Campaign Report on Creative DM: Where do good DM creatives come from? - Direct marketing shops are crying out for creative graduates But, as Richard Cook writes, the sector cannot shake off its dull persona.

For would-be advertising creatives, suffering for art’s sake is still considered de rigueur. If you haven’t clocked up sufficient garret time, you haven’t established your creative credentials - no matter how good your work might be.

For would-be advertising creatives, suffering for art’s sake is

still considered de rigueur. If you haven’t clocked up sufficient garret

time, you haven’t established your creative credentials - no matter how

good your work might be.

Fortunately, suffering for your art is easy. The path to the creative

promised land has always been a hard slog. It typically consists of

long, fruitless years touting a student book around a succession of

famous advertising agency names, followed by endless, nerve-filled

months of work experience.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that bad. There are innovative creative

agencies at the forefront of a fast-growing media industry that are

simply crying out to provide a home for the cream of the nation’s

advertising graduates. They are direct marketing agencies.

’There is still a huge perception problem facing the direct marketing

industry, for all the strides we have taken in the last decade,’ Shaun

McIlrath, creative director at FCA!, explains. ’Over the last few

months, as part of a new industry-wide Call To Action initiative, I’ve

seen a lot of teams of young college students that want to get into


They listen to what we have to say about the opportunities of the

industry, they listen to stories of the creative challenges in direct

marketing and they leave exactly as they arrive - muttering about trying

to get in at BMP. We have to get the message across that direct

marketing can produce the sort of ads you can ring up and tell your mum


Call to Action was a serious response to this problem of graduate apathy

in the face of the growing opportunities offered by the direct marketing

industry. Creative directors from some of the UK’s top direct and

integrated shops tried to sell the industry to a new generation of

student talent.

’The trouble is that prejudices can be confirmed so early and so

easily,’ McIlrath adds, ’and then these prejudices inform people

throughout their working careers. That’s why we felt it was so important

to get round the colleges and tell people about the reality of the

direct marketing industry.’

If there has already been a change in perception in recent years, much

of this has been forced on graduates by the hard facts of economic


The Watford College of Art, which runs one of the most respected

copywriting and art direction courses for would-be advertising agency

creatives in this country, estimates that its average student will now

start his or her job search about pounds 15,000 in debt.

Not that this has managed to deter applicants - the course director,

Tony Cullingham, says he received almost 700 inquiries for the 30 places

he was offering last year. Graduates who might have turned their noses

up at a below-the-line agency in the days of government grants suddenly

found their chosen option coming under increasing fiscal pressure. But

there is little doubt that working in above the line remains the chosen


’The fact is that despite the financial inducements, despite the fact

that there are many more opportunities for creatives in the direct

marketing industry, and despite the fact that the direct marketing

industry will allow many more creative freedoms, the colleges still tend

to portray us as some sort of poor relation,’ Barraclough Hall Woolston

Gray’s creative director, Duncan Gray, says.

’Direct marketing is becoming more important. Unfortunately, if we don’t

change the way creative people think about our industry, it will stunt

our development.’

Certainly the industry’s case is becoming more compelling. Direct mail

alone might still be a smaller advertising medium than its glamorous

siblings, TV and press, but it’s now bigger than radio, outdoor and

cinema put together.

And while the direct mail industry is now run with the sort of precision

that puts much of the rest of advertising to shame, the fact is that

direct marketing as a whole now has its tentacles throughout the entire

advertising process.

According to Direct Marketing Association research, only 12 per cent of

all press ads are nowadays content to rely on image alone: the rest have

a phone number, a coupon or, increasingly, a website address at the

bottom - a direct response mechanism that lets the advertiser know who

is out there and what they want.

And as direct marketing has grown up as an industry, so too have the

demands for top quality, graduate staff that can combine numeracy with

creativity. But so inconsistent has been the supply that the industry

has had to resort to growing its own talent in training schemes.

The DMA, for instance, organises two-year courses based on day release

and evening study for new entrants to the industry, and also runs the

first MBA course in direct marketing at Kingston University. But this

scheme is primarily for management talent. The onus is still placed on

the art colleges to supply the industry with its latest generation of

art directors and copywriters.

’It’s definitely the case that more glamour attaches to above-the-line

advertising at college,’ Gary Fraser, now an art director at Claydon

Heeley and a graduate of the Newcastle Advertising and Design HND,

agrees. ’But actually, I don’t think there is a comparison between above

and below the line in creativity terms. We are not briefed to make a

30-second TV ad, we are briefed to make an idea. The creative process

starts in trying to interpret that brief into a media idea.’

For Fraser, that has meant ideas like the one for Organics shampoo that

involved the installation of open-air showers - and Melinda Messenger to

wash in them - at Vauxhall Cross. While in a controversial campaign for

Sony PlayStation, the mailshot was sent out as a set of ’Medical Test

Results’, with mocked-up X-rays and details of the medical benefits of

playing the games.

