Out to Lunch with David Emin and Camilla Harrisson

Out to Lunch with David Emin is back, with guest Camilla Harrisson, chief executive of Anomaly.

David Emin and Camilla Harrisson
David Emin and Camilla Harrisson

This occasional feature sees David join an ad industry luminary for lunch, which on this occasion is at The Club at The Ivy restaurant, one of London media land’s favourite spots.

The lunch begins with a Starter for 10, where the guest is given 10 or so questions to answer.

Then we move onto the Main Course and discuss the guest’s current role and company in a little more depth.

We finish on Dessert, where we look into the future.

The guest gets to choose a whine (or a whinge) and leave a tip (for someone new starting in the business).

When David isn’t writing for Campaign, the former Trinity Mirror and News International executive is managing partner of creative agency Beaumont, Emin & Reedy.

Camilla is chief executive of Anomaly where she has worked since 2014. She has previously been chief executive of M&C Saatchi in London and president of Wacl.

Our Starter for Ten

David: Who is Ann O’Mally and how come she has her name above the door yet doesn’t seem to work there?

Camilla: We are called Anomaly because there is widespread recognition that the traditional agency model is broken and is becoming less and less effective. In order to succeed we wanted to create something that was literally an anomaly, something that deviates from the norm.

She left then?

No, but if she would like to send in her CV, we will definitely interview her. I can picture her business cards now. So good we named her twice.

What’s the biggest anomaly in your life outside work?

People are surprised because they think I have a plan outside of work but I don’t. That’s the anomaly. Luckily, in work I have a great plan.

So in work, you are very methodical, structured and organised, but at home you are very messy and unstructured?

No. I have a very tidy house and am borderline OCD.

How did you get into advertising?

By mistake, obviously. I did work experience with my cousin for a really posh PR company. We did no work. We had to cut things out of newspapers and put them in a scrapbook for press cuttings and everyone said, "You’re, like, really talented at PR."

So I went to my mum and dad and told them that I wasn’t going to go to university but go to work in PR as I was "really talented", apparently.

When I did the internship my boss drove me around in an Aston Martin, I met Paloma Picasso, drank champagne at various receptions and basically did no work. So thought that this was the life for me.

So I then put an ad in PRWeek advertising myself.

Advertising yourself?

Yes. Back when PRWeek had loads of classified ads, my ad ran between all the ads for photocopiers for sale. It said: "Girl Friday wants to work in PR." In fact, it ran directly beneath an ad for a photocopier.

Did you get any response?

About 15 replies. Some weirdos, some good replies and one asking if I did photocopier repairs.

From one of the responses I took a job in a tiny company PR company, which was run by a chap that had a massive combover he hair-sprayed every day before he went down to the pub, leaving me alone in the office with his secretary, who was obsessed with electric blue and had a cork-screw perm.

I basically did everything apart from the secretarial work and pretty much ran the business.

Who were your clients?

When I did my work experience, our clients were Tiffany and other luxury clients like that. But it turned out this was a PR company that specialised in catering equipment 

We had two clients, Moffat stainless steel, which did kitchen cabinets for dinner ladies and the type of things that you see in hotels that keep the scrambled eggs warm, and Quest refrigeration, which was the first company in the UK to sell glass-fronted fridges to go in bars.

It sounds fun...

It was hell. I lasted six months and was paid £600 a month in a cheque, which nearly always bounced. The owner was usually in the pub so I would write my own cheque, take it to him to sign in the pub, pay it into my account and then it would bounce.

Where did you go from there?

I thought I’d like to work in advertising so I applied for a job at the Evening Standard selling ad space.

Did you get the job?

Yes. It was commission-only and you just walked in and they employed you.

I discovered once I’d joined that it wasn’t actually the Evening Standard but an outsourced sales house that sold on their behalf along with a load of other publications.

You sat in a room with 40 people who had just a copy of the Yellow Pages and you’d see people come and go at the end of the week because they hadn’t sold anything. That’s kind of intimidating.

I was on the phone all day. It was one of the best things that I ever did.  It taught me not to be frightened of using the phone.

