It’s been two years since Jim Faulds sold his company to the management and, well, we know how that has turned out. I expect to find either a man very bitter about events or one that is laughing all the way to the bank. He is neither. Instead, Faulds gives an insight into setting up the business, recalling the good times, and the bad, and gives some food for thought about the changes in the Scottish advertising industry.
He begins, naturally, at the beginning: “We started in January 1985. We were a real start-up – we had seven staff, no money really and no clients, with myself and the two other directors – Dennis Chester and Alan Tait – putting in some money of our own.
“Our first client was what is now known as Martin Curry’s. It was known back then as Scottish Unit Trust Managers. It remained our client for about 15 years, maybe more. The strength of the agency was down to two reasons – the quality of the people and the quality of the relationships with the clients. That, essentially, is the secret of the company.”
Faulds is keen to reminisce on those heady days when, like today, clients were not the easiest to come by. Tenacity, it seems, is the key word in explaining their success in the first few years. As Faulds explains: “In the first year or so we needed income. We targeted different areas and we got them – in retail we targeted William Low. It took us something like ten years to get it. When we got William Low I was tickled pink that they said we had been the only agency that had managed to keep in touch with them but in a relevant way to the business. Time and again, what we did was fundamental common sense. It’s not rocket science, that’s for sure.”
Faulds, from the word go, was not always the most creative of agencies – however, Jim is quick to point out that its growing reputation came from the partnership of his two creative directors Andrew Lindsay and Simon Scott, along with the planning that Dennis Chester brought to the table: “The secret to Faulds was that, as well as being strong and working on client relationships, we had the ability to get on with people. With Dennis we had a planning director from day one, even though we did not have any business. In those days that was a rare thing – I think that Halls was the only other agency to have one. Investing in Simon Scott and Andrew Lindsay was another great move. When I interviewed Andrew I could not afford to hire him, and he agreed to come if I agreed that we hired Simon Scott too. So, from not being able to afford one of them, he managed to double the price. And I went away and thought about it and realised that you had to invest in people like them. It was the best decision that I ever made, hiring the two of them. They might think I am a stone-faced, crabbit old bastard but I thought they were great.”
While Faulds is keen to stress how important all of his staff were, he is just as glowing in his praise for the work produced. For him, some of the best work was created for publicly funded bodies, including the BBC, Scottish Executive and the Scottish Tourist Board: “There are a few campaigns that stand out for me – the first being the BBC Radio Scotland ad. That was genuinely mould-breaking. People just loved those ads. They were original. They worked.
“Simon Scott and Andrew Lindsay did an ad that was based on romance for the Scottish Tourism account. And I remember when I first saw it I thought, ‘God, what does this have to do with Scotland and tourism’ but I have to say that it was simply a work of genius. That was a golden age for Scottish Tourism. It is no coincidence that the advertising coincided with it.
“Also, the early work that we did with road safety. Advertising gets a bad press when it comes to advertising for children. I think that we have a lot to answer for when it comes to selling to kids. The advertising that we did managed to reduce the amount of kids getting hurt on the road. It was a privilege to work on that account. What we found out was that kids were more scared of being in hospital than dying, so we used that to its best possible effect. Advertising works if you understand the psyche and the needs of your core audience.”
Today, companies are still venturing south in order to make successful inroads into the market. Did Faulds ever feel that he needed to take the company to London in the early days? His response is refreshingly honest: “My view was that we had a lot still to do in Scotland. Our reputation was strongest in Scotland. We built the biggest agency by far in Scotland. Then we began to feel the pressure as we had a bank, we had a drinks company, and we had a life company. Suddenly we were restricted in what we could take on.
“I thought that we could do something better with that money so we set up a DM company, a design agency, a new media company and another advertising agency.
“The only time we thought about moving to London was when we knew British Midlands was reviewing the account. We had raised its profits to £13m from £1m, we had managed to increase the number of people travelling and the image, we delivered on everything that it wanted us to do. But it was the classic case of a big shot coming in and wanting to hire a fancy London agency. I have spent my life dealing with surprises, I don’t mind that, but I hate the inevitable happening. I knew it was coming – the guy was a waste of space – and, eighteen months later they realise it too and got rid of him, proving us right. But we still lost the client.”
