There’s just time to grab a quick cup of coffee from a stall at
Victoria station before I disappear into DMB&B’s offices to meet Nick
Hastings, who officially took over as creative director from Jeremy
Pemberton last week (Campaign, 6 March).
Luckily, I’d remembered that the coffee served at DMB&B isn’t up to much
and had factored a few extra minutes into my morning to allow time for
some quality caffeine. As I sipped, I reflected that a lot has changed
at DMB&B over the past few months, and thought maybe the coffee had
improved in line with the planning department and the new-business
No such luck, but at least Hastings has the grace to apologise as he
pours out the beverage. He seems nervous during the preliminaries but,
as he dives into his life story, it becomes clear that underneath he is
very sure of himself.
A ring-round of his former colleagues led me to expect an intense and
slightly edgy interview and Campaign’s picture of him invites the same
preconceptions. Hastings’ image, clothes and manner suggest an
old-looking 32-year-old who has overdone the cigarettes and late nights
but, surprisingly, he is actually a 39-year-old father of three.
This places him at the same stage of life as the more benign-looking
managing director, Barry Cook, and just a little ahead of the marketing
director, Nigel Marsh. The three men, along with the planning director,
Max Burt, are working hard to improve DMB&B’s standing in London.
Cook welcomes Hastings to the top table: ’Nick is a natural enthusiast
like me, and he doesn’t believe that creativity is the sole preserve of
the creative department.
We are both very passionate that we can create a great agency and yet
stay the way we are.’
Hastings’ promotion is the result of a deliberately planned and
remarkably smooth succession. He has hired six or seven of DMB&B’s 20
creative teams and, after three years at the agency, is well-known to
all his department.
His career, however, has been anything but planned and smooth. Although
he started out with all the advantages - Dulwich College, Cambridge
University and an older brother who was already successful in
advertising - Hastings perversely sought out the hard route to the
creative directorship of DMB&B.
There was a false start after he graduated when he joined Bates Dorland
as a trainee in account management. After seven months, he was
frustrated by his lack of input into decision making (’although it was
my own fault for not being dedicated or pushing hard enough’), and quit
Bates to revisit the scene of a happy student holiday, San
For two years he partied until 4am and roused himself in the late
morning to sell second-hand clothes with a business partner he met out
Towards the end, though, he got ambitious and tried to persuade his
partner to take it more seriously. As Hastings tells it, the other man,
who had mysteriously funded their party lifestyle by regularly pulling
dollars 2,000 wads out of his socks, turned out to be the son of a New
York mafioso, whose regular shipments of cash made hard work
Hastings discovered that his friend’s previous partner had apparently
been found in Mexico with a limb missing. It was time to go back to
This is the bit where we expect Hastings to see the light and jump
straight on to the advertising fast track. But he hasn’t gone all
grown-up on us just yet. There was still another dissident year spent
working in Our Price, which ended ignominiously with the sack - Hastings
had called a customer a ’twat’ for buying a Paul McCartney record.
It’s almost impossible to interrupt Hastings’ flow and ask all the
questions his story is posing. How did his high-ranking RAF father react
to his ’drop-out’ son? Wasn’t it obvious that his Californian business
partner was dodgy? Was he still enjoying all the late nights that tend
to go with a McJob? When did he meet his wife?
When I jump in with a question it is dealt with briskly before Hastings
returns to his tale. He seems pleased with his version of his life
I find it hard to reconcile the youthful drifter with today’s ambitious
and industrious figure but, in Hastings’ narrative, the turning point
was discovering his talent as a copywriter.
John O’Donnell, as creative director of CDP, gave Hastings his first big
advertising job. Hastings and his art director partner, Nick Godfree,
met while composing recruitment ads, did a D&AD student course and
pounded the streets until they got a job at Miller & Leeves WAHT.
The team’s breakthrough work was a drink-drive spot, directed by Tony
Kaye, which prompted the call from O’Donnell. ’I hired them on the
spot,’ he remembers, ’Nick is ambitious and industrious with a manic
Godfree’s and Hastings’ dedication kept them in a job while CDP crumbled
around them. When they joined in June 1991, there were 14 creative teams
- seven months later there were five. Amid all the turmoil, they kept
their heads down and produced some good work, particularly a McEwan’s ad
directed by Tarsem. Hastings and Godfree won a vital pitch for Benson &
Superkings and, before they knew it, were creative directors.
’It was two years too soon,’ Hastings, who was then 33, now
acknowledges. ’The naive bit was not interrogating the situation - we
had no idea that CDP was teetering on the brink. But it was invaluable
experience and I still think we made the right decision.’
After five months in the job, David Jones was succeeded by Ben Langdon
as managing director. ’Spade a spade,’ Hastings says economically, ’Dave
and I could not work with Langdon.’ They were made redundant in January
1994, just as their first year was up.
Hastings found himself opposite Langdon in the urinals at Wembley during
Euro 96, and admits he was tempted for a moment to adjust his aim.
However, Langdon fans will be pleased to know that Hastings is not
bitter, so he smiled and chatted instead.
The ousting from CDP was followed by nine months of freelance work
before Godfree and Hastings joined DMB&B as group heads. ’It was a tad
odd not being in charge’ Hastings says, ’but we knew we’d been made
creative directors too soon and Jeremy (Pemberton) gave us plenty of
autonomy which made it easier.’
At last we get to the plain sailing. For the past three years, Hastings
has been making steady progress towards the creative directorship of
Bruce Macrae, the former head of TV at DMB&B, says: ’Nick has been
quietly exerting a large influence for a while now and the creative
department has been moulded to his wishes. There won’t be that shiver of
terror through the department that often accompanies the appointment of
a new creative director.’
’I am in a good position,’ Hastings concurs. ’I don’t need to make a
statement but I will be getting closer to clients, presenting at pitches
and being a public face of the agency - I enjoy that side of it, which
Jeremy didn’t as he will be the first to admit.’
Macrae adds: ’Nick will force the pace without unsettling the
conservative clients at DMB&B. He has enough of an edge to keep
challenging preconceptions of the agency.’
As well as taking on the new job, Hastings is also moving house. ’It’s
everything at once,’ he says, admitting he needs to work on his
time-management skills. Hastings has compensated for the constant
upheavals of an RAF childhood by settling for the long term in Notting
Hill, where he has lived for ten years, cosily located around the corner
from his brother, Steve, and his young family.
Hastings will not judge his success only by the quality of the agency’s
reel and reputation. Professional achievement is not enough for him if
he’s always too ’shagged’ to enjoy time with his wife and daughters.
’It’s about having a life too,’ he says.