I came to London the day after I finished my doctoral thesis. To be honest, that degree wasn't a great help on the job front. As a recruitment consultant gently put it: "You are totally unmarketable".
Undaunted, I answered a classified ad for a researcher at a company called Ogilvy and Mather Direct. I had no idea what this company did but Lady Luck winked at me during my interview with the managing director, Brian Thomas. He was from my hometown, Blackpool, and this at least gave us something in common. Indeed, we talked less of WWAV Rapp Collins and the like, and more of Matthews, Mortensen and Mudie.
At the end I was amazed when he said, "So, when can you start?" Looking at my watch, I said, "How about in 10 minutes?"
I did this job for 11 months and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then, by another stroke of luck, O&M Direct's global vice-chairman, Drayton Bird, noticed a report I'd written and asked if I wanted to be a "real writer".
I was speechless. "Have you got a book?" he enquired. I thought it was an odd question, but I fished out the copy of Heart of Darkness that I was reading and handed it over to him.
He gave me a long reading list of books about advertising, direct marketing and copywriting, and a job in the creative department. I could not have been happier or more apprehensive.
To compensate for my late start, I tried to read more and work harder than my peers. I always felt I was going to be found out. It was encouraging to discover that far more talented individuals than I also had this sense of insecurity. I once asked David Ogilvy, then aged 81, when he'd felt like he'd really 'made it'? "About four years ago," he replied.
After a couple of years, I agreed to become head of copy on the condition that I could go to New York. I figured that, over there, I might learn a bit more about 'strategy' (whatever that was). One night, however, our creative directors in London had a row with the managing director and walked out.
I'm still not sure whether this was good or bad luck. I'd never wanted a management role. In fact, I'd resigned as group head saying there wasn't enough money in the Ogilvy network that would compensate me for sitting round looking at other peoples' work. In retrospect, this was a little grandiose, as a group head's salary was then in the region of £11,000 a year.
Yet, suddenly I'd been thrust into the lead role. I reckoned I'd give it six months before I was rumbled and then I'd get back to doing what I really enjoyed - my own ads.
As I was backing into the limelight, the ad industry was tumbling into one of the worst recessions for years. This was again fortunate because, for the first time, brand-literate, young creatives were being forced to consider direct marketing.
Very quickly, they were producing a potent mix of DM techniques and 'big' advertising ideas and, in turn, helping to usher in a creative renaissance in our industry.
This new approach sold lots of products and won us lots of awards. As a result, we were seen as the best department in the Ogilvy worldwide network which led to me being made European creative director - a stroke of bad luck, in retrospect.
My luck returned when I started my own agency, and the department here at HTW is now full of very talented Cannes Grand Prix and DMA Gold winners.
Touch wood, I haven't been rumbled yet and, you know something, I quite enjoy this creative director malarkey nowadays, too.
Starting out: PhD in history at the University of Manchester
First job: Research executive, Ogilvy and Mather Direct
Moving up the ladder:
- Copywriter, O&M Direct
- Head of copy, O&M Direct
- European creative director, O&M Direct
- Creative partner, HPT Brand Response
1 Read more than anyone else
2 Work harder than anyone else
3 Never do anything for the money
4 Try to work with people who are better than you are
5 Don't walk under ladders