I’m writing this piece to introduce a lovely piece of work that, in truth, I’ve had very little to do with. But really it’s an excuse for me to tell you the story of one of the most amazing women I know. Her name is Vicky Jacobs, but to those who know her she is the force of nature called simply VJ.
VJ barrelled through the doors of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R on 7 March 2007. We’d just won the Bacardi account, which at the time was massive for us, but they were known to be a little bit of a handful as clients. Legend had it that the client had punched a creative who disagreed with them. Enter VJ. She’d worked with Ben Priest and David Golding before and they vouched for her ability to take no prisoners.
She quickly became one of the strongest members of the RKCR family, especially when James, Ben and DG left us to start Adam & Eve. She was such a good fit. Passionate about the work, relentless in her search for the right answers, fearsomely bright (she got a first from Cambridge) and lots and lots of fun. I have many fond memories of her leading the charge down to Tatty Bogle after the pub had shut and being cornered by a very drunk VJ putting the world to rights and talking at me like a slurring Gatling gun. Yes, she worked hard – and played harder. She went on to become managing director at RKCR and no-one could have deserved it more.
VJ was the force that pushed through much of our best Virgin Atlantic work. She helped turn a brief for a 25th-anniversary logo to a 90-second epic with Frankie goes to Hollywood. She fought to make Muse let us use Feeling Good when they said they’d never sell out to advertising. All the while winning the complete trust and friendship from her clients and always being up for a night of karaoke, even if it was in Crawley.
I feel like I’m simply painting VJ as a tough cookie. But she is so much more than that. She has a heart of pure gold and I know many of you reading this will know her generosity and kindness when it came to helping you get on in the business. VJ has that knack of inspiring absolute loyalty from those who worked with her.
Six years ago, VJ was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But VJ being VJ, she didn’t take it lying down. She took on her cancer as if it was the biggest and most important pitch of her life. She brought all her usual grit and determination with her as she scoured the planet for new trials and treatments, charmed scientists and oncologists, and simply didn’t take no for an answer. And this is where the lovely piece of work comes into this story.
When her illness returned, she made it her mission to change the survival odds for the next generation, selflessly making something good out of her tragic situation. Cary Wakefield had just taken on the role of chief executive at Ovarian Cancer Action. VJ knew her from the BBC, so spotted her opportunity. VJ went into full account handling mode and got her brilliant ex-Virgin Atlantic team back together. With strategist Emily James at her side, she enlisted the genius of Pip Bishop and Chris Hodgkiss to write the idea. Legends Tim Page and Jody Allison agreed to produce.
And then came the most incredible cross-industry collaboration. Joanna Bailey of Snapper Films agreed to direct. Dan Neale of Native negotiated a brilliant deal on the music. Jody managed to get Kate Winslet to do the voiceover and Brock van den Bogaerde persuaded his niece, Birdy, to do the music. Parv at Wave did the sound. MPC did the post-production, Seamus at The Mill did the grade. Nick Fokes and Siobhan Woodrow account handled when VJ got too weak.
The result is a truly lovely and heart-rending piece of work. But, more than that, it’s an amazing testament to VJ. She wanted something positive to come out of her terrible diagnosis. It’s only happened thanks to her grit and dogged determination, and of course it’s brilliant because VJ only ever accepted work when is was truly great.
When I last saw her a week ago, she was very weak, her wonderful husband Alex at her side as ever, but she was still bossing us all about in her usual way. So when you watch this film, think of one of our industry’s most talented stars who has just taught us all a life lesson. And, please, for VJ, support the campaign and make a pledge.
Mark Roalfe is chairman of VMLY&R