I was a graduate recruit at Lowe Howard-Spink in 1994. I was one of
two taken on that year from more than 1,000 applicants. I spent five
years at LH-S working on many of their leading clients - Vauxhall,
Tesco, UDV and many more.
In 1999, I got a five-year itch and went for the bigger fish, smaller
pond route. Partners BDDH was a medium-sized agency, strong
strategically, and while it wasn't as organised as LH-S, it did have a
very pleasant feel to it and some decent clients. I went to launch Smile
from The Co-operative Bank as well as running Energis.
On Monday 30 July 2001 I was made redundant. Redundancy hasn't affected
my generation. I'm 32 and since I joined in the mid-90s it's all been
rosy in the advertising garden. The reality was that I was one of the
few to benefit from the recession of the late-80s. Many agencies had
been slow to re-invest in their graduate training schemes and good
account men could progress quickly as there was a dearth of talent. With
the dotcom boom over the past couple of years, there were more jobs than
This is my story of the first ten days of redundancy. Emotions vary
wildly. Fear - many of the top agencies have been laying people off over
the summer, no doubt there will be many good people in my position
looking for a new job. Excitement - it's 30 degrees outside and I can
sunbathe throughout August, play lots of golf, go to the gym, see more
of my 14-month-old baby, and catch up on seven years' worth of lost
sleep. Optimism - I have a great CV, great references and lots of
contacts, I'll walk into another job. Frustration - half the advertising
industry is on holiday in August so even arranging interviews can be a
painfully slow process.
Depression - my redundancy money will run out by November and I have a
wife and child to support. Guilt - my wife has a good job but my pride
says the man is the breadwinner. Loneliness - the only interaction
opportunities available are with OAPs, mothers with kids, and social
Friday 27 July (Three days before the boot)
I received a call from Imogen, PA to BDDH's MD. "Simon (Toaldo) wants to
see you at 9.30 on Monday." "What's it about Imogen, I'll make sure I'm
prepared." Imogen's not sure but hopes I have a great weekend. I am a
bright chap, but in this instance you didn't need to be too bright to
work out the options.
Option one: I run the ATS Euromaster account, reporting directly to the
Simon has had a fairly back-seat role for six months so he may well be
in need of a catch-up. Option one is, therefore, to update Simon on how
successful ATS Euromaster has been for the first six months of this
Option two: The boot. I'm in a vulnerable position and I know it.
Three months ago I had three clients, all of which were fairly
I was about to shoot a film for the Co-op Dairies, a really strong
commercial that had a fighting chance of salvaging a business that has
been in gradual decline for many years. A phone call one Friday
afternoon in June and the budget was pulled. The Co-op Bank is my second
client. They continue to spend small amounts of money on product ads but
investment in the brand remains on hold. As a result of this I spend all
my time as the right-hand man to the marketing director at ATS. Even if
I say so myself I'm doing a great job. It may not be the most glamorous
account in London but they are a progressive client and, more
importantly, the campaign is working. But does this justify my salary?
I've seen the head of account management, explained that I think I'm
underused, and he said I could have the pitch after next. He also
mentioned that I'm not the only account director with spare
I spend the weekend back home visiting family and some friends in the
Midlands with my wife and young son. Life's too short to worry.
Monday 30 July - Boot Day
As usual I drop my son Harry off at nursery at 8.00am. His mother is a
TV group manager at New PHD. She does the evening pick-up at 6.00pm.
Like many other working couples we try to balance home life with family
life, putting in enough hours to give our careers a chance to progress,
while at the same time seeing enough of our child so that when he
finally utters the word "mummy" or "daddy" he actually points to the
I arrive at work at 8.50. I change my voicemail and read my e-mails.
I prepare a short summary on ATS just in case option one is
As I walk in to the first floor meeting room I see Simon and Neil
(Quick, the head of account management and a good friend dating back to
our days at LH-S). It's clear that option one won't be necessary.
Simon explains the situation. Business isn't good. During 2001 BDDH has
lost a couple of clients, others aren't spending as much as had
originally been planned, and despite a couple of wins at the start of
the year, none of the recent new-business potential has been converted.
Havas wants cutbacks.
