‘Staple your work to a tree’ and other colourful truisms: a tribute to the late Jo Hodges

Lessons In Life and Advertising by Jo Hodges

Jo Hodges, the unmistakable industry stalwart and London College of Communications (LCC) lecturing legend, passed away from an ongoing illness on 25 July.

Her untimely death at the age of 58 has sent a tremor not only through the ranks of her students (of which there are, and have been, many) but through the close-knit London advertising scene. Before she half-escaped that world for a life in academia with LCC, she had racked up time with the likes of DMB&B, GGK and Ogilvy & Mather, as well as working as feature film screenwriter.

Hodges was for close friend and creative Tony Hector “a mentor” and “a pioneer for diversity”. She was a “crazy, free-spirited, opinionated, wonderfully funny, energetic, inspiring, visionary, shit-kicking, anti-establishment friend” to Karmarama founder Dave Buonaguidi, who added: “Jo's maverick character in an industry so devoid of vision, challenge and personality is a huge loss.”

The invite to her funeral (no dress code) says it all: ‘If you didn’t know her – you missed out’.

Reading the tributes from her graduates, it would hard to overstate the influence Hodges had on the new blood of the advertising community. “It’s very rare that someone impacts the way you go about your work every single day,” said Charlotte Cramer, strategist, charity founder and holder of a BA from the LCC Advertising course. “For me, Jo was that person.

“‘What would Jo do?’ was a quiet but consistent voice in the back of my head – or devil on my shoulder – and I have no doubt that my greatest successes were a result of responding to it (calling my homeless charity Crack + Cider, for example).”

That voice, which was by no means quiet in real life, had so much wisdom to impart on advertising’s students that Cramer and a group of LCC alumni are preserving Hodges’ lessons in the form of a book. ‘I Don’t Get It: Lessons in Life and Advertising’ features the greatest hits of Hodges’ advice.

“No one cares what’s in your portfolio,” she once said. “Your ideas aren’t ideas until you put them out there. Sometimes that means you’ve gotta print it out and stick it on a tree.”

The idea to immortalise Hodges’ words came to Cramer after she found herself “spending a lot more time listening that voice, making it more conscious and sharing it with friends and others who were grieving” after hearing the news of her death. Recalling these gems of advice was not hard. “Jo’s lessons were repeated to her students day after day for three years,” she explained. “It’s why they’re so deeply ingrained in how we go about our work.”

The alumni group unearthed more quotes through creating a shared document and starting up a group Facebook message. It soon became clear that “I don’t get it” was the definitive line that summed up the lecturer’s wit and wisdom. It’s a candid phrase any copywriter would surely be proud of, and now the title of a book.

All proceeds from ‘I Don’t Get It’ will be donated to LCC’s BA Advertising course, which will be donating individual gifts to students who need financial support in Hodges’ name.

“Jo showed me how to see the magic in everyone,” said Cramer. “And when I see it - I’ll tell them. I’ll tell everyone. Jo taught me not to be scared of fucking up or pissing a few people off. Jo showed me that I’m a genius – and so are you. Jo showed me that diversity is good and my idea of diversity isn’t very diverse.

“And Jo taught me that if I have an idea I have to put it out to the world. This book is an example of that. I’ll be damned if it lives and dies in an obituary.”

Jo Hodges, 1959-2017, described by...

Jason Gormley, freelancer and former creative director of Wolff Olins

"I’ve worked with some of the smartest folks in the business. But she was the only true genius I ever met. You’d be halfway through explaining a problem to her, and she’d interrupt - blurting out a solution. No one thinks that fast you’d think, she’s not really listening - idiot. How wrong you were. A week later, if you bothered to even hear her idea, you’d realise, why yes, of course - that’s it, That’s It! By then you’d probably forgotten who even thought of it.

"When it came to teaching, she led by magnificent example. She loved to improvise, to react to and build on the students’ questions, their ideas, their thoughts. Jo took a moribund LCC Advertising Course – going from lecturer to course leader – and turned it into a beacon of creativity. More and more and still more students were attracted by this spectacular firework of a woman. Her course won awards, she won awards, and forged links with some of the best agencies, and educational schemes and institutes the world over.

"Until, you guessed it, as ever, ‘the establishment’ grew fearful, scared of her otherness. She wasn’t a professional ‘teacher’, a careerist, a plodder and planner of lessons, trotting out the same old-same old year in year out. She was a TEACHER. She blew shit up. They didn’t deserve her. None of us did. I’ll be surprised if I live to see another quite like her. Unique. Special. Precious. Jo was her own, greatest, work of art."

Verity Fenner, freelance creative director and creative/associate lecturer at LCC

"Jo Hodges was a phenomenal lady. The champion of positivity and creativity who saw something good in every single student she taught. There wasn’t a bone in her body that wasn’t creative or enthusiastic. She helped make the sometimes uniform and straight world of ours an interesting, diverse and weird world to be.

"Thanks for not being like everyone else. For hating paperwork. For hating the Tories. For loving Leicester City. And for that laugh. And for being one of the only people to get an entire room full of students to actually listen to you.

"You’ll be missed. More than you would ever have known."

Steve Henry, founder of Decoded London

Jo Hodges was one of the true originals in the advertising industry - honest, passionate, smart, sensitive, but above all incredibly curious. She was so wonderfully curious about advertising, curious about human beings, curious about life.

"There was only one Jo Hodges, and she brought so much to the world. We will miss her enormously."

The farewell event for Jo Hodges will take place on Friday 18 August at 3pm at St Marylebone Crematorium.

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.

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