I’d watch the people who were actually selling. Some of the sales people had worked there for years and were brilliant at selling and making a shedload of cash, so I just watched them and copied what they did.

So there was no actual training?

Apart from being shown how to dial, no. Most of the time you were hung up on but it wasn’t the cold calling culture that exists today. Quite a few would listen to your pitch.

We were briefed every morning with a new job. One day we could be selling Henley Regatta’s programme – so you’d think, right, I’ll call Veuve Clicquot and the next it could be a publication for a  target audience, and I would be on the phone to Reader's Digest and Stannah Stairlifts.

Did you sell anything?

Not for the first two weeks. But then, in my third week, I sold three double-page spreads and received £5,000 in commission. Which was a massive amount of money then.

Who were the ads was for?

I remember one was a shampoo ad for Salon Selectives by Helene Curtis. "Look like you just stepped out of a salon" was the strapline.

So did selling ad space help you when you became new business director?

It certainly gets rid of the fear. I’ve never really cold-called since but you do have to call people up sometimes and just have a conversation. I’ve always found people resist doing those calls.

So the two best things I ever did were that and going on a touch-typing course where I learned to touch type at 60 words a minute. I thought that would always help me get a job if advertising didn’t work out.

Then I got a job in a design agency and was a PA and studio manager – it was opposite WCRS in Great Queen Street. I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

However, after two years, I thought I should move on and heard that there was a job going at WCRS, so went for an interview across the road for a team assistant role with a guy called Stephen Knight who ran the BMW account.

We had the interview in his office, it was winter and dark outside but obviously they had all the lights on.

At the end of the interview I stood up and was shaking his hand and then I looked across the street and could see my boss in the office at the design agency opposite, looking straight at me and waving. I was totally busted.

When you joined WCRS, did you pitch the Moffat or Quest refrigeration accounts?

No. When I joined WCRS , it was the month we launched Orange. We had Carling Black label and BMW and I was working on established accounts but always got drawn to new business pitches.

After about a year and a half, Robin Wight gave me a new business role and I learnt a lot.

I love problem-solving, I love competition, and the spirit of working in new business teams.

I got very spoilt as you get to work with the most senior people in the agency but if I’d become an account person I’d be working with someone with just two years more experience than me.

So that was my journey into advertising.

Could someone just starting out now go down the same route?

Of course. I was at the bottom and there’s always a bottom. And I just hustled my way in. Plus I always had my 60-words-a-minute to fall back on if it didn’t work out.

So, in 2005, you ended up at M&C Saatchi. Who interviewed you, Maurice or Charles?

Neither. Charles was nothing to do with the agency at that point. In fact Moray phoned me up.

Moray who?

Moray MacLennan. That’s exactly what I said when he called me up. I said: "Moray who?" He said: "Moray MacLennan." And I said: "From?" Then he said, "M&C Saatchi," at which point I obviously said: "Oh yes, of course."

Anyway, he interviewed me. I didn’t meet Maurice until I started but from the day I started, I saw Maurice every week.

So using your portfolio of art work, which must have included your Girl Friday ad advertising yourself, I assume you went straight into the creative department?

No. I joined as marketing director. And I did that for a few years, then became chief operating officer of the group and then chief executive of the ad agency.

Whose been the biggest influence in your career to date?

Lisa Thomas (who ran Lida at M&C Saatchi and is now at Virgin) because she is such a great businesswoman and was so generous in the amount of time she spent with me. She helped me realise that I could run a business. And she’s now one of my best mates.

You ran the Great North Run a few years back and then became a regular long distance runner. How fit are you now?

I don’t think I could run a half marathon now. I very rarely run. However, I do boot camp with Marine Commando Jon a couple of times a week. He was a real Marine Commando.

I have to have a goal. When I was running it was the half-marathon and now my goal for the end of June is to deadlift one hundred kilos and do 10 unassisted pull-ups.

I have to say the food here (at lunch) looks amazing and it’s so healthy. I think Marine Commando Jon would approve.

What gets you to sleep at night?

