A view from Dave Trott: I never picked up a needle
A view from Dave Trott

I never picked up a needle

The Embroiderers' Guild is pretty much what it sounds like.

A 115-year-old charity with 175 local branches and around 5,000 members, mainly ladies between 50 and 80 years old, who love to do embroidery.

They like to meet up to chat about embroidery, have a cup of tea, raise money with community events, teach youngsters.

But in 2010, the trustees of the guild wanted a more dynamic presence to modernise it. 

They were taken with the CV of Terry Murphy.

He’d been a salesman at Procter & Gamble, Bostik Adhesives and Hillsdown Holdings.

His CV was full of marketing jargon that sounds impressive but tells you nothing.

He describes himself like this:

“In the latter part of his ‘employment’ career he specialised in corporate turnarounds.

"In recent years he has specialised in change and transformation, bringing a number of organisations back from the brink. He is also the developer and publisher of the Achievement Network Profiling and Development toolset. To complement ‘Achievement’ suites of individual and business development tools he co-authored the ‘Competitive Strength Report’ – which enables management teams and boards to gain fast, cost-effective and unique insights into their potential and to deliver outstanding business results and ‘exceed the expectations’ of all stakeholders and customers.”

Now those of us in advertising might recognise that as the usual waffle, but the trustees were persuaded by, “specialised in corporate turnarounds” and “bringing a number of organisations back from the brink”.

The language did its job, they hired Murphy as a consultant at £9,500 per month.

The money sounded steep but do-able if he generated new income.  

But when Murphy’s first invoices came in, they were £119,852 for the first year.

Some of the guild’s historic embroidery collection had to be sold to cover the debt.

Murphy was then made CEO and hired a relative in a financial position.

The chairman, Pauline Hannon, tried to raise questions, she was removed.

A committee advisor, Clare Jady, tried to question it, she was constantly blocked.

Gill Roberts, a member for 33 years, said the tone was “patronising, almost misogynistic”.

Meanwhile, none of the members of the 175 branches were consulted about any of this.

Murphy didn’t solve the guild’s financial problems and, after 10 years when the guild had run out of money, Murphy resigned.

In his resignation letter he proudly boasted that he had, “Never picked up a needle”.

It was decided the only way to solve the guild’s financial problems was to close the 175 branches that were home to the 5,000 members.

So all the local branches will now be shutting down.

I was wondering if we can think of any other examples where the people running an organisation had never made what it actually produces.

I know David Ogilvy used to make ads, I know Bill Bernbach used to make ads, I know David Abbott used to make ads, I know Charles Saatchi used to make ads, I know Mary Wells used to make ads, I know John Hegarty used to make ads, I know Leo Burnett used to make ads, I know it was quite common for people who ran ad agencies to make ads. 

Does anyone know of any ads actually done by the people who are running the biggest advertising conglomerates around today?

Personally, I can’t think of any.

As Bob Hoffman wrote: “Marketing is the profession in which people who have never sold anything explain to people who spend every day selling things how to sell things.” 

In other words, people who are proud they never picked up a needle.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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