Close-up: Newsmaker - Adland's last creative rebel wins D&AD's accolade

Dave Trott has waited a long time for a D&AD President's Award, Claire Billings writes. Dave Trott used to be famous. He was famous for his creative genius. And he was famous for his fiery temper. Today, though, he's in a particularly good mood. His creative genius has just been acknowledged by the President's Award at D&AD, bestowed by J. Walter Thompson's creative director, Nick Bell.

The award recognises people who have made a significant contribution to advertising. Since Trott's highest-profile work appeared more than 15 years ago, it's been a long time coming.

Trott has spent the past eight years at the rather undistinguished Walsh Trott Chick Smith, where his creative spark has simmered rather than blazed.

But ask any student of advertising from the past 20 years and Trott's name still shines like a beacon for great work.

Trott built his reputation as a ground-breaking, yet temperamental, creative in the 80s, bringing a style of advertising he'd learned in New York back to his home town of London. After a few years at BMP, working with his mentor, John Webster, he co-founded Gold Greenlees Trott, where he developed his own unique style of straight-talking advertising, for which he is still famous. Trott's ads, from "'Ello Tosh, got a Toshiba?", "Ariston and on and on" to Holsten Pils, entertained consumers, helped sell the products and earned themselves a place in the advertising history books.

But having his name catapulted back into the spotlight after almost a decade of relative obscurity reminds Trott that his glory days are a distant memory.

"If this was just about the work I've written, then maybe you could say it would have been better ten or 15 years ago when I was doing more famous work and winning more awards," he admits.

To many, though, including Bell, Trott more than deserves the accolade.

It rectifies an omission from the list of D&AD award recipients, which includes many of his adland contemporaries such as John Hegarty, David Abbott and Webster, for services to adland.

"The award is not valedictory," Bell explains. Instead, he argues that Trott's contribution to UK advertising continues to resonate throughout the industry.

"People of my generation who are trying to do stand-out work learned a lot from his principles. There are an awful lot of creative directors in London who have been influenced by him," he says.

"He's one of my heroes," Simon Clemmow, a managing partner of Clemmow Hornby Inge, says.

Clemmow, who worked with Trott at GGT, believes his hero changed UK advertising.

"He taught me how to think about advertising," he says. "He grinds it out until you get to the essence of the issue, to get rid of any fluffy thinking or split propositions."

Like Trott's creative reputation and volatile temperament, the culture he fostered at GGT is renowned. He nurtured juniors and pushed his creatives, forcing them to succeed. That entrepreneurial culture spawned a string of the hottest shops in London. Clemmow; Steve Henry and Axel Chaldecot of HHCL; Paul Grubb and Dave Waters of DFGW: all are products of the Dave Trott school of advertising. Without him, it is arguable whether this wave of agencies would exist.

So, even though Trott seems to have been hiding in the creative department of his own small agency, the sparkle of his legacy has been fizzing away in Lon-don's top creative departments for years.

Inevitably, however, the small scale of WTCS (its billings were just £17.86 million in 2003 after eight years) and absence of famous creative work has done nothing to scotch talk that he is past it and has lost interest in the business.

Trott disagrees, wheeling out a number of examples as evidence that he's still full of clever ideas, including one for former client, the broadcaster five. It was a response to a promise made by the then manager of Newcastle United, Ruud Gullit, to bring "sexy football" to the club. He created a press ad that ran in The Sun's sports pages, featuring the footballer David Batty in stockings, suspenders and shiny high heels. The Sun devoted a centre-page spread to the ad, dressing up other footballers in similar gear.

Trott uses examples of small- budget ads for clients such as Silver Spoon, featuring two ants discussing whether the sweetener Nothing Comes Closer to Sugar is sugar or not, as proof that he's still churning out the goods.

"I love it when you don't just buy something but you generate interest in it yourself. That's the real rush," he says, while conceding that sometimes his ideas are unconventional, and that ants on a dinner table talking about sugar could be seen as unhygienic.

"You've got to have clients that want that type of ad," he explains. "Clients have less of a problem with big number productions and a safe script, but you don't need money to be clever."

There are, in these ads, elements of the work he produced in his heyday, including Lurpak's "Spread a little creaminess" and Tate & Lyle syrup's two spoons singing Spike Milligan's Sticky Song. And whether or not his recent work is as prominent, Trott has remained the eternal creative director, continuing to push young talent within his creative department and giving teams at all levels a crack at each brief.

Trott has no ambition beyond being a creative director and running the department. He says: "I'm not like David Abbott and others who go to see clients. I'm purely a creative director. I'll pitch, but I don't pick up the phone. If you can fault me for anything, it's that I don't do that. Maybe today you need to do more of that."

He enjoys working in a creative atmosphere and likens it to art school but, at the same time, accepts that his agency needs to grow. "We need more new business and to do more new work," he says. "But I'm sure that's true for every agency in town."

His attitude to new business is likely to have helped stunt the agency's growth. His reluctance to get involved with clients has certainly contributed to the breakdown of many of his relationships with suits, from Mike Greenlees to Amanda Walsh.

But his determination to remain a creative director is also likely to have won him more admiration from his disciples. "I've always been an outsider. I get on better with those who are rebels and rejects," he says.

And, at 57, he still has the passion and attitude of a conscientious teenager. His interests remain varied and include: Buddhism; Erhard Seminars Training, now known as Forum, and campaigning against Third World debt.

He describes Forum as an awareness programme that has enabled him to make peace with people he has fallen out with, such as Greenlees.

Different views persist as to why Trott has remained out of the spotlight for so long. One source believes he's scared of moving on and is hiding in his creative department, while others believe his style of advertising is no longer relevant in the UK, where big clients want ads that work on a pan-European or global basis.

But far from being ready to throw in the towel, Trott says he would like more of a challenge: "I'd like to remain a creative director, but on a bigger scale." Masterminding a way of making this happen at his agency without letting his principles slide could be his greatest creative challenge yet.


Age: 57

Lives: Hampstead

Family: Wife Cathy, daughter Jade and son Lee

Favourite ad: Third World debt "toilet"

Describe yourself in three words: Difficult, inquisitive, different

Greatest extravagance: My house

Most treasured possession: After my family? My house

Most admired agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Living person you most admire: Rupert Murdoch

One to watch: Mark Holden (PHD)

Motto: The wise man knows he doesn't know. The fool doesn't know he

doesn't know (Lao Tze)