Paul Mason and Mark Harrison are busying themselves up in Newhaven’s airy ‘loft’ space, with the buzz of the agency drifting upwards to the mezzanine area.
Luring the creative partnership away from their desks with the promise of chocolate biscuits (that part’s easy – they recently won the Border Biscuits account) Mason and Harrison settle into a couch, tea-cups in hand.
Newhaven was quick to build a reputation for creativity. Some argued that that was always going to be the case when you launch with a client as forward-thinking as Tennent’s. However, at this year’s advertising awards, Newhaven scooped daggers for four different clients, with work created by Mason and Harrison winning the majority of the plaudits.
The creative team have been working at Newhaven for a year and a quarter. But their paths first crossed two and a half years ago when trying to crack the industry.
“I was showing my book around,” says Harrison. “I’d split up with my copywriter. I had a load of headlines patched together, the wrong way ‘round. Kind of dyslexic. I went into the Union to speak to Andrew Lindsay, Don [Smith] and Stevie Drummond. They liked my ideas, I think, but said I needed a copywriter.
“Paul,” nods Harrison, in the direction of his creative partner, “had been at The Union for a placement before moving onto The Bridge.”
“Yeah...I’d been there for three months before going through to The Bridge,” confirms Mason. “I was working with a guy who had a bit more experience, and I was looking for someone who was a bit more like myself. It’s better to team up with someone who’s at the same level...”
“So The Union gave me his [Mason’s] number and I gave him a ring to see if he fancied meeting up. I jumped on a train and we had a pint and I showed Paul my book...” says Harrison.
“...now I can’t get rid of him,” laughs Mason.
Despite gelling well as a team, Mason and Harrison come from quite different vocational backgrounds.
While Harrison trundled the traditional route, going to Newcastle College to do an HND in advertising, before a brief stint in London, Mason joined the industry having worked for a number of years as an electrician.
“I had been in my last job for nine years and had decided enough was enough,” reflects the copywriter. “I wanted to do something that I enjoyed. So I went back to college and studied journalism. That was when I stumbled across copywriting. I went to D&AD workshops which got me in to meet people...”
Including The Union, where the team worked for about a year. “I suppose it was mainly shovelling the shit,” reflects Mason. “There are a lot of creatives at the Union. A lot of senior teams. We were by far and away the most junior people, so we had to fight, as everyone else did, to get the best briefs.
“In saying that, The Union wasn’t a bad place to work. And I’m very grateful for them giving us a chance in our first full-time role. But maybe we didn’t get quite the same encouragement there as we do here.”
Harrison nods in agreement: “There are only three teams – Zane [Radcliffe] and Gareth [Howells], me and Paul and Troy [Farmworth] and Paul [McDonald] – who are working here at the moment. So, when a brief comes in everyone has to have a go. You certainly get more than a fair kick of the ball in here.”
“The culture at Newhaven means that it’s a nice place to work,” continues Mason. “I know for a fact that clients enjoy coming in. There are also plenty of talented people here. We [Harrison and Mason] might not have a massive amount of agency experience, but there is none of the back-stabbing that you hear about in other agencies. You don’t have to mind your back.
“We all sit down and share ideas,” agrees Harrison. “If someone’s got an idea about your brief, then they will share it. A good script might become a great script after a ten minute meeting when an account handler makes a point about it. It’s not just the creative teams that talk, everyone working on an account will have input into the job.”
“There is no size down attitude here,” says Mason, nodding towards the creative directors’ desks. “Creatively, Gareth and Zane are just delighted if there is good work going out the door, which is quite refreshing for us.”
As talk drifts temporarily to table football, the traditional agency pastime with money changing hands and fighting talk, the line in conversation drifts to friendship.
“I don’t think it’s vital that a creative team gets along and socialises together, and the rest. But it works well for us. It helps. We socialise after work – especially on a Friday night. It’s not a set rule that we do or don’t,” says Mason.
“Where it really helps,” picks up Harrison, “is when you are working on a brief and getting nowhere. Instead of sitting there in silence, or banging your head off a wall, you can talk about something else.
“You do see it: creative teams that don’t get on well. But it must be hard.”
“We don’t go shooting each other’s work down,” says Mason, looking to his partner for confirmation. (He gets it). “If Mark is keen on an idea, but I’m not so, we will still present as a united front. We will always back each other up. You have to stick together.”
As Mason recalls their trophy-laden evening at this year’s Advertising Awards – or what he can remember of it (it was his birthday on the day of the event) – he talks of the importance to the agency of winning such awards. “I think awards do mean a lot to the creatives that pick them up.”
“You are certainly judged on them, to an extent,” interrupts Harrison. “You don’t always agree with what wins, and you have to hold close to you what you think is right and not always what anyone else thinks. But it’s certainly better to win than to not. It also meant a great deal to the agency to win all these awards. I think we [the agency] are very protective of the culture that we have. I don’t think we will ever grow to be a huge agency in terms of staff numbers... although you’ll have to ask the guys. I certainly think that there is a lot to be said for being a smaller unit. Teamwork is very important. The only thing we tend to argue about is whose round it is on a Friday night.”