I have two modes. Full on and full stop. So unless my head is buzzing I full asleep the minute my head hits the pillow. And if my head is buzzing, I head straight for Melatonin.

I should try that when I can’t sleep. Isn’t that when one of the Spice Girls is trying to make amends for misbehaving? Is that available on prescription?

No and no. It’s a pill. You can buy it over the counter in America.

Main Course

Camilla: My salad is fantastic by the way.

David: Is your celery good?

I can’t complain… Anomaly look after me well.

When you joined Anomaly in 2014 it wasn’t doing as well as the sister offices in New York, Toronto and Shanghai. Was that an Anomaly?

I was pleased when Carl Johnson, global chief executive and one of the founders, got in touch as I had always been interested in Anomaly as a new model agency.

I knew that it was struggling in the UK – not because of the model but it just hadn’t got traction.

I was lucky because the other partners were amazing. I had worked with Stuart Smith before at Wieden and Kennedy and Oli Beale is a creative genius. We all just gelled together and it started working.

A lot of people in the industry wanted Anomaly to succeed as the industry was and is crying out for change. We were also fortunate that a number of companies were happy for us to pitch for their business.

And although we were small, every single person on our team was and is probably the best that I’ve worked with.

We do a lot of things differently. We don’t use timesheets. We have really entrepreneurial partnerships with our clients. If we can affect a company’s performance then we deserve to be rewarded.

We are called Anomaly as we’re not an just ad agency, an innovation agency or a design agency. We are all of those things and more.

We look at a problem and work out the right solution. Advertising might be the answer, but then again it might not.

You did "de-tox" the office once. Was that anything to do with the Russians?

No. We shut the office for a week. That was one of our experiments. This one was where we let people work from wherever they wanted. And it was good experiment.

Everyone had to get organised as if they weren’t in the office. They had to work out how they were going to collaborate or meet or even just get Wi-Fi and print something.

How did you measure the success?

We got people to record their experience. One of the things about our old building was that it was so small we had to have people working out of the building… but that ethos has continued even though we have a fantastic building.

Right from the start we had this model where we bought in to the fact that people have a life outside of the agency and a lot of them have a business or interests outside of work.

We thought about our recruiting and the question we had when we were growing was would we rather have that amazing person who only wants to work a two day week. Or employ someone that’s not as amazing but wants to do a five-day week.

Right through out my career I used to have this filter when I was interviewing that if they had interests outside of work that was a bad thing. And that wasn’t the right way of thinking.

Some want to commit to a five-day week, and some others are fantastic but want to do other things as well as work.

All we ask is that they bring all of that knowledge with them. The result is that we get people who are incredibly passionate and care about their work.

We are flexible. We are just around the corner from the Barbican. If someone wants to spend the day working there, we are fine with that providing that they do their work. And if we don’t see them we just trust that they are doing their work.

So if I worked for you I could spend four days a week working out of The Ivy Club?

Yes, but you do that anyway. At least a quarter of our staff aren’t on a traditional full-time, five-day-a-week contract. They work four days or three days. Or have totally different arrangements.

And of all the people that aren’t on five-day weeks, only one of them is a mum, which is interesting because any latent stigma that surrounds mums who want flexible working will totally disappear as more and more people have reasons other than having a family as to why they want different working arrangements.

I’m also really proud that we’ve got the first dad at Anomaly to take shared parental leave, and he’s going into that experience with an equal package to our maternity one.

Tell me about the Satan Christmas video?

Every year we do something at Christmas. Rather than doing a Christmas card we like to create something different. We write it, animate it and produce it ourselves…

Sing the theme tune?

Yes, even that!

It’s very funny, especially Satan sending a drunken WhatsApp to an ex. Was that the first one?

No. I’m sure Satan has sent more than one drunken WhatsApp to an ex. Who hasn’t.

No, I meant Christmas Video?

The previous year we made a short comedy film The 12 Days of Christmas - A Tale of Avian Misery and that was one of the comedy picks at Christmas on the BBC iplayer

What examples do you have of your agency IP model?

