Me and my mentor

Most advertising and media stars profess a debt to a mentor who honed their talent and encouraged their career. Anne-Marie Crawford reports

Most advertising and media stars profess a debt to a mentor who honed

their talent and encouraged their career. Anne-Marie Crawford reports

What exactly is a mentor and who should have one? Chambers English

Dictionary defines a mentor as a ‘wise counsellor, a tutor or a

trainer’. But a mentor can also be someone who influences and shapes

another’s opinions in a less hands-on way, for example, through a

particular book or a speech, or simply by the sheer force of their


Who could claim to be unaffected by the pioneering actions of, say,

Stanley Pollitt, co-founder of BMP and the inventor of account planning?

Certainly not Chris Powell, chief executive of BMP DDB, who although he

now declares himself ‘too old’ to have a mentor, admits that if anyone

influenced him as a thrusting young tyro, it was Pollitt. ‘He took an

industry that was mad and crass and introduced thoughtfulness and

sensitivity,’ Powell says.

For Raoul Pinnell, head of marketing at NatWest, the main source of

inspiration was a book. As a young Heinz sales executive in the mid 70s,

he picked up Peter Drucker’s Management, Tasks, Practices and

Responsibilities, and has been a Drucker aficionado ever since. ‘I loved

it because it was about real things in business and life. Ever since

then I have kept up to date with Drucker,’ he says.

But it’s people that arguably serve as the strongest influences. There

are numerous industry luminaries who are worthy of a mention here and

who have undoubtedly served as gurus for many: Maurice and Charles

Saatchi, John Hegarty, David Abbott, Ron Miller and even Rupert Murdoch.

M. T. Rainey, managing partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, names

two special influences: Annie Rothwell, now an independent consultant,

and Jay Chiat, the founder of Chiat Day. But she thinks it’s going too

far to say they were mentors. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to work with many

diverse and brilliant people,’ she says.

Nevertheless, she does acknowledge a special debt to each of them.

Rothwell was head of planning at TBWA when Rainey worked there between

1980 and 1983, and she worked with Chiat for the following ten years up

to 1993.

So what exactly did they teach her? ‘I had an instinct for advertising

but Annie taught me the discipline of planning. She was hard on me and

drummed into me how important it was to do my homework,’ Rainey says.

‘Jay was a very avant-garde thinker and way ahead of his time. He had a

commitment to the corporate culture and proved you could develop an

environment in which creativity thrived.’

Curiously, Rainey says she would be surprised to find anyone with a

single guru throughout their entire career. She hints that certain

individuals may be ‘sponsored’, but declines to elaborate.

Often, the mark of greatness is admitting your debt to others. For Peter

Mead, chairman of the Abbott Mead Vickers group, a mentor is ‘someone

who teaches you invaluable and lasting lessons about business and life’,

and he admits to having two of them. The first is David Kingsley, one of

the founders of the influential Kingsley Manton and Palmer, an agency

that set out to chase potential clients and to work for fees instead of

commission - both of which were, in 1964, against IPA rules.

Mead recounts a tale of the time they worked together many years ago.

Mead had been at the agency for about a week. Kingsley was leaving early

and asked Mead to type and deliver a document to his house that evening.

Mead takes up the story: ‘David opened the door and I handed him the

package. As I was walking away, he asked me what I was doing now. I said

‘nothing’. He asked if I’d eaten. I said no, so he invited me in for

supper. He was the first boss to treat me like a human being. You

remember that sort of thing - it made me want to walk through walls for


Mead’s other role model is Bill Bernbach. ‘He’s one of those people who

colours the way you behave when you become a boss.’

For John Nicolson, marketing director of Scottish Courage, there are

heroes and mentors. Pictures of his four heroes adorn the walls of his

loo, namely: his dad, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela and the Scottish

footballer, Slim Jim Baxter.

Nicolson first met his guru, James Kelly, in 1977. Kelly is one of the

founding partners of Kelly Weedon Shute, but at the time he met Nicolson

he was marketing manager at Brooke Bond Oxo.

Kelly was different from Nicolson and earned his respect because of it.

