The route to the advertising boardroom rarely used to be a straight
one. Young boys and girls of yesteryear dreamt of being astronauts or
nurses but it was an odd youth who harboured desires to be an account
director or media buyer.
And while starting in the postroom may have been a common path into
advertising a few decades ago, this was more likely to have been a happy
accident than the result of a burning ambition to become the world's
best copywriter or suit.
The fact is that many fell into the business by the most unlikely of
means and even those who have come to epitomise the industry often
arrived by a circuitous route.
Take David Ogilvy. After sweating out an early career in Parisian
restaurant kitchens, he took a job selling Agas to British chefs. So
proficient was he in this role that the company commissioned him to
write a manual for the enlightenment of the other salesmen. Ogilvy sent
a copy to his brother who was working at Mather & Crowther, a London
advertising agency. Suitably impressed by the manual's sentiments, they
offered him a job. The rest is advertising history.
Ogilvy's meandering route, though, is a rare tale these days. With
advertising now well established on university syllabuses and more
widely understood as a profession, getting into the business is more of
a conscious career decision than a twist of fortune.
But that doesn't mean many of today's agency chiefs don't harbour
fantasies of what might have been if they'd followed their heart rather
than the advertising career ladder straight from college.
And in a business where you're over the hill if you haven't made it by
40, it's hardly surprising that most of the industry's success stories
have little other than ad jobs on their CV - which might just mean that
frustrated dreams of an alternative career nag a little sharper.
JOHN HEGARTY, chairman and global creative director, Bartle Bogle
"I would love to have played at Wimbledon but although I'm passionate
about tennis, I'm certainly not gifted. At one time I was going to be a
painter and quite liked the idea of being a journalist because deadlines
have always been a part of my life. Advertising has its deadlines too
but we're not subject to the same pressures. Journalists have to make
sure the story happens today because it will be dead tomorrow.
Architecture also has its attractions. Architects are the most
under-appreciated and underpaid people in the world. We enjoy their work
all the time yet we value them so badly."
COLIN GOTTLIEB, chief executive, OMD Europe:
"Truthfully because I was brought up in the advertising business, my
father owned a small agency, I was always going to go into the business.
Coming through school, I could have gone to university but joined an
agency after my A-Levels.
The only other thing as a kid that interested me was motorsport. As a
kid, from making small models to working for a very small racing team, I
would have loved to be a driver. Now I belong to an informal racing club
where you can race cars so there is still the element of sad fantasy. I
still get a tremendous buzz from this. I think being a Formula 1 team
owner would be great."
MICHAEL FINN, chief executive, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters:
"I think I would play centre-forward for Ireland. But I guess a more
realistic career to pursue would be politics. Having my hands on the
reins of power would be great. I'd be catapulted into the Lords, and
have all my agendas lobbied for me by minions. Brilliant."
ADRIAN HOLMES, chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas & Partners:
"I trained as a photographer. I was in a dark room listening to Capital
Radio for some company and I was appalled at how bad radio advertising
was. So I said: 'I could do better than that.' If I hadn't had that
revelation in the dark room, then perhaps architecture or design."
RUPERT HOWELL, joint chief executive, Chime: "I'd be a journalist.
Journalism is the most powerful job in the world, advertising is the
second. I'd particularly like to put myself forward for Ian Woldridge's
job at the Daily Mail when he retires. I think travelling the world
covering the top sporting events would be heaven. And I've got some
money squirreled away, so I wouldn't worry about the salary cut."
DAVID KERSHAW, founding partner, M&C Saatchi:
"For me, advertising won out over art. I'd seriously considered being a
clarinettist. I started playing aged seven at Beedales, joined the
Kensington Symphony Orchestra and had the chance to study at the Royal
College of Music. I turned it down because I knew I was never going to
be the Patrick Vieira of clarinet playing and would probably never
amount to more than second clarinet in an orchestra. I still play from
time to time at a client's Gilbert & Sullivan evening and, more
recently, at the 50th birthday party for Bill Muirhead (another M&C
Saatchi founder). Accompanied by Bill's mother-in-law on the piano, we
played a medley of Verdi and Puccini. Sadly, the result isn't on
CILLA SNOWBALL, managing director, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO:
"I would probably have gone to run a restaurant in France, preferably
somewhere by the sea. I did a French degree and ended up living in
France for a period. I loved the food so much I put on two stone in
weight. I still fancy myself as a seafood chef and I still cook a lot at
home. Am I any good? Ask my family and my dinner guests. I've certainly
had no complaints."
PAUL SIMONS, chairman and chief executive, Ogilvy & Mather:
"I'd have been a guitar player. In fact, that's still my preferred
career choice! For me it was a big crunch decision to walk away from it.
Who knows where I'd be now if I had stuck with it? Some sad old bugger,
probably. My band, The Chances Are, toured with - among others - The
Small Faces in the 60s. But when I saw Eric Clapton play live, I knew I
would never make a great guitarist and decided to pack it in and go the
ROSS BARR, joint managing director, BMP DDB:
"I remember at the age of 12 deciding I wanted to be a taxidermist. I
even went to the extent of meeting the chief stuffer at a museum in
Glasgow, who said I had to find some road-killed animals to practice on.
But my mother wouldn't let me keep them in the fridge."
CHRIS INGRAM, chairman, Tempus:
"I didn't want to be in media, I wanted to run the mile for England when
I was a teenager. I was so mad about running that, when Athletics Weekly
arrived on a Friday, I would read every word, including reading it in
the office if I could get away with it, before I did any work.
"Most people thought I was at a disadvantage by starting life as a
messenger boy. I didn't really see it that way because I could literally
run the errands down to Fleet Street, keep fit and occasionally top up
my weekly pay of £4-10 shillings a week by charging a taxi fare
for a really urgent job. I was bitterly disappointed when I reached a
plateau at the age of 21 and my running times ceased improving
significantly. So I had to settle for a job in media."
STEVE HENRY, executive creative director, HHCL & Partners:
"I think I would have been a full-time writer. Film scripts particularly
appeal, especially comedy ones. I'm a big fan of Richard Curtis."
ANDREW CRACKNELL, executive creative director, Bates UK:
"I would have been a journalist. BBC TV foreign correspondents such as
Brian Barron, Martin Bell and Charles Wheeler were my role models. You
know the kind of thing: 'This is Andrew Cracknell, News at Ten, dodging
the bullets in Tel Aviv.' Had it not been for a mix-up when I left
school at 15, I would have had a job as a junior reporter on the
Rochester Chatham and Gillingham Express. I did a short stint as a
journalist with a south London press agency but ended up as a copywriter
instead. Would I have been any good as a journalist? I think so. I
certainly enjoyed it."
JOHN PERRISS, chairman, Zenith Worldwide:
"If you'd asked when I was 15, I probably would have said a 'rock and
roll' star. But by the time I'd reached 18, I realised that I wasn't any
good at the guitar and couldn't sing at all. I would have liked to be a
senior politician, and to be prime minister would be a dream. I always
talked a lot when I was at school and I remember the form master telling
me: 'Perriss, you always have a reply for everything; when you grow up
you should be a politician.' To which I replied: 'Well, I am considering
it sir.' And I meant it."