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What I learned... in Hollywood and Bollywood, with Receptional’s Justin Deaville

Justin Deaville of Receptional on the journey from stage to (digital marketing) screen / Kyle Head via Unsplash

Talent in the marketing industry comes from every corner of the globe and every discipline you can think of. The engine that keeps the industry going is a constant supply of new and interesting ideas from fresh blood. In our new series What I Learned... we explore the surprising origin stories of some of agency land's biggest characters and brightest stars.

In a varied career, Justin Deaville has worked as an agency leader and consultant ina slate of marketing roles. What you won’t see on his LinkedIn is that, for years, he was a professional actor in the West End, Hollywood and Bollywood. We dug into his years treading the boards and how they changed him.

Hi Justin! Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.

Hi, I’m managing director at Receptional, a 50-strong digital marketing agency. We specialize in search and social and we love working with challenger brands.

I’ve been running the agency for about 10 years. I love the variety of agency life – every day is different.

OK – but you haven’t always been a marketer, have you? I’ve heard you used to be a performer...

No, I’ve had a varied career. Some might say checkered. And a past life I used to keep pretty quiet about. I used to work as a professional actor. Mainly theater work, up and down the country, but also some Bollywood, Hollywood and a stint in the West End.

After graduating, I worked in marketing for a couple of years. But I’d always had a passion for the theater. So I retrained, started auditioning, got myself an Equity card, and didn’t look back.

During my career, I worked with a wealth of brilliant actors, directors and producers. I was lucky enough to work on a tour of a theater production of Dad’s Army. I played ze German U-boat officer. It’s such brilliant writing, the audiences loved the show, and we were well-received wherever we went.

Dad’s Army to digital is quite a jump. How did you get from there to here?

Towards the end my enthusiasm for touring waned and I started to get excited by the digital world, which was changing so quickly. My agent retired and, rather than look for new representation, I decided to see if I could find a permanent position in digital marketing.

I had to interview for a job for the first time in years. In my first interview I was asked to prepare a presentation. I went completely over the top and prepared a full-scale theatrical production. Needless to say, I wasn’t hired.

After a couple of attempts, I convinced an SEO firm to take me on. I had my first job in digital marketing. At first, I kept quiet about my acting past. I worried my new colleagues would feel I wasn’t committed to my new career and might decide to start auditioning again at any moment.

Today, there’s no chance you’ll see me on stage performing. I’m far too rusty and feel sure I would struggle to remember the lines.

OK, but back to the drama. Wasn’t that hard to break into itself?

Well, I went about the whole thing completely the wrong way! I should have applied to drama school when I was in my teens.

Instead, I studied for a politics degree. And, a few years after graduating, re-trained part-time because it was the only affordable route. I studied a two-year course at the City Lit and supplemented that training with courses at The Actors Centre in Soho. And then, once I started getting paid acting work, I learnt on the job.

My first role in the West End came quickly. It was a great experience, working with accomplished actors and learning the rituals of the theatre. It was a timely confidence boost, and loads of fun.

There must be a lot you’ve taken with you into the business world...

I learned so much. Not least was how to handle rejection. Actors are always looking for their next job. Some weeks, I could audition for two or three different roles. At first, I was being rejected from all of them.

I quickly realized I was never going to be the greatest actor in the world. But I was diligent. And I realized that, if I could master the audition process, I would work regularly. So I developed my audition technique. I practiced and practiced. And, by the end of my career, I knew I stood a great chance of getting any role I went up for.

Which in many ways, is what I do today. I regularly pitch to potential new clients. And they want to know how I’m going to help tell their story.

And theater’s a very interdisciplinary, team-based form. How does that help you now?

I’m constantly surprised by how transferable my theater skills were.

Drama is a collaborative experience. You have to make connections with people you don’t know well; you have to build trust with a team; and you have to be able to pick up a brief quickly. Which are useful skills in almost any line of work.

Of course, I love presenting and working with an audience. And I enjoy storytelling. Which is incredibly useful when planning online campaigns.

That said, I don’t have much reason to bust out my Bollywood moves these days. So, not all of my skills transferred directly to digital.

So would you recommend a youth in the theater to any budding digital marketers out there?

I loved working in the theater and was lucky enough to work regularly. Not everyone does, and it can be tough financially. It’s a way of life that takes 100% commitment. You have to make sacrifices. You have to be willing to drop everything for the next job – and be ready to move to the other end of the country at a moment’s notice. Which isn’t to everyone’s taste.

But I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything. It was a brilliant way of life, packed with brilliant and inspiring people. And I feel lucky I’ve found a second career that provides stability for my family – but is equally fast-moving, and just as challenging.

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