Simon explains that we were now entering the "consultation period",
which will end on Thursday 2 August at which point, if between us we
can't find me a suitable alternative, my job will be made redundant. We
all know there isn't a suitable alternative - if there was I wouldn't be
sitting opposite them in the first place.
They explain that I'll end up with enough money to last about three
months, all the references I need, and that a career counselling service
will be made available.
I'm a firm believer that advertising agencies are only as good as the
people they employ. I also believe that of the seven account directors
employed I was as good as any. So while I agreed that from a business
point of view redundancies were essential, I disagreed with their
Five minutes later I meet my wife, Harriet, for an emergency coffee.
Working at New PHD has its advantages in that it is ten paces from
This won't be such an advantage in future. My wife is wonderful. Caring,
supportive, reassuring. We both know that this will have pretty serious
It's one of the hottest days of the year, a beautiful day to be made
redundant. I return to the agency trying to avoid too many
conversations, pack my bags and head home. I spend the afternoon calling
headhunters from my garden. Harriet returns and we begin to discuss the
Is it too late to cancel our summer holiday? That would save a few
Harry could spend fewer days at nursery, that would save a couple of
hundred pounds a month.
We work out that if we tighten our belts a little, we shouldn't need to
plunder our savings until around Christmas. I'm sure I'll have a job by
Tuesday 31 July
I take Harry to nursery dressed in civvies. It may be my imagination but
the other dads doing the familiar early morning drop-off seem
At 11.00am I have my first consultation with a headhunter, Gary
I met Gary two years ago when I was leaving LH-S. His office is a flat
in Sloane Gardens. Gary is looking very healthy with an incredible
If I recall correctly, he had a tan when I saw him two years ago. I
suspect he's incredibly rich, and that he spends a lot of time with
other rich people in hot spots throughout Europe.
I take a seat in his living room next to an enormous piano. I'm sure the
piano is worth as much as my house. My mind turns to mortgage
We spend an hour chatting. He thinks my CV is still very strong, and
that two years at BDDH has obviously brought me on. He then tells me
that the market is very flat and there aren't many jobs around
regardless of how good you are. Cue fear, depression, guilt, etc. The
problem is that people are wary of the "recession". As such people are
"sitting tight" feeling that it is safer to stay at an agency where
they're established and have good client relationships . So there isn't
any movement in the marketplace. I leave with Gary saying that he'll
call me when he has a suitable brief.
I pop into the agency to send a few e-mails to people, and write a
couple of application letters. I see a lot of "ex" colleagues while at
the agency. There is a general felling of disbelief.
I think most people rated me highly and couldn't understand why I should
be among the casualties. With one or two others it felt a bit awkward.
Don't stand too close to "redundant boy" - it may be contagious.
In the afternoon I visit Kendall Tarrant, and meet Caroline James, who
again I know from two years ago. She sat in on the consultation but
explained that she handles MDs and above and that Sarah would be looking
I said to Caroline that an MD role would be fine by me. Kendall Tarrant
provides me with more optimism. They have two live briefs at my level
both of which my CV is well equipped for. I return home and collect my
little boy from nursery. I now do both ends of the day.
Wednesday 1 August
I get up and take Harry to nursery. I'm determined to carry on as normal
so he's dropped off at 8.00am. "I've lost my job," I tell the head of
the nursery, followed by a brief explanation that she has no interest
in, but that made me feel better. What does she care about head counts,
staff costs, and capacity levels? Plenty if it was nursery-related, none
if it related to the distant world of adland.
I meet with Sue at Nabs. I'm after a second opinion on my contract and
rights, and want to find out more about their careers counselling
service. They offer me fantastic reassurance and support.
I spend the remainder of the day making calls to ex-colleagues at other
agencies to see if anything was about. I also informed a few mates that
I'd lost my job. They said that despite the fact that I was such a loser
I was still invited to my mate Fezza's birthday golf day.
Thursday 2 August - Redundancy Day
Redundancy day starts with familiar routine. Drop off Harry, read paper,
have coffee and toast.
I pop into the agency to sign the necessary paperwork and pick up the
cheque. Things aren't quite ready so I go to lunch. I've been invited
out by MBS media and ATS, my now "old" client.
