A Mark of Excellence

By The Drum, Administrator

April 20, 2007 | 5 min read

That Alan Frame was to have an industry award named in his honour would have appealed greatly to him. Not that he would have publicised the fact. That wasn’t his style. In fact, it was one of the great contradictions about Alan; that he would work so hard for each and every one of his successes, yet make such little fuss once he’d achieved them.

In part, this could be attributed to his West of Scotland upbringing: ‘brag about the highs and it’ll come back to bite you during the lows.’ (A philosophy, incidentally, that he also adopted when it came to another of his great passions – football.)

In truth however, it owed much more to the fact that Alan’s biggest competitor was himself. He was, by his own admission, driven by achievement, seeing every day as the next day to prove himself. He set the goals. He measured his progress. He, ultimately, decided whether or not he came up to the mark. No sooner had he achieved one goal than he was already planning the next.

What sparked this overwhelming desire to achieve? You only had to observe an innocent card game or board game between Alan and his family to learn that a competitive spirit was inherent within the Frame nature. But Alan’s first real taste of success came on the squash circuit as Scottish International, captain and later team manager – a six-year period in which Alan competed on a world stage and became accustomed to regular mentions in the sports pages.

Fast-forward a few years to a fledgling Frame agency and Alan’s next goal, other than to make a living, was not – at that stage at least – to build the number one agency in Scotland. It was much simpler: to attract the same column inches for his business performance as he had for his squash performances. “When you’ve tasted success, been amongst the top of your game”, he once explained, “you get an appetite for it.”

Hand in hand with being his biggest competitor, Alan was also his own harshest critic. Which explains why, long after the rest of us had realised just how brilliantly multi-talented he really was – planner, account man, creative, leader – Alan was still striving to better himself and the agency, whether by city centre premises, national accounts, IPA Effectiveness awards, creative awards or sharing the rewards amongst his team.

Confessing to “appallingly high standards” and a chip on his shoulder “for not having a degree, for never having made it as a golf professional, for being Scotland squash captain and manager but never being the number one squash player in the world”, Alan’s approach to overcoming his unorthodox CV was to be more hands-on than the competition. Clients would ask him to do something, he would say ‘yes’ – then he’d figure out how to do it. Or he’d bring in people who already knew how to do it. Either way, he’d deliver.

Business life became one continual learning curve and Alan Frame was an attentive student. IPA gathering, SMA meeting, Marketing Excellence Awards judging, awards dinners – you name it, Alan would seek to take something useful away from it.

The Frame successes that Alan did stop to recognise he attributed to “enthusiasm, hard work and delivering on promises” – that and surrounding himself with great people. Alan believed in the team passionately; in what he called ‘organic growth’ and building through people. On winning Marketing Services Company of the Year, his morning-after-the-night-before agency email read: “So what’s our greatest achievement? For me it’s realising that we wouldn’t have a business at all without great people. At Frame I’m surrounded by great people and you can be sure that we will continue to train and hire as best as we possibly can.” Stirring words, never more so than now.

Very recently there was a subtle but unmistakable change in Alan. The chip on his shoulder that had for so many years manifested itself as massive insecurity – a feeling of ‘waiting to be found out’ – had given way to the quiet realisation that ‘actually, I’m quite good at this’.

True to form, Alan looked not to the public milestones of topping the 2005 client and peer polls or the 2006 award for Marketing Services Company of the Year (though both made him smile) for this coming of age. Rather it was the private observation that a growing number of people whom he deemed to be at the top of their game – be it client-side, planning, media, TV production – sought his counsel as much as he sought theirs.

And so, whilst it’s only human nature to lament the things that Alan will never know – how highly he was regarded within the industry for example, or the Alan Frame Marketing Achievement Award itself – we should instead draw comfort from what he did know. Namely, that he was good, very good. Because it was that very recent self-acceptance, the silencing of inner critic by inner competitor, that brought Alan Frame the greatest satisfaction.


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