However, there are no regrets about his decision to sell – although what came after obviously runs deep for Faulds: “The deal took two years to put together. It was unnecessarily long and complicated and I think that it took its toll on all of us. There was a feeling of sheer relief when I left on my last day. It was what I wanted to do and I have never regretted it for a minute. My only regret is that good people this week are looking for work. But good people will get work. The MBO was perfect because it allowed me to walk away, no-one lost their jobs, the people who ran the businesses could own them and the clients got continuity. The deal that I set up meant that everyone won. I am sorry about what has happened but I did all I could.”
Times are changing and being out of the business for a time has made Faulds acutely aware of what is happening in the industry – and he is far from thrilled: “We sell what we do too cheaply. The industry is its own worst enemy. I don’t think that the industry in Scotland has made enough money, nor has it been re-investing to make the industry stronger. Up until the mid-90s, all of our clients were on the standard terms. We were pretty selective about who we worked with. In the latter days, people were wanting more of a deal. But we stood our ground. I know for a fact that one of our bigger clients, who also had other agencies working for it, only paid the other agencies X and we got X plus, as we showed that we could offer value for money.
For Faulds, the future is bright. His emergence into the advertising industry after a two-year hiatus has seen him teaming up with new kids on the block Newhaven, becoming chairman of the company, and he is full of admiration for the four directors: “I had to laugh about the story that the directors of Faulds had registered the name in case I would go after it – I am not about to get back into the industry nor do I want to use my name in doing that. I enjoy the involvement that I have with Newhaven. It’s different from when I was at Faulds, as then my livelihood depended on it. Now I simply give my opinion and move on to another meeting. I don’t have to do the drudgery that goes with it.”
Faulds might be optimistic for the future, but he is still candid about the past: “I do have regrets. I regret not realising how strong Faulds was. I think we could have done an awful lot about it. I worried about client relations and I could have stepped back and got on with other things. Life plays tricks with you. By the time you know what you know it is sometimes too late. Now I look back and think about what we could have done. I could have built a media empire not an advertising agency. Now, I look forward and look up. I regret not being ambitious enough. I encourage people I work with now to be bolder than I was and really go for it.”
The way we were.
Some of faulds’ former employees reminisce about the good times.
Simon Scott, Creative Director,
The UNION Advertising Agency Ltd.
“When, in 1988, Andrew Lindsay asked me to join him as joint creative director at Faulds, Faulds was considered, in football parlance, to be a bunch of boot-it-up-the-park merchants, graceless journeymen – capable of inflicting the odd surprise defeat (Faulds had picked up a piece of the Scottish Office account) but, an outfit of little consequence when compared to the mighty Hall’s, Rex Stewart, Struthers, Woolward Royds et al.
It was, however, grudgingly acknowledged that Jim Faulds was possessed of an uncommon amount of street savvy and the rare ability – the ability to make money.
When I tendered my resignation to Hall’s, the hoots of derision could be heard from Drumsheugh to Drumchapel.
Within a year, Faulds had gone from never having won an award to winning more Scottish Advertising Awards than any other agency. Within two years Faulds was voted Agency of the Year. An honour it continued with monotonous regularity for the next seven years. Within four years Faulds was winning serious national and international awards. And it was making money. A great deal of it. So, why did success come so abundantly? And why, in the end, did it fail?
A great deal of the credit for success must go to Jim. Much as we teased him about his frequently dour demeanour, his insistence on seeing the glass as permanently half-empty, he had genuine leadership qualities and the ability to hire bravely and to leave well enough alone.
Circumstances were kind too. Of course, we had to work like hell to capitalise upon them – winning the privatisation campaign for Scottish Electricity gave Faulds a massive financial shot in the arm. By ‘95 Faulds was the most profitable and widely admired agency outside London. And, a lot of fun.
My own nagging sense of personal ambition meant that I had to try to start my own thing. But when we did set up the Union it was with a very genuine sense of regret.
I am very sad at the news. There are lessons here for all of us.
Catherine Markey, Advertisement Manager Scotland, The Financial Times.
