Media's secret societies: are you in?

A new breed of younger-focused clubs are challenging the media industry's more elitist secret societies. Media Week rounds up the places to see and be seen - and how to get the nod for membership

The three founders of new women-only club Bloom. Left to right: Kirsty Barnes-Spickett from SMV, Belinda Stacey from A&N Media and Katie Treggiden from Kindred
The three founders of new women-only club Bloom. Left to right: Kirsty Barnes-Spickett from SMV, Belinda Stacey from A&N Media and Katie Treggiden from Kindred

The media industry has a long and lively tradition of members-only networking societies, from highbrow, black-tie dinners to informal drinking fraternities.

But not everyone has the distinguished career or ferocious networking skills to be admitted to Blake's 7 or the Solus Club, which is why a new breed of media clubs are springing up, launched by junior players keen to take a piece of the action.

In May, a group of rising stars in middle management launched the all-female Bloom, after a group of women - too young for the esteemed Women in Advertising and Communications London (WACL) - met at a WACL training event and decided to create their own sorority based around "networking, mentoring and fundraising".

Many also believe digital marketers are under-represented at the top-tier clubs, which is why Kelly Jacobson at Microsoft launched the Digital Advertising Women’s Network (DAWN) last month as "your most influential new friend".

Digital media men are catered for by Creative Social, which has about 150 members from the global creative community - although you will only be approved for membership if the other members think you are talented and you don’t have ideas above your station. The first rule of Creative Social is "no egos" and the second is "no PAs".

A refreshing change from some of the more elitist networking groups, and more cerebral than the Fat Boys Athletic fraternity, which defines itself by being "male and excessive" and eating everything on the menu in a "two fingers" to the recession.

So if your Chelsea allegiance rules you out of the Dial Square Club for media’s Arsenal supporters, and the Meat Club fails to excite, then don’t despair - Media Week has profiled the leading secret societies and tips on how to get the nod for membership. Or, or course, you could always set up your own…


Women in Advertising and Communications London (WACL)

History: WACL was set up in the 1920s when women were just starting to grace the advertising scene and, due to the social mores of the time, it was deemed inappropriate for a woman to be seen lunching with a man. WACL is considered a "Who’s Who" of women in advertising. However, it is not a club for bra-burning feminists who want to rant about the shortcomings of men. In fact, many men report they thoroughly enjoy WACL events.

Events: WACL prides itself on fusing fun with helping women in the media industry further their careers. The venue of choice is The Savoy and previous speakers have included David Cameron, Elle Macpherson and Fiona Bruce.

Who’s in? There are currently 130 members such as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chief executive Cilla Snowball, EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall, P&G’s marketing director Roisin Donnelly and MediaCom’s chief executive Jane Ratcliffe. Kathryn Jacobs, Pearl & Dean chief executive, is president.

How do I become a member? You must be nominated by existing members, then invited to join after this nomination has been scrutinised by the membership committee. Members tend to be mid to late thirties and upwards, and they must have three years' experience as either a marketing director or the head of an advertising or media company.

Dates for the diary: Forthcoming speakers include film director Danny Boyle (8 March) and the WACL Christmas Ball is on 9 December.

The Solus Club

History: The Solus Club has been around since 1929 and remains defiantly men-only, after a brief vote on whether women should join, which was vetoed in 2003. Some describe The Solus as "irrelevant", "stuffy" and "misogynistic" - one female source invited to an event said she thought she’d walked onto the set of Ashes to Ashes. But Matt Teeman, director of advertising sales at BBC Magazines, says: "My boss took me once and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a great institution."

Events: Monthly dinners at The Dorchester are renowned for high-profile speakers, ranging from former prime ministers to business big-hitters.

Who’s in? Just under 200 members, including the Marketing Society’s chief executive Hugh Burkitt (famous for his renditions of Gilbert and Sullivan), David Kershaw, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, and Grant Millar, managing director of Vizeum. Mark Chippendale, commercial director of CBS Outdoor, is president.

How do I become a member? You must be nominated by a member and put on a waiting list. When a rare vacancy comes up, the committee discusses whether it wants you. Most are marketing directors, chief executives and agency heads, with a higher proportion of media owners. Former president Mike Moran, md of CBS Outdoor, was considered extremely young when he was appointed at 43.

Dates for the diary: The Independent’s editor-in-chief Simon Kelner is the speaker at November’s dinner.

Blake’s 7

History: Set up in 1998 by a group of seven men and seven women at Kensington’s Blake’s Hotel as a protest to the prevalence of single-sex clubs. Founding members include Digital Cinema Media’s md Martin Bowley and EasyJet chief Carolyn McCall. The club is elitist yet informal, with deliberately few members (around 20) and a secretive attitude - neither president would be interviewed for this article. PHD’s co-founder Jonathan Durden says the "main point is to have a good time", to the extent that bringing a dull guest is frowned upon.

Events: Speakers are encouraged to be informal and have included Jimmy Page, Alastair Campbell, Michael Portillo and property queen Kirstie Allsopp. The club is also famous for stunts like giving its members access to an empty Hamleys on the run-up to Christmas and flying members to Nice for lunch.

