Jeremy Bullmore remembers Stephen King: godfather of strategy

Stephen King died exactly a week ago. And 92.76 per cent of those he entertained, illuminated and inspired won't even know who he was. The other 7.34 per cent have lost an irreplaceable friend and mentor.

Stephen loved mocking the spurious use of absurdly precise statistics.

I hope he enjoys these. They are certainly spurious but they contain a truth.

He was a Greats graduate - he knew the classics and forever obeyed their disciplines. After Oxford, he joined Mond Nickel, before deciding he wanted to be part of advertising. In 1957, he joined J. Walter Thompson.

Between then and the end of 1988, when he retired, this is a fraction of what he did.

He turned proposition theory on its head. He invented and propagated an extremely simple, utterly workable way of setting advertising strategy so it liberated rather than restricted creative thought.

Concurrently and coincidentally, he and Stanley Pollitt of BMP identified the need for a new, specialist agency role, that of account planner; and he formed and led the world's equal first account planning department.

He was a brilliant account planner himself, and earned the awed respect of clients such as Guinness, TSB, Kellogg and Bowater Scott. When RHM asked JWT how they might make more money from flour (to cut a long story short) he led the team that invented Mr Kipling. He wrote and published an excellent book, Developing New Brands, and more than 40 articles, including the prescient, timeless What is a Brand?. His papers, intellectually rigorous and models of clarity, were regular award winners.

He never showed off, never used jargon (unless to parody it) and could spot - with gusts of contagious delight - bullshit at a hundred paces.

His influence can be detected throughout the world but goes largely unattributed.

Only that fortunate 7.34 per cent of us know just what the man achieved and how much we owe him.

The collected wisdom of Stephen King already exists - but not in one piece. If no-one steps forward to perform the task of publishing the Stephen King Collection, it will be the ultimate proof that ours is a truly trivial trade.

Topics