“Scrutinising the research, analysing the most appropriate environment, choosing the optimum combination to form the perfect media schedule – then having Ian Wright come by your desk, scribble a few X’s on your schedule and quip ‘Media – it’s just X’s in boxes’. Of course, we did take our revenge with an excellent wind-up that I’m sure to this day still makes him shudder. Faulds Advertising was a fantastic place to work, with lots of great people. We worked hard but had fun at the same time. As part of the Media Department we allegedly had more fun than anyone else. According to Ian Wright (again!) we ‘Media Johnnies were always at a jolly’. However, on an early-morning British Midland flight from Heathrow, following an infamous Royal Bank bash involving Morris dancers and a shopping trolley, it wasn’t the media Johnnies who had to ask the flight attendant to open the window and let some fresh air in!
It was Joyce MacDonald of the Accounts Department (now at Spirit) who instilled the most fear – she’d appear with her bundles of invoice queries, which she’d insist were always caused by our errors, and we’d have to dive under desks, run to urgent meetings or, safest of all, hide behind Sara Maclean’s piles of filing as there was no hope of anything ever being found there. Those were the good old days!”
Adrian Jeffrey, Creative Director, 1576.
“I worked at Faulds for about four years and, wearing the inevitable rose-tinted spectacles, I remember it being pretty bloody good. My time there coincided (purely accidentally, I’m sure) with an amazing purple patch for the company. We won so many pitches that if we didn’t end the week with champagne in the boardroom we felt like complete failures. In my time there they gave me lots of creative opportunities. They asked me for my opinions. They encouraged me to take responsibility for the work of others in the department. They invested in training courses to teach me presentation skills. And they paid me well. When I rewarded them with the news that I was leaving to start 1576 they didn’t throw me out; they threw me a party. Nice people. Faulds advertising was one of Scotland’s finest agencies. Let’s not forget that.”
Ian Wright, Managing Director, Family.
“I never thought I’d be writing a piece like this and, to be honest, I’m still not sure whether I should be – however, when I think back to my seven years in Dundas Street, it is important to remember what was achieved and not just remember the agency in light of recent press coverage.
I came up from London and had been brainwashed that London agencies were the best – not true. There were some brilliant people at Faulds who were great to work with and remain friends to this day.
Many of the campaigns that came out of the agency were not only creatively superb, but were genuinely mould-breaking – I had the privilege of working on the first Domestic Violence campaign, which generated unprecedented press coverage and, more importantly, brought the issue out into the public domain.
Our new business record was second to none – pitching for Auto Trader in London and Weight Watchers in New York and winning both were great moments.
And we had loads of fun; a certain Royal Bank night at Fingers and a revealing taxi journey to Heathrow following the Auto Trader pitch were just two great times.
That’s the way I’ll remember the agency – great people, great work and great fun.”
Billy Mawhinney, JWT.
“Five years ago this month I was invited up to Edinburgh by Faulds for an interview for their creative director’s job. I had been drifting around a few agencies and wanted desperately to settle down somewhere and get on with a job I loved. It was important, therefore, that the environment I was joining was settled, so my first question to Jim Faulds was to ask him if he was staying around, and he replied he most certainly was. I passed the test and was offered a good incentive scheme that I was assured was very achievable.
Within six months, I think, Jim and Dennis had started negotiations and the bonus scheme was yesterday’s news. But I was working with the ever enthusiastic Ian Wright, a couple of great planners from AMV and Euro RSCG, and one of the best Creative Departments it’s been my pleasure to manage. So, despite the guilt of having gambled with my family and kids and moving to Bonnie Scotland, I really did feel we had a group of creatives who could do anything. With Steve and Pete, Tom and Pete, Bish and Martin, and Brian and Chris we went on a storming new business run in that first year. We won Kwik-Fit, Direct Line, Weight Watchers, Emap and the jewel in the skean-dhu, Auto Trader. Thanks to Ray Allan, a very rigorous and creative TV producer, and an excellent studio, we then proceeded to create a great raft of print and a reel of ads, shot by a brilliant list of directors all over the world.
Despite my odd rants, the work we produced was of the very highest quality and quite rightly went on to win awards in Scotland, Manchester and, more importantly, in London and, best of all, at D&AD. And not a chip shop in sight. Tom could out-art-direct anyone, Martin could out-write anyone in the financial sector and everyone else grew in confidence on each job we did. To see Bish debating a Scottish Executive ad with Paul Arden will live with me for a long time.
One year ago today, I returned back home to JWT. I miss the real team work of the Creative Department and I miss our neighbours out in Fife. But there’s a lot I won’t miss and, as my mum would say, ‘If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.’”