for design graduates, even though Dempsey
bypassed all formal education in his chosen field.
Now the senior director of CDT Design, he got his break as a messenger
boy in a commercial art studio in the 60s, making a brave escape from
his Dagenham upbringing and an unhappy spell as a fitter’s mate. ’Alan
Parker started in the same way, but everyone is so qualified these days,
you could never come up by the same route today,’ he concedes.
Dempsey got to the top of the design world through hard work, natural
talent and a few evening classes.
He is credited with revolutionising the design of classical music CD
covers, using beautiful images rather than the traditional orchestra
snapshot, and is also proud of his remarkable work for the English
National Opera and the London Chamber Orchestra.
’If I’ve got an idea to crack, I will take work home or with me on
holiday - no true designer can leave his problems in the office,’ he
Dempsey won’t be leaving his D&AD president’s hat in the office either,
and his ideas for the advertising half of his brief will not be
overshadowed by a bias towards design.
Dempsey loves the world of film, especially the cinema, and is
fascinated by the art of directing. He is overseeing the production of
the third book in the D&AD ’mastercraft’ series, which will look at the
world’s top commercials directors. ’I want to try to get inside the mind
of the director, to find out what makes them tick, what makes them so
individual, and why they made films in a particular way. The book will
include directors from all around the world, but it is remarkable how
many of the best come from this country.’
D&AD’s recognition of advertising talent should also come to the fore
this year. Dempsey thinks it outrageous that no copy or photography made
it into the book last year, and promises that he will do as much as he
can to repair the damage this year, although ultimately the decision
rests with the judges.
Judging is always much harsher in the morning than in the afternoon
’The day starts with a lot of tension in the air, and work is thrown out
at a rate of knots, but after lunch, people are much more laid back,’ he
says. ’At D&AD, the level of judging is placed on such a high altar.
For the book, you are looking to find the best work from the year -
giving awards comes later.’
The copy crisis is especially close to Dempsey’s heart. Designers do a
lot of work on corporate brochures, which are often very poorly written
by the client, with the result that many younger designers have come to
treat copy as merely a set of shapes to play with.
’Words can be even more powerful than pictures, and we must take the
trouble to understand just what copy can do.’ He is referring to the
long-running series of press and poster ads for the Economist by Abbott
Mead Vickers BBDO.
Dempsey, who has been a member of D&AD since 1968, says that it
’represents the very best in the world, in terms of the importance of
However, he is convinced that there is room for change: ’The awards have
been at the Grosvenor House for almost 35 years, because it is the only
place in London that can fit everybody in - that is not a good enough
reason to be there. We have forged a new direction so that we can
applaud each other’s work. D&AD is all about being appreciated, and
that’s what makes creatives shine.’