Carl Hopkins Feature England

Uncle Carl: Pearls of wisdom

By The Drum | Administrator

January 24, 2008 | 7 min read

Uncle Carl

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m a shy creative and feel nervous when it comes to making presentations. My colleagues seem to have no problems with confidence and regularly hog the limelight. Does it take a big mouth to get ahead in advertising?

Interesting point, which bothered me too in my early days. I have no idea how old you are so if you are 40+ then you are screwed but I will assume you are young and fresh-faced. I too hated the ‘show and tell’ aspect of the business. I think as ‘creatives’ we are somewhat introspective and precious of our ideas and run from opportunities to push the babies of our creative musings out of our warm creative nest, into the cold hard world of criticism and selling. Your motivation for wanting to stand there should be that no-one can sell your ideas better than you. It means something to a client to hear the ‘whys and wherefores’ from the person who created the idea. You need to dig deep and tap into the show-off inside of you. A presentation is a show so you need to be able to act. There are a few secrets which you will eventually realise but here are two. First, no-one in the audience wants you to fail or expects you to be the greatest presenter in the world – your passion and creative skill will fill any deficit in your presentation skills. Secondly, everyone who presents is nervous, and if they say they aren’t then I would suggest they are not that good. Practice, make your mistakes in the safety of your own home. Video yourself, talk to others who you think are good, attend lots of other presentations and take the best of what you see from them. Alternatively, pay me loads of cash and I will make you fabulous!

Dear Uncle Carl,

What’s the best way to make a good impression at a new agency?

Three simple things will make you very popular and successful regardless of your role.

Turn up on time Dress appropriately Do the job you’re employed to do as well as you can.

Not difficult. I am fortunate enough to work with individuals to help them in their roles and a couple of things I always tell them are be interested beyond your desk. Look at where your ‘work’ comes from and get to know what that person has to do, and needs, in order to do a good job. What are they trying to achieve and more importantly, how can you help them do this? Then look at where the ‘work’ goes when it leaves your desk and again ask, what you can do to make the next person more effective and efficient at what they need to do? If you focus on these things as well as doing your job I promise you will be adored by all around you. Think about it.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I often feel like this place would fall apart if I wasn’t here. The pressure is killing me. What should I do?

Tell ‘them’. I guarantee if you have the right people around you and you tell them how you feel they will step up to help and once you have said how you feel it will also not seem half as bad as you currently think it is. Perhaps you need to look at the role you feel you have and start dividing it up into different functions and then do the same for the team around you. Do you have the right people doing the right things? By the sound of your mental state I would say ‘No’, you don’t. Try to write down who does what and then overlay that with what people are good at. Think about the importance of those various roles to the business and do not forget to also consider what it is that you actually ENJOY doing. You are allowed to enjoy yourself too. Give it a shot, you will feel better I promise.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I made an adult movie some years back. Now I’m building an honest reputation in the industry, should I come clean before it comes back to haunt me?

Go public and capitalise on your mucky movie madness, it didn’t do any harm to the profiles of Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson. Send me a copy for a fuller response.

Dear Uncle Carl,

There’s recently been a big fall-out at the agency over our client direction. We’re getting by now but you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. How do you suggest we smooth it over?

I hope I understand your question to mean you have internally disagreed with the sort of clients/prospects you are chasing. It is often the case that the larger your business becomes, the more reasons there are for taking on a mixed bag of clients. You may set out to work just on retail or financial services and just in the direct arena or digital, but over time this clear objective becomes muddied. There are many reasons for this; one of the big ones being that it’s hard to turn away turnover and profit. There are many more. I think you need to ensure that everyone within the agency understands there has to be a mix of clients for economic reasons; to spread risk, to broaden skills, to gain knowledge, some simply to contribute to the running costs. Some clients are your ‘profit’, some accounts will grow and some may have changed direction since you acquired them. There has to be a mix. The more your staff understand how your agency runs, the more they will accept your client mix. You can then discuss a new business strategy and aim to acquire certain clients in certain areas – but it’s simply not that easy. After all, you are running a business not a design/art based charity. If ‘they’ don’t like it, ‘they’ can set up their own business and see how difficult it is.

Dear Uncle Carl,

My creatives insist they need a football table and an Xbox 360 in order to free their creative minds. Is this entirely necessary or just an excuse for slacking off?

What happened to drugs to free the creative mind? I don’t think we would have ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ had Messieurs Lennon and McCartney tossed about on pro-football manager or whatever the shag it’s called. I have to admit to having had a pool table in the middle of our creative department for a while though. I would say it’s okay – as long as they bring in their own aforementioned devices of distraction. Why should you have to pay for them? It can do no harm if it’s in the right place in your agency and used at the right times – might get them off Facebook. In fact, in-house game tournaments can be a good team builder and a chance to gamble and take money back from your staff. They will, however, get bored of it and next month want bean bags and hammocks and the walls a different colour – so be prepared.

How come it’s always the creatives making demands? (And they get away with it!). You never get your accounts department asking if they can have a new-fangled Abacus or 42” plasma calculator or the receptionist suggesting Ker-plunk in the reception as it will make her (sorry, is that sexist?) better at answering the phones do you? – Good luck.

If you have a question that you would like to put to Uncle Carl, email

Carl Hopkins Feature England

More from Carl Hopkins

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +