The Kindness of (advertising) Strangers
It’s July 1990. I’ve just returned from a year in Hamburg where I was a clerical assistant to a giant car rental firm – fresh out of uni and living and working and getting paid in German. But I have a dream, and that dream is to be an advertising copywriter. The chances of nailing a job out in Germany is pretty low – playing with your own language is hard enough let alone with someone else’s. And so I get on a DFDS ferry back to Harwich, camp out in my Grandma’s spare room in Cricklewood and, using the limited advice available pre-internet, pull together an advertising portfolio.
The instructions I’ve been given by the careers office booklet on advertising copywriting from my old uni is to design around thirty ads, then call up agencies to ask if I can show them to anyone. My first portfolio is A4, filled with black and white sketches for around thirty different products and services. It takes me a month to pull together and all I have to do now is show it to the world.
However, I’m just as phone-o-phobic in 1990 as I am in 2020. The thought of calling a stranger sends ridiculous amounts of adrenaline coursing round my system and so I write a letter to J Walter Thompson in Berkeley Square, hoping that this can all be done remotely. Incredibly, as the letter from Claire Bird you can see here proves, JWT get back to me. The year following graduation is peppered with rejections from potential employers, so to get something that is not a “no” or “sorry, we’re not hiring” is a huge plus.
I remember the hours it takes to psych myself up to call Danielle Ferreyrol who for some reason I assume must be a formidable woman in her fifties who resembles Miss Trunchbowl. Danielle is nothing like Trunchbowl; she is friendly and professional and deals with my call as if kids like me ring her up out of the blue all the time. She gives me the number of Lewis Lloyd and Richard Barrick which means that I need to make anothe call to more strangers. As you can see, I’m so nervous that I even scribble on the letter what to say if someone picks up the phone in case the excitement or fear makes my mind go blank. Lewis answers and arranges a meeting. I’m so euphoric that I write “Yeh!” on the letter which Claire sent me. I’m off to Green Park. My advertising adventure has officially begun.
Lewis and Richard are lovely and tactfully suggest that I reduce the number of campaigns in my portfolio to five or six, with three or four ads in each campaign. And that I colour them in. They show me a fantastically polished book from a team who they have just hired from GGT, fill my pockets with magic markers from the JWT stationery cupboard and pack me off to see Russell Ramsay and John O’Keefe at BBH. Russell and John help me get onto the D&AD workshop – Russell art directs the poster which gets me onto the course and the two of them invite me in to BBH every Tuesday to make sure that my work is up to scratch for the Wednesday workshop.
It’s July 1990. I barely know anyone in London let alone anyone in advertising, but the kindness of Claire, Danielle, Lewis, Richard, Russell and John who all make time to get me started has never been forgotten. Which is why I still have this letter.