We have a very nice time tinged with a little sadness. It has all
happened pretty quickly. No long goodbyes in the redundancy game. You're
told on a Monday, all life ends on a Thursday. It also dawns on me that
this is the last of the free lunches. Those who know me know that I'm
not a big luncher, but it is nice to have the option all the same.
People in adland take a lot for granted. After lunch I go back to BDDH,
sign a few papers, pick up my cheque, shake a few hands. Simon gives me
the name of a client who is looking for good people and says I should
get in touch. Then I leave. And there ends my career at BDDH.
I return home via the nursery. I pick up Harry and walk the ten minutes
to my front door. The sunny 90-degree weather of Monday has become a
chilly downpour by 5.30pm on Thursday. Harry is under his waterproof
cover, I drown and my redundancy cheque nearly drowns with me.
Friday 3 August
Unemployed. Suddenly I'm not feeling quite as liberated as I had
The sun has gone in. Daytime TV is driving me mad after only a couple of
hours. My only source of social interaction is meeting up with the
toddlers' group in the park with Harry. Needless to say there aren't
many other blokes around.
Saturday 4 August / Sunday 5 August
Fezza's birthday and we play golf. I don't see as much of my old friends
as I should, but with work and a young family it isn't all that
Normally we'd go to the gym over the weekend, but a bomb in Ealing means
the place is closed.
Monday 6 August
I hear some good news from Kendall Tarrant. I have my first interview
scheduled for 15 August. This seems a long way off to me, but people in
advertising are very busy; people who have just been made redundant
Tuesday 7 August
I fix up meetings with another headhunter HSR, my pensions adviser, and
a careers counsellor provided by BDDH. I spend the rest of the day
watching re-runs of Golf Skills Challenge, which I've now seen four
times, tidying the house, and gambling on slow horses at my local
bookmakers. I also get the local estate agent to value the house just in
case we get into real difficulties. The good news is that it's worth
£30,000 more than we thought.
I decide to visit the local dole office. I can't imagine I'm entitled to
anything but it's worth a go. The place is full of misfits, the majority
of whom work there. I'm asked to register and wait an hour and 15
minutes to be seen.
During this time I watch as various members of staff leave their work
stations, armed with copies of The Sun, fags, a can of Tango, and head
off "to the 4th floor" where I assume the staff room is housed. It is
the most inefficient place I've ever seen. They manage to see a total of
five people in the 75 minutes that I wait. While I'm waiting a fellow
claimant harasses me for 5p. I've never been harassed for a sum so
small, but I guess he must have felt sorry for me, as I am on the dole
After 75 minutes I finally get to meet a member of staff who spends 30
seconds inputting my name and address and says an appointment has now
been made for the following day at 2.45 to see an advisor. I've waited
one hour, 15 minutes just to make an appointment!
Wednesday 8 August
Meet with HSR. I think HRS and Kendall Tarrant provide my main
They seem to know more people, and what few briefs are out there seem to
go to one of these two.
The afternoon is spent at the dole office. The second session is less
painful, only 45 minutes. I could be entitled to £54 a week.
That'll help keep Harry in nappies and milk.
Thursday 9 August
Things are slowing down and boredom is starting to become a factor. The
first ten days have been all about meeting headhunters and talking to
ex-colleagues and writing speculative letters to companies on my list of
targets. I now have to sit and wait, and waiting isn't the most exciting
occupation. So I visit the gym and back some more slow race horses.
It is now three weeks since "redundancy day" and I have to admit that
I've learned a lot. Firstly, although August is likely to be a sunny
month with lots of Test cricket, golfing opportunities and festivals,
it's also the month when adland goes on holiday. So if you're going to
be made redundant, choose a different month.
Secondly, my advice would be to stay positive. Even in a flat
marketplace such as the current one I've already lined up a couple of
really good possibilities.
Thirdly, view redundancy as an opportunity. You'll have some money and,
therefore, some time to explore different avenues. You can talk to
different agencies that you may have never considered and you can
prepare in far greater detail for any interviews.
Finally, don't take your job in advertising for granted. You'll miss
your salary, the free breakfasts and long lunches, the subsidised bar
and the company car.
But if you're anything like me, there is only one thing that you'll
really miss: the buzz you get from being an adman.
- Next week ... Chris Powell, the chairman of BMP DDB, puts this
recession in the context of the last four.