Who’s in? UM’s EMEA president Jim Hytner, PHD founder Jonathan Durden and MCBD managing partner Helen Calcraft. Two of the co-founders Martin Bowley and David Kershaw, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, are co-presidents.

How do I become a member? Persuade existing members you’re a laugh. There are no set criteria for membership, but largely only famous industry names get in.

Dates for the diary: The club keeps these under wraps.

The Marketing Group of Great Britain (MGGB)

History: The group launched in 1975 with ambitions to cater for the crème de la crème of marketing royalty, particularly on the client side. This is the most serious of the clubs, with the focus squarely on work achievements. It’s definitely not the place to go and drink too many G&Ts and then slur incomprehensibly to a client, or suggest dancing on the table.

Events: The group meets eight times at year at Wednesday-night black-tie dinners at Claridges, with speakers such as Prince Charles, Gordon Brown and Al Gore.

Who’s in? About 150 members, with most aged 40 upwards. Members include COI chief executive Mark Lund, Global Radio chief executive Stephen Miron and Andrew Mullins, managing director of The Independent and the London Evening Standard. The current chairman is AMV BBDO chief executive Cilla Snowball.

How do I become a member? It is notoriously difficult to get in and people tend to only get the call when they’ve made it, rather than on the way up. If you’re agency side, you’ll probably have to be managing director or chief executive.

Dates for the diary: Forthcoming speakers include Martha Lane Fox, Adam Crozier, Jeremy Hunt and Barclays chief John Varley.

The Thirty Club

History: The club was founded on the principle of taking 30 members - a third each from clients, advertising and media - although actual membership is now more than 30. This is the most elitist of the clubs, attracting the likes of WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell, and CBS Outdoor’s Mike Moran says guests’ status can be measured by their proximity to the top table.

Events: The group typically meets at Claridges each month and attracts speakers from royalty (Princess Diana) and politics (John Major).

Who’s in? Members have well and truly made it, with many in chief executive or political roles. Think Lord David Puttnam, Nigel Bogle, Cilla Snowball, Robin Wight, Johnny Hornby, Michael Grade, Christine Walker and Lord Stephen Carter. Rupert Howell, former managing director of brand and commercial at ITV, is president.

How do I become a member? Make it.

Dates for the diary: Like Blake’s 7, these are kept under wraps.



History: Bloom launched in May this year after a group of women, too young for WACL, decided to create their own club based the three pillars of networking, mentoring and fundraising.

Events: Bloom is planning quarterly networking events. Starcom Mediavest Group’s HR director Liz Nottingham and Camilla Honey, founder of new business consultancy JFDI, spoke at the launch event; the aim is to get high-profile women talking about their experiences of getting to the top.

Who’s in? The club has 21 members from different disciplines, mostly rising stars aiming for the top, such as Emily Young, group business director at Posterscope. President is Katie Treggiden, client services director at Kindred; other co-founders include Belinda Stacey from A&N Media and Kirsty Barnes from SMG.

How do I become a member? Members are nominated by a member of WACL, then interviewed by a panel. Members must be prepared to take on the role of mentor, and must also be willing to volunteer on MT Rainey’s networking venture www.horsesmouth.co.uk. Membership is closed for this year, but it is worth getting in touch next year if you’re keen to join.

Dates for the diary: The Christmas lunch is on 3 December. Next year’s events will tackle issues such as juggling a career with kids and bullying in the workplace.

Creative Social

History: Creative Social was formed when senior creative directors from the global digital ad industry got together to create a "progressive, global, creative collective turned on by technology, culture and collaboration".

Events: The group meets twice a year in a different international city - such as Shanghai and New York - as well as London-based events for local members.

Who’s in? There are over 150 members, including Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Anders Gustafsson, Glue chief executive Mark Cridge and Ogilvy’s Lars Bastholm. Most members are at creative director level or above. The club is run by Mark Chalmers of digital agency Perfect Fool and Daniele Fiandaca, former European head of Profero and founder of Digital Fauna.

How do I become a member? You need to be recommended by two members. You will only be approved for membership if the rest think you are talented and you have no ego. [The first rule of Creative Social is "no egos"; the second is that they only deal with people directly, not via PAs].

Dates for the diary: The group is planning a return to Amsterdam this December and North America in Spring 2011. The group is also running an event at Internet Week, see internetweekeurope.com/events/391.

Digital Advertising Women’s Network (DAWN)

History: Microsoft’s Kelly Jacobson set up DAWN in October, after realising there is a lack of "real-world" networking clubs in digital and a dearth of women in the top jobs. The club aims to fuse the benefits of offline and virtual networking, and aspires to be like WACL in terms of providing a nurturing forum for women.

Events: The events haven’t been finalised, but the long-term aim is to hold an event at least once a quarter, with smaller events/drinks inbetween.

Who’s in? There are currently about 250 signed registrants. The typical age is 25 to 35, and members are mainly at account director or sales manager level. The seven-strong committee includes Cat Agostinho from OMD UK, Nickie Smith from Microsoft Advertising and Jo Lyall from Mindshare.

How do I become a member? Sign up on Facebook or LinkedIn. At the moment, the club is women-only, but there are plans to take men at a later date.

Dates for the diary: The next event is Christmas networking drinks in December.

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