‘James is unflappable. I’m quite flappable when I’m tense. He is

intelligent, proactive and a thinker. His style is challenging, yet

cajoling, but never aggressive. He’s also a great listener at all


So who should have a mentor? John Blakemore, head of advertising at

SmithKline Beecham, believes each of us can benefit. ‘You’re always

looking to learn in life and if you’re not, you’ve got a serious

problem. You know your own weaknesses and you learn from those people

who are strong.’

Learning from your mentor and using that knowledge to make a difference

is the crucial part. Each of the players mentioned here has gone on to

forge their own individual style and some of them will undoubtedly serve

as mentors for future generations of agency executives.

Christine Walker on Derrick Southon

In August 1976 I put on my prettiest frock and best smile and boarded

the No. 73 bus to 197 Knightsbridge, the home of Benton and Bowles,

where I was interviewed for the position of graduate trainee by Derrick


He asked me lots of questions, including: ‘What’s 70 per cent of 7?’

which I got wrong. The phone rang endlessly, he chain-smoked and then

dismissed me. How very un-advertising, I thought. The next day I got the

job and there began a partnership which has lasted 20 years.

Derrick didn’t really speak to me for about six months. Finally, he

called me into his office and told me that I would be joining the

Procter and Gamble unit as a media assistant. He pointed out that P&G

was a great marketing company and if I did a good job my career would be

made. He was right.

Every Friday night he would question me endlessly on my TV schedules,

which taught me the value of attention to detail and questioning every


Derrick’s obsession with looking outwards to clients and spending as

little time as possible on internal matters has shaped my career.

Clients, he says, will forgive most things, but never poor results. How

right he is

Bruce Haines on Peter Mead

Other people may have taught me the individual elements of the

advertising business but Peter was the man who showed me how it all

worked together.

In professional terms, Peter is a terrific designer, motivator and

constant reminder that quality is all. In particular, that profit is the

reward for quality. He also taught me that, after hiring a pessimist as

finance director, your role as manager is to play the optimist - a role

that his chairmanship of Millwall FC has given him more than enough

practice at.

As a man he is kind, thoughtful and caring. Once he commits to a

friendship you can rely on it for life. Our one and only falling-out

still bothers me - not because I think I was wrong, but because my

attempts to treat it as a business issue, rather than a disagreement

between friends, genuinely hurt him.

Peter is a star who has never sought the spotlight for himself, but just

by being there for those who do take centre stage he keeps the whole

fragile thing together. And that’s the one lesson I think I’ve learned

best of all

David Kershaw on Bill Muirhead

Bill rescued me, in 1985, from the obscurity of a planning ‘sabbatical’

at Charlotte Street to work on the pre-privatisation campaign for BA.

From that moment, I learned from him and I’ve never stopped learning.

First, unlike so many agency people, he listens. And he listens with

more sensitivity than Jodrell Bank. I still marvel at his ability to

sense what people are really saying and what truly motivates them. I’m

sure it’s this uncanny talent that is a big reason why he has such

strong relationships both with clients and agency people.

Second, he is utterly obsessed - whether it is with convincing a client

that an ad really is brilliant for their brand or just making the

impossible happen, he never gives up. When everyone else is in terminal

depression, Bill will still be trying to turn things around.

The other lesson to learn from Bill is the importance of building a team

of people who have totally different strengths from yourself. He’ll

sniff very good people out and then earns and gives real loyalty. And,

of course, apart from all this, he’s drop-dead gorgeous


‘Stanley Pollitt turned the industry upside down’; Chris Powell, BMP

‘At BT, Adrian Hosford is someone who is a great believer in communications and how much they can help people’s personal and

professional lives’; Sholto Douglas-Home, BT

‘James [Kelly] used to write great briefs that were only a paragraph

long. I say now that everything has to be written on a single page’;

John Nicolson, Scottish Courage

‘My mentors are Mike Elms and Bill Patterson. They taught me about

media’s role in business and in advertising in general. A lot of people

find that very funny because the general industry thinks we hate

each other’; John Blakemore, SmithKline Beecham

‘It’s about learning from the best people you meet and trying not to

pick up bad habits from the worst people you meet’; M. T. Rainey, Rainey

Kelly Campbell Roalfe


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