CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/THE MEDIA DRINKING CULTURE; Has the media sales industry decided to dry out?

And can it survive without liquid stimulus? Richard Cook on the new sobriety

And can it survive without liquid stimulus? Richard Cook on the new


Remember Jack Lemmon in his cups paddling around on all fours in Days of

Wine and Roses? He was playing an adman. And he was just the most

obvious example of that classic film caricature - the soused media type

- even the urbane Cary Grant had to play a Martini-loving master of

Madison Avenue in North by Northwest.

Hollywood has never been slow to shine a spotlight on what we already

know - that people working in advertising have always been prone to

oiling the wheels with a drink or two. And what with this being a

sociable business and all, this drink or two has sometimes become three

or four or more.

The issue was highlighted when Peter Baker, a pounds 40,000-a-year TV

sales executive, began a High Court fight for the NBC job offer he lost

after failing a medical, expressly because of his drinking habits.

Drinking habits, moreover, that seemed to most neutral observers very

modest indeed - one bottle of wine split between lunch and dinner at the

Monte Carlo TV Festival. So little?

This is the home, after all, of the advertising lunch. In the 80s, staff

would be forced to get to their desks early and get their work done

before 1pm as a swift meal could last right through until seven or eight

in the evening. In the less genteel world of the poster contractor, it

could last several days.

Advertising is, after all, the home of the Fat Boys club, a motley

collection of some of the industry’s literal and figurative

heavyweights, who tip the scales at an average 16 stones and have been

known to accompany their multi-course feasts with something a little

stronger than mineral water.

So has advertising become more staid and sober? Certainly the evidence

seems to indicate that it has. Some facts cannot be denied. Express

Newspapers has closed down its in-house bar, for example, although a

spokeswoman reassures that staff are still allowed to drink alcohol,

just not in the building. The penalties for drunkenness, she insists,

remain the same as they ever have been.

And it’s pretty much the same story throughout what used to be Fleet

Street. ‘It’s true that there used to be a culture here which favoured

the wearing of green eye-shades and drinking scotch as the way that

newspaper people should behave,’ the Mirror Group sales director, Mark

Pritchett, explains. ‘But things have changed an awful lot since then.

The world is a more competitive place.’

IPC Magazines also has a ban on booze in the building except for

entertaining business clients. Oh, and at Christmas, staff are allowed a

glass of wine with their lunch.

Ask NABS, and the response is similarly sober. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised

to find out that drink-related problems were something that involved

NABS a few years ago,’ says its director, Helen Tridgell, ‘but it isn’t

something that features in our welfare cases today. There isn’t the

pressure to drink put upon the young people coming into the business.’

In fact, what pressure there is comes from the temperance lobby. The US

company, TDI, struck at the heart of the sociable culture of the UK

poster industry when it took over the Underground advertising

concessions from London Transport Advertising. It operates a strict non-

drinking policy.

‘When we came into the market in 1994 our stance was viewed as unusual,’

explains TDI’s managing director, Jeremy Male, ‘and it’s true that the

currency was a pint rather than audience delivery. But it seems much

less out of place now. We just make sure we host a lot of evening


Perhaps the ebullient world of TV sales can still hold its booze. Surely

those terrifying creatures who can calculate ten off station average

price in the time it takes to down a pint haven’t thrown in the towel?

Er, afraid so, at least if Laser’s managing director, Mick Desmond, is

to be believed.

‘I remember when I came into the business wondering at the sheer amount

all the sales directors seemed to drink, but I think drinking during the

day, especially, is a thing of the 80s. Lunches tend to be a lot more

businesslike. But it’s hardly surprising when you see how far the

business has grown and you realise how much money you are dealing with.’

But, as the festive season approaches, this sort of resolve is likely to

come up against some stern tests. ‘The fashionable line is that people

are more sensible and don’t drink as much now,’ says the Daily Mail’s

managing director, Guy Zitter, with a smile in his voice. ‘But that’s

rubbish, or else they’re all on drugs. Certainly most of the people

around here seem to be on something. And look what happens when you get

rid of the bar in the building: you end up as the Express.’

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