My love has always been for the people and the work
A view from Claire Beale

My love has always been for the people and the work

After two decades, it's time for me to bid farewell to Campaign

I’ve been writing columns for Campaign for over 20 years. This is my final one; my role as Campaign’s global editor-in-chief was made redundant in the summer so I’m signing-off.

Two decades, and what a ride: a vein-pulsing, heart-swelling, frustrating, dirty rush of a ride. A relentless privilege. I’ve loved it. 

I have hated a few things: the newspaper sales chief who threatened to break my legs, the recruitment company boss who menacingly told me they were going to kill my career (15 years ago), the CEO who tried to bring down Campaign because of something we published on our diary page, the agency chief who broke into my conference hotel room in the middle of the night while I was asleep and tried to get into my bed, countless bullying legal threats when we wrote about things people would rather keep hidden (a newspaper editor reassured me: you can measure a good editor by the number of legal letters they receive). 

Before I started writing this column I was planning a blowsy romp across 20 years of advertising news through the tint of my personal lens. But, honestly, now I’m here I realise most of it really doesn’t matter any more.

Yes I will always remember the covert phone call to our beautiful old stucco-fronted office in Lancaster Gate to tell us Maurice and Charles Saatchi had quit their eponymous agency; the devilish joy of the Garry Lace email mystery (still an unsolved crime); the Darwinian drama of Martin Sorrell’s audacious $5.7bn swoop on Young & Rubicam; the dreadful Saturday night call to tell me that David Abbott had died; the birth of Fallon, of Mother, of Naked, Adam & Eve, the demise of HHCL, of BMP, Yellowhammer, Bates. But the big things get smaller through the telescope of time. Who now remembers Cordiant, BCom3, Tempus? Who cares? And the editor of Campaign in 2040 will be saying the same about some companies that seem indomitable today.

My love has always been for the people and the work. I will always remember sitting in Lowe’s office holding my breath watching Stella’s skating priests for the first time; the shivery first look at PlayStation’s “Double life”; the what-the-fuck sneak preview of Cadbury’s drumming “Gorilla”; wow, the joy of Nike’s “Parklife”… but not as much joy as sitting with Juan Cabral to watch Sony “Balls” for the first time… then the thrill of another brilliant Orange Wednesdays film (Rob Lowe!)… and oh god, “Getting dressed” for Lynx… but also Levi’s “Creek”…: dizzy legs, clammy hands, beating-pulse flush – I fell in love every time. I still do.

But I have no passion for looking back. None. The past is just muscle to push ahead with. And there’s no better time to be pushing ahead. It’s delicious.

I don’t buy into the narrative that Covid will change everything forever. But 2020 is a significant turning point. Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, political upheaval, economic crisis, environmentalism: lines are drawn in the sand. It’s time to ask whether you want to anchor in the antediluvian world: belt pulled tighter, managing decline, wishing things were as they used to be. Or surge into the new world, using upheaval to fundamentally reframe your business and your career.

Of course, some people – me included – have no choice but to reframe. But that’s fully enlivening, it grits the jaw for the challenge. All of the best CEOs and CMOs I’ve conferred with in the past few weeks are flexed for an evolutionary leap, skipping years of slow change and making bold bets on a new future. For anyone else who has found themselves out of a job, this is our moment to do the same. 

I could never imagine deciding to leave Campaign; I loved my job too much. But I also worried about that. I could see how the next decade might stretch out. Now I have no idea. And that’s exhilarating in a way I never imagined. Of course, I’m two-thirds of the way through my mortgage, my kids are teenagers, I have a profile and reputation that I know makes my future much more secure; plenty of people being made redundant in our industry will have many more things to worry about. But as the industry re-engineers, talent will always win and anyway a flexible, more freelance workforce will be a bedrock of recovery. 

For me, I will continue championing excellence and celebrating brilliant creativity, though bluntly I’m hungry for more of it and everyone should be feeling that urgency. I want to help ensure the work that agencies do is valued in the C-suite and by talented kids who don’t even know – yet – that a job in advertising could be possible for them. I want to do something that gives back to the industry and I think the time is right for a new wave of businesses with a philanthropic thread woven into their core; I want to support new talent that’s different from the old. I want to make more money. I want to make mischief, have fun. 

A former Campaign editor once warned me “never forget that your ad industry friends are friends of Campaign, not necessarily of Claire”. Sound advice, and I’ve tried, but the last few weeks have underlined how lucky I’ve been to work in a community of so many really decent, committed, generous people, hugely talented, big-hearted and fun. It’s been an enormous privilege to work with you, learn from you and enjoy some mischief with you. I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by the torrent of emails, texts and calls of support and thanks I’ve had since my departure was announced; I’m still working my way through my replies. I do feel like I’ve been living through my own obituary for the last few weeks – it’s been emotional. 

Finally, the very, very best thing about any job is the people you get to hang out with every day. In all my years at Campaign I have been so happy to work with so many truly brilliant, funny, dedicated people… too many to name but I am so proud of and grateful to all of the teammates who have helped me through the journey and have given me their friendship, not just their talent. We have shared something special. Best of all, we’ve had a bucket of fun. Thank you.

Claire Beale is the former global editor-in-chief at Campaign

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