In terms of IP, most recently we created and launched Hmbldt, a medicinal cannabis brand. It’s only in California at the moment, but it’s doing really well and has been recognised by Time magazine as one of the Top 25 Best Inventions of the year.

A Cannabis Pen? That would have come in handy when I was doing my A-Levels. So it doesn’t come in a clear plastic bag then?

No. It comes in beautiful packaging, which we designed. I’ll send you a link so that you can see what it looks like.

A sample might be better. Moving on, what’s an example of some of the brave things the agency has done?

Take an organisation where every pound matters, like Cancer Research UK. We got briefed by them on making a big telly ad and we said, no, we don’t think you should do that.

We want to take this budget and hire the guys who make 24 Hours in A&E to film in the hospitals and capture the reality of cancer.

And although we are going to create loads of assets, you’re never going to see a script and we won’t have a team on the shoot because we can’t be there in the room while people are having treatment. So, it is a totally new way of working.

Luckily, we had a client who said yes, which was incredibly brave.

This time last year, we wanted to be even braver and show the impact Cancer Research UK is having right now. So we broadcasted an ad live from inside a human body. We filmed from inside a patient’s colon and captured the removal of a potentially pre-cancerous polyp live on air. 

You can hear the surgeon’s voice, as the voiceover, and the patient, who was fully conscious. The procedure appeared in the ad break of A Place in the Sun, which was broadcast in the afternoon. Surgeon, Dr Sunil Dolwani, timed the operation perfectly so the break coincided with the removal of the polyp.

Dessert

You recently gave yourselves a 7 out of 9 in the Campaign school report. Why didn’t you give yourselves 9 out of 9?

There’s so much more that we are going to do. We are not even motoring yet. Last year was really good but we had a major transition in London. We moved offices, and we had our three biggest business wins, Virgin Trains, Lloyds Banking Group and Electrolux, which we were bedding in.

And because we grew we needed to build for a bigger agency – HR, policies, process, operations, etc – all the infrastructure that goes with being bigger.

How much bigger do you want to get in London?

It’s not about getting bigger, it’s about getting better. Last year we doubled in size but only won three new business gains. We grew because of the increase in work from our existing client base. And that says a lot about our work.

We now have 110 staff. Up until the summer of 2016 we were in a lovely building but it was basically a house rather than an office. It was ideal for 25 people but we had 50. We’ve now grown into 18,000 square feet!

In the year ahead, where do you want the agency to be?

Do new stuff. Challenge ourselves and our clients. Be Brave.

Is there one client that you haven’t got that you’d love to have?

No. It’s not about a specific, big brand but about the people who work there, their values, their ambition and their vision. That’s what defines who we want to work with… not the brand.

Not Moffat stainless steel catering servers?

Hmm. Never say never.

And where do you see yourself in a year’s time?

Sitting here more often. Can you get me membership?

Pick a Whine?

I was going to say, can we try the Gavi de Gavi (an Italian, dry white)?

I think lack of bravery. People should stick their necks out in our industry. There’s never been a time when it’s been more needed. I believe you can use data to help de-risk that, but I see more and more people using data to justify not doing something.

A tip (for someone new coming into the industry)?

Be brave. Care more than everyone else. Learn to type. And get over your fear of the phone. Oh, and don’t wear a hat in doors.

Eh?

My friend’s mate is a plumber called Denzel and she once asked him how he charges. He said its pretty simple. He charges a flat rate based on the job unless he turns up and they are wearing a hat indoors, in which case he charges double.

I think he installed my boiler, and I was wearing a hat

Pork Pie?

I couldn’t eat another thing

What David and Camilla ate

To start, Camilla had salmon and yellowtail sashimi followed by grilled squid and chorizo salad as a main. For dessert, she had ice cream with honeycomb and hot chocolate sauce.

David had tuna carpaccio followed by skate, the market fish of the day, and a side portion of chips, which we shared (don’t tell Commando Jon – that’s another 10 press-ups for Camilla). For dessert he ate pear and almond tart

Drink: Guy Allion Sauvignon Blanc

With thanks to The Club at The Ivy, 9 West Street, WC2H 9NE

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