Media: A moment with Marquis

Whatever you think of John Billett and his modestly named company, the newly acquired millions are well-deserved.

An independent auditor may not be the easiest business to sell (the deepest pockets belonging to those he audits) so the deal with Thomson Intermedia is no small achievement. The irony is none of it might have happened had he got the job he really wanted 24 years ago.

Billett was the media director at the unstoppable Allen Brady & Marsh and too clever and certainly too ambitious to be content with that sort of role for long. Media was allocated 90 seconds in a new-business pitch, leaving Billett's penchant for self-expression frustrated, along with his desire for advancement into senior management.

In January 1981, he persuaded a pretentious young media planner (me) to join his department. Within days, and to my complete astonishment, he quit to set up Billett & Co. The first Billetts never quite made the big time and the business ended up as part of the CIA agency. But the ever-resourceful Billett reinvented himself as an auditor, correctly spotting that there was room in that small market for at least one more serious player.

There are many legitimate gripes about the auditing business, but what is incontrovertible is that many advertisers find reassurance and comfort in having a third party pore over their agency's media buying and Billett is a consummate client man.

One of his other skills is for self-promotion. Billetts has punched above its weight for years, producing provocative pamphlets, mailers and research treatises. These are not above criticism; indeed, they invite it, but the Billetts branding can hardly be said to be understated. I once counted the number of times the word Billett appeared in one of these and gave up some time after 48.

A po-faced scourge of agencies, then? No, because with Billett there is always the fun-loving, pranksterish side that likes nothing more than to sing scurrilous songs to his own piano accompaniment at industry bashes. A one-time bank manager and erstwhile trainer of rugby referees, Billett is a man of many parts.

How, then, to sum him up? Funny, maddening, inventive, mercurial, arrogant, entertaining, inexhaust-ible ... well, yes, all of those in part. But a restless, intelligent mind and a great enthusiast for media too. He has made a significant contribution to our business and his success is well-merited. If Billett didn't exist, I guess we'd have to invent him.