What got me into marketing
In short, getting frustrated with a mop.
In September 1992, I had good reason to truly despise Monday mornings.A year earlier, I had turned my back on A Levels to study for a BTEC National Diploma in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Operations at Clarendon College in Nottingham. I don’t know why, except I had no idea what to do with my life, I liked the idea of being as cool as the hotel manager in Pretty Woman and my uncle once told me I was quite good at making a fruit salad.
Monday mornings had a three-hour slot allocated for ‘Accommodation’. A module that involved understanding how hotels worked in the most minute of detail:
How to choose a carpet based on its shag pile density.
How to shape a bishop’s mitre for napkins on a dining table.
How to turn down a bedroom.
And on this particular Monday morning, a slippery slide right to the bottom:
How to mop the floor of a working kitchen for maximum efficacy.
It’s in a figure of eight, if you’re interested. I wasn’t.
It was the moment that confirmed I had made a terrible mistake. This wasn’t for me. What had I done?
But, from the despair of the morning came the hope of the afternoon. A sudden new sense of purpose brought by a new module that had appeared on my timetable. ‘The Principles of Marketing’.
Sadly, I can’t remember the tutor’s name, but I vividly recall his energy and enthusiasm for the subject and in particular the very first lesson he took. He told this simple compelling tale to capture, in essence, what marketing is all about. It was a story of three brothers looking to start their own butchers in competition with each other.
The first butcher – John Ham (nominative determinism in full effect) opened his shop on the high street and called it:
‘J. Ham. Butcher.’
The second butcher, Tony, realised he would need to stand out from his brother and bought the unit two doors down and called it:
‘T Ham, Master Butcher’.
The final brother, Ben, and the master of marketing in this story, bought the unit in between his other brothers and simply called it:
I was hooked.
Simplicity, common sense, smart thinking, ideas. Way better than carpets, napkins and mops. Suddenly I had clarity, I wanted to do Marketing at uni. Unfortunately, a BTEC qualification massively limits your options, but I managed to blag my way onto the BA Hons PR course at what was then Leeds Met.
In my third year, we had the option to work in the industry and I had decided that agency life sounded way better than ‘client side’ so I wrote to a load of agencies, got an interview and eventually a placement at Seven Associates, a small agency in Leeds, that offered Advertising, Design, Sales Promotion and PR services.
I spent the year working in the PR department writing press releases and coming up with photo opportunities for clients like Flamingo Land and Pleasure Island theme parks. It was a good experience, but my head was turned by advertising.
Sitting only a couple of desks away from me were the two creative directors, Glen and Pat. They would sit there talking about ads and I loved hearing them bounce ideas back and forward and having a right laugh while they did. I found myself writing down thoughts and lines about things they were talking about.
One day when they were working on a campaign to promote a college in Leeds, encouraging people leaving school to consider further education, I finally plucked up the courage to share a thought with them. Risking complete ridicule, I picked up a marker, turned to a fresh page in Pat’s Letraset pad and wrote the line:
‘They say school days are the best days of your life. They obviously didn’t go to college’.
I doubt they ran it. If they did it wouldn’t have won any awards and it explains why I don’t work in the creative department now, but I didn’t get laughed out of the room – “Hey, that’s not bad” was the response – and it cemented a love for advertising and creativity which is still there today.
I returned to uni convinced of the industry I wanted to go into afterwards, but not before I had done a year of travel.
However just before the end of the final term, I got a call from the MD at Seven asking me to come back and work in the advertising team as an Account Executive. I explained my travel plans and he just said: “Don’t be stupid” and then perhaps more empathetically: “Just try it for a year and travel after that”.
So, I did. A year passed and I never looked back.
Seven was acquired by Charles Walls Group (CWG) in 1999 where one of the directors was a certain Dave Sewards (you can read what got him into marketing here). We worked together on Red Square and Caribbean Twist campaigns in the first year and then launched Virgin Drinks. I guess we must have got on pretty well…
Then he left and I got an email from him from a Sydney internet café asking if I fancied getting involved in a new agency whenever he returned. Sadly, I said yes 😉 and the rest is history.