’Often the most creative solution is a below-the-line solution, but

people don’t like to admit as much,’ McIlrath says. ’One of the briefs I

gave to students was for a Police campaign to stop pickpockets. The best

idea was to pay light-fingered folk to plant leaflets warning of the

dangers of pickpockets on innocent people in high-risk situations like

tube trains. That’s a great direct idea, but the team responsible had to

be told it was.’



At least one half of the team responsible for some of direct marketing’s

more intriguing creative successes has a straightforward CV. Fraser

completed his HND in Advertising and Design at Newcastle University and

graduated, via work experience placements including live briefs at

Saatchi & Saatchi and GGT, to a first job at the integrated marketing

agency, Co-Axis.

For his copywriting partner, Detsiny - they were both responsible for

the Sony PlayStation ’test result’ campaign - the route into the

industry was far less straightforward.

’I left school knowing I didn’t want to go to college, didn’t want to

live in London, and definitely didn’t want to do what my old man had

done, which was to work in advertising and marketing,’ Detsiny laughs.

’Of course, ten years later and I’ve done all of those.’

In fact, he spent years doing all sorts of odd jobs, ranging from

working as a salesman for Dixons to volunteer charity work before

heading to Brighton University to study Humanities. Eighteen months as

an account handler at the O’Connoll Partnership included a first

copywriting opportunity. This led to a first copywriting job at Triangle

and, finally, in September last year, to Claydon Heeley.

’At college, direct marketing agencies were seen as a sort of poor

relation,’ Fraser says, ’but I really think that is changing. We have to

interpret the brief, not just come up with the TV ad, which is a real

creative freedom.’



Harding’s route into the business was simple enough - it came courtesy

of Preston Art College. Co-incidentally, his partner, Fleming, also took

a traditional route into the business - traditional for copywriters

anyway - in the shape of an English and Philosophy degree at Southampton


In Fleming’s case, there was no burning desire to get into direct

marketing on graduating, just the knowledge he wanted to write. ’I’d

worked on all the student papers and wanted a job as a journalist or in

publishing or as an ad copywriter.’ In the event, he ended up doing six

months’ work experience at Evans Hunt Scott before getting a job as a

publisher at BBC Books. He left there to ghostwrite all 50,000 words of

the latest cook book by the chef, Anton Mossiman, Mossiman’s World.

’It took four months and I had to write the introductions to every world

cuisine and at the same time transform myself into a food snob,’ Fleming


’I stopped getting dinner party invitations but it helped broaden my

portfolio and I got my first job at what was then Option One on the back

of that. There is still a stigma attached to direct marketing but it’s

really only attached by those in above-the-line marketing that want to

keep us in our place. It’s changing simply because direct marketing is

becoming more and more important.’

That’s not to say there isn’t glamour below the line. Harding got to

travel to Arizona and Nevada with Tony Scott’s director son, Luke, to

shoot a ten-minute video for Marlboro’s Most Wanted promotion.


This multi-cultural, multi-talented team at Joshua did not, it has to be

said, have the smoothest of introductions to the ultra-competitive UK

advertising world.

’It doesn’t matter where you have worked overseas when you get to the

UK,’ Geh says, ’agencies, especially above-the-line agencies, still

expect you to have a partner and be prepared to work indefinitely on

work experience at pounds 50 a week - despite the fact that you can’t

live in London on pounds 50 a week.’

Of the two, Bouzakis’s background is the more straightforward. She

acquired a diploma in Advertising Arts and Graphic Design in Cape Town

and from there moved seamlessly into a job at DDB - also in Cape Town -

working above the line on clients such as Opel and Jim Beam. A stint as

a stylist on Woman’s Value followed before she turned to


The offer of a job at what was then arguably South Africa’s most

creative agency, TBWA in Cape Town, helped and a spell working on

clients such as Nando’s and the 2004 Olympic Bid followed. The

subsequent move to England almost brought a promising career to a


’It is really, really tough to persuade anyone to give you a chance

here,’ she admits.

The first to do so was McBain’s, although she worked exclusively on

above-the-line projects there - such as the Cricket World Cup - before

moving to concentrate on below the line for the first time at


For Geh, the struggle was no less intense. Having started out training

to be a lawyer, her first job was in Malaysia at the integrated shop,

Spider, as an account executive. She lasted a month. ’I hated it and was

quite fortunate to get a job at Dentsu as a copywriter.’ She then worked

for Young & Rubicam before heading back to London and the less than

welcoming arms of the ad industry here.

’I had contacts and saw some people but the lack of an art director was

held against me. I finally got this job through a head-hunter.’


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