John Pallant is no unsung hero, as is evident from his creative
awards. Nor, glancing at his Porsche and Notting Hill home, can you say
he has been toiling unrewarded in a back room for years. However, in a
poll of well-known UK creatives he would not score particularly
So people might be forgiven for asking, ’John who?’ when news broke that
Pallant was to share the top creative job at Saatchi & Saatchi with Adam
Kean (Campaign, 17 October). Pallant, an accomplished copywriter, is
best known for the British Airways ’interactive’ cinema ad and the
National Lottery’s ’it could be you’ campaign.
Pallant is known for being low key. Gesturing is not part of his
repertoire, colleagues say; neither are impassioned speeches or
opinionated articles. He’s known as a phenomenally hard worker, but
little of his effort is directed towards gaining a high profile in the
This is, perhaps, the reason Pallant was not one of the creatives who
rose to the top of Saatchis after Maurice and Charles’s departure
creamed off much of the agency’s management two years ago. Pallant was
on holiday and missed out in the whirlwind appointment of creative
directors to replace James Lowther and Simon Dicketts. Although he must
have been disappointed, it is not Pallant’s style to wear his heart on
his sleeve. ’The most important thing was to stabilise the agency,’ is
all he will say.
The shake-up did not alter the fact that Saatchis ran - and still runs -
through his veins. ’I’d always wanted to work here,’ Pallant says of his
arrival at the agency in 1988. ’There’s a lot of passion. People trust
their instincts and, if it’s a great idea, they will go for it.’
His rise from official obscurity has coincided with the growing
influence of Kean on the Saatchis firmament, and Kean - who has long
been in the frame for the executive job - is not shy about extolling the
virtues of his more retiring colleague. ’John is not the most voluble of
people,’ he comments.
’Instead, he leads by example. Always generous, always trying to help
people - and always first to the bar.’
Pallant’s generous spirit and economy with words are communicated by
friends and colleagues. The diffident and softly spoken 42-year-old has
a good grasp of his own character, too, and is not above cracking the
odd joke about his reticence. Like the one where he arrives at a party
and the hostess bundles him into a corner, instructing him to come back
when he’s drunk enough to be in talking mode.
Graham Fink, a director at the Paul Weiland Film Company, first met
Pallant at Collett Dickenson Pearce in the early 80s and admired his
’He must have said four words to me in two years. He hates being the
centre of attention,’ Fink recalls.
These days, however, Fink is a luckier man. As one of Pallant’s close
circle of friends, he admits to occasionally getting ’a few sentences
out of him after ten pints of lager’.
Matt Ryan, Pallant’s creative partner, says he can sometimes come over
as abrupt but the words, when they come, are worth waiting for. ’John
may take a long time to say something, but when he does, it’s so sharp
it’s almost been chiselled,’ he explains.
Ryan, like Kean’s partner, Alex Taylor, was promoted to creative
director in the same reorganisation that elevated Pallant last week, a
move that puts all four at the helm of Saatchis’ creative
It’s a collaborative approach that is typical of Pallant’s style: he has
challenged his naturally self-contained manner to embrace the skills of
management and top-level client contact. ’I think everyone in the
creative department here is capable of producing award-winning work,’ he
says. ’I’d like to be remembered by people at Saatchis as someone who
helped them achieve that.’
But Pallant was not always bound for the world of advertising. At the
age of 16, he wanted to work in Portsmouth docks as a welder. However,
his parents, who were both teachers, persuaded him otherwise and he was
packed off to Reading University to gain a psychology degree.
Armed with this unlikely tool, he enrolled at the first D&AD workshop in
1978. Here Dave Trott became a mentor and he followed him to Boase
Massimi Pollitt and then Gold Greenlees Trott. It was Trott who lent
Pallant one of his abiding maxims: ’It doesn’t matter how talented you
are, you’ve got to work harder than anyone else.’
Today Pallant takes the work ethic almost to an extreme, leaving - by
his own admission - little time for his ’disorganised’ personal life.
’Non-work activities take second place with me,’ he affirms.
There will be even less time for leisure as the Kean and Pallant
partnership makes its presence felt on one of the largest creative
departments in London, although neither will talk about what changes -
if any - they will make. Both were far too busy extolling the virtues of
As the pair steers Saatchis through its post-reincarnation period,
Pallant might need the only hobby he admits to - karate. He comments:
’It doesn’t matter what happens during the day. When you get a smack in
the face, you soon forget about it.’