Harrow-on-the-Hill on a wet and wild autumn afternoon. I slip away
from the desolate high street and duck inside McDonald’s to get
Over a coffee and a box of chicken McNuggets, I try to make myself
word-perfect for the bunch of journalism students who are about to get
the dubious benefit of my wisdom.
Unaccustomed as I am to this kind of thing, I feel as if the Honey
Monster is jiving across my stomach. In the college foyer, as I await
the summons, I flick through the prospectus. There’s a course on public
speaking for beginners. I wonder if it’s worth asking if I could do a
crash session now.
Too late. Minutes later I’m facing 16 of them across the table and
wondering if my nerve will hold. I’m about to tell them that entering
journalism - unless they should be fortunate enough to work for Campaign
- will be the worst career choice they’ll make.
It’s over-demanding, exploitative and will rob you of whatever
self-confidence you have, I plan to say. The hours can be long and the
working environment lousy. Oh, yes, and the pay stinks.
A few minutes into my spiel and I’m feeling uneasy. I crack a joke.
Nobody laughs. I’m beginning to realise how English comics felt when
playing the Glasgow Empire. My discomfort isn’t helped by the Lemmy
lookalike to my left.
Brawny tattooed arms, pigtailed and decked out in heavy metal regalia,
he looks as if he can’t wait to put the boot in. When his question
comes, it is like being run over by a Harley-Davidson. Has working for
Campaign improved my humanitarianism?
Pardon? I’m left desperately searching for an answer that won’t sound
glib or crass. Luckily, the course co-ordinator, a former Campaign
features editor and long-time friend, picks up on my silent SOS and
defends me with a feisty response. I could kiss her.
Lemmy tells me afterwards that he likes to slip this one in to the
celebrity interviews he’s been doing. Gets ’em every time, he grins.
I’m asked by a young woman student if I’ve ever done anything to be
ashamed of in getting a story for Campaign. I tell her no and hope I’m
Copies of Campaign’s 30th birthday issue are passed around and provoke
much interest, particularly our poll suggesting that more than half of
all TV viewers zap channels to avoid commercial breaks. This is seized
upon as evidence that advertising is fast losing its appeal, a situation
which some of these aspiring scribes appear to welcome.
I explain that advertising isn’t on the wane, simply that it’s in a
period of transition as advertisers learn how to reach the audiences
being fragmented by a media explosion.
One of the group’s older students is unimpressed. He’s never been
influenced by a piece of advertising in his life, he asserts. I tell him
advertising is more than big-budget TV commercials and poster campaigns;
that it takes a multitude of forms.
He isn’t convinced. I don’t ask him if he knows where the money to fund
his hoped-for career is going to come from if advertising doesn’t
sustain its persuasive powers.
Idealistic, sceptical and sometimes downright cynical. These are the
people who may be reporting on this industry when I’m drawing my
You’ve been warned.