What I've learned from an hour with advertising's biggest personalities

An Hour of Advertising's Matt Williams

An Hour of Advertising came about in the same way most good side projects come about. Frustration.

I was frustrated with the industry. I was frustrated with the job I was doing (note to my new employers, this is long before I met you). I was frustrated with the sheer amount of bullshit being spouted in ‘ad land’.

I wanted assurance that the grass can be greener. That advertising is still full of lovely, talented people. People who care about the industry and each other. I wanted to show that advertising is still a brilliant career for those who take what they do seriously, but don’t take themselves seriously.

So I spoke to a few old acquaintances. And I was put in touch with a bunch more. All brilliant people who play a part in making our industry as glorious as it can be.

I wanted to meet people who were interesting and interested. I wanted them to come from all corners of ‘ad land’. To show that industry advice isn’t just the domain of Trott, Ogilvy and other people called also called Dave.

And, crucially, I wanted to make sure they were all lovely people. ‘Being lovely’ is an underrated quality. It sounds soft and weak. But in an era when empathy is reportedly the most important skill you can have, I wanted to discover that advertising was still overflowing with loveliness.

Fuck the tortured asshole creative director who’ll produce gold if you stroke their ego enough. Or the genius planner who’ll bring you an APG award providing you just leave them alone for a bit.

The project kicked off in earnest last year and I’m delighted to say I found a lot of people who fit the criteria. I bought them each a beer and we spoke about the industry for an hour.

We always started with the same question – do you remember the first time in your career you really screwed up? Because you can learn a lot from that question, because self-awareness is important and because it’s quite fun to see industry legends squirm. And then the conversation flowed unscripted from there.

I began to publish our conversations verbatim. I believe the New Yorker refers to them as ‘long reads’.

And it was very easy to feel reenergised. I found out why people got into the industry, like Creature founder Dan Cullen-Shute:

“I went to Careers Services and there was a questionnaire that asked me whether I wanted to work in the City, work in management consultancy or work in ‘other’. I thought that the first two sounded awful, so I was definitely an ‘other’ kind of guy.”

I found out how the best agencies retained their staff, such as how BBH kept the outstanding talent that is Mel Exon for 19 years:

“BBH always held my attention because they let me make mistakes and because they’d let me learn.”

And I discovered the real Adam & Eve business plan, directly from Ben Priest himself:

“It was a case of us saying to each other ‘let’s try not to lose our houses and be found out as the massive twats that we are’.”

The articles have been published on Medium. So far, along with Cullen-Shute, Exon and Priest, we’ve had brilliant creatives like Vikki Ross, clever planners like Amelia Torode and Will Humphrey, stellar clients like Jonathan Harman and media top brass like David Wilding and Pete Edwards.

And now I’m besides-myself-excited that, starting Monday, The Drum is going to publish future Hour of Advertisings going forward. We’ve got loads of great names coming up from, as promised, all corners of the industry. Diversity champions such as Jane Evans, agency leaders like Zaid Al-Zaidy, headhunters like Helen Kimber, creative chiefs like Wayne Deakin. We’ve got D&AD’s Tim Lindsay. SCA 2.0’s Marc Lewis. Lucky Generals' Andy Nairn. It’s a pretty awesome list.

I hope you enjoy the interviews as much as I do. I hope you find them insightful, empowering and entertaining. And I hope it reminds you that the industry is not as egotistical, vacant and devoid of future as some would have us believe.

Matt Williams is head of content at MSQ Partners. An Hour of Advertising will kick off on The Drum on Monday (2 September)

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