Jonathan Durden on exiting the industry: 'I felt bored being treated like gold'

In the second in The Drum's Why I Left Advertising series, we speak to PHD co-founder Jonathan Durden about his escape from - and re-entry into - the media and marketing industries.

Jonathan Durden doesn’t have an office anymore. The co-founder of PHD now works in the oak-panelled West End institute The Ivy, working almost purely off his iPhone to consult for a variety of startups and businesses, as well as running his own brand, a male grooming label called Below The Belt.

Durden did not slowly fade out of the advertising world’s consciousness; there were no uncertain moves to easy board positions or quiet LinkedIn tweaks. He departed PHD as its last founding partner to do so in 2007, because “I felt bored with earning half a million pounds a year and being treated like gold.”

He joined MCBD (now Dare), penned a novel “in a month”, memorably entered the Big Brother House and for a short while became tabloid fodder, all in quick succession. But eventually something materialised – or broke – in Durden, and he trampled a path to the door.

“I didn't have a life anymore,” he recalls. “My wife sadly had passed away. My children were in a terrible state. And I wasn't in a great state. When you're in that kind of mental space you just want to make a break for the border: hug the kids, learn new things, and not distract yourself with worry about a brief for an ear bud or a motor car.

“It was a big time in my life. It wasn't sensible financially to go, but it was for my soul.”

After a few years he remarried and upon having a baby, they upped sticks and went to Spain with the intention of staying for six months. They ended up staying there, up a mountain, for three years. The money came in by way of a long distance gig with PR mogul Mark Borkowski.

“I love it there because it's such a simple life but I had to come back eventually. I just had no idea I could last three years. That was a surprise. But it was good for me.”

Now with a stake in the likes of the Lad Bible, DCM, his own company and two new startups, as well as mentorships and other consulting projects, is he still bored?

“I’m always bored. I have the shortest attention span of anyone you’ll ever meet. But now I get busy. I’m very lucky. I can pick and choose by and large when I work. I'll be anywhere I need to be at any given time.

“But I think I'm pretty full. I don't think I can do much more. I'm kind of an addictive sort of person so it's all or nothing. I'm in all mode right now and I love it. I cherish this time.”

Watch ex-Havas chairman Kate Robertson's Why I Left Advertising interview here.

Katie Deighton

Katie Deighton is The Drum’s senior reporter - creative and video based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title’s editorial video output, including series such as On The Scene, Ad Breakers and Why I Left Advertising, and manages its coverage of the creative sector. She also reports on the intersection between politics and marketing, as well as the third sector and fashion.

All by Katie