Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Neil French Got Into Advertising

Prestigious ad website ihaveanidea is launching a new regular feature called 'How D'You Get In?'

Twice a month, a Creative Director will share how he or she got into the business.

First up is the infamous Neil French, former WPP Worldwide Creative Director and founder of the World Press Awards.

I'm pretty sure that every word of what he has written is untrue, but it's highly entertaining stuff.

Although everything we've done makes us what we are today...for good or otherwise...I guess you'd like the precise moment when I had my first job in this racket.

Having been thrown out of an English Public School for decking the Deputy Headmaster, I got a job (via my long-suffering Dad's Masonic contacts) as a rent-collector in Birmingham. To describe this as miscasting is like saying that Buddha and Torquemada had a lot in common. They gave me the toughest areas, the red-light areas, and the immigrant ghettos. They also gave me a leather satchel and a German Shepherd, and some bus-fare.

Oddly-enough, I loved it. The people were really nice! The red-light area was an education in itself in so many ways; the Irish taught me how to fight dirty, drink Guinness, and operate betting-scams; and the Caribbean immigrants taught me to dance and smoke funny cigarettes.

The only snag was that I failed to collect any rents.

On my final day, I was widdled-on by an angry tenant, and chased up a high street by a large gentleman from Jamaica. The dog? It disappeared in the distance, never to be seen again. Dogs are smarter than they look, plainly.

On my arrival back at base, sans pooch and pouch, the boss called me into his office.
"You're not really cut out for this, are you?"
"No, Sir. Not really".
He leaned back in his chair and sighed.
"In my experience, anyone who's totally useless at everything else seems to go into advertising. I have a friend who owns an agency. Would you like me to make a call?"
"Yes, Sir. Please, Sir. That's jolly nice of you."

Ten minutes later, he called me back in and handed me a page torn out of the hitherto unsullied rent-book.
"There's the address. You have an appointment in an hour. Better hop on a bus right away, I think."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Goodbye, Sir."

By the time the door closed, I'm sure he'd forgotten me. But I got the job, and I owe that nice old bloke a huge debt.


Anonymous said...

Neil French.

I used to love him. Then I grew up and realised that he was just a bit silly.

Anonymous said...

Neil seems to be a great writer.

But what on earth is the point of the World Press Awards? Advertising needs another award scheme like it needs a hole in the head. It just exacerbates the Gunn commoditisation of creativity.

Plus de merde du cheval...

Holly said...

Stories about how people who've been around a while got their first job are amusing, for sure.

But much more useful for the hordes trying to get in would be how people in their first, second or third jobs got in. Because things have changed enormously since the CDs and other head honchos got their positions, and pretty much nothing they did would work now.

I got my copywriting job from facebook, if you're wondering.

Paul Saxton said...

I recall reading his version of that story elsewhere - so if he is playing with the truth a little, he's pretty consistent.

A bit silly? Ah, if only there were more around like him.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

well, he's always seen with a cigar in his mouth, isn't he?

Anonymous said...

Scamp, is it me or has the point size or the blog got smaller? Tell me my eyesight isn't going...

Anonymous said...

Some people see Neil as an arrogant person. I couldn't disagree more, whenever he was visiting our office he'll take the whole department out to shitty karaoke places and then we'd all end up in some dodgy joints where you could possibly get hit men.

I always found him down to earth and accessible. Even for juniors.

I miss that whenever I have to meet one of those arrogant CDs and ECDs we have here in London. I have the most terrifying stories.

Who do you think are the most smug CDs in London?

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M.M. McDermott said...

Reads like a John Steinbeck novel.

Hell, everyone needs a good story if they're going matter.

Anonymous said...

Ah the good old Oirish, with their guinness and betting scams. I wonder if one night he enjoyed a good old shindig down in steerage.

Anonymous said...

If he was sans pouch when he got back to the office how did his boss write the address of his appointment on a piece of paper torn from the unsullied rentbook which was presumably inside said pouch.

Ah, Neil, Neil, reading you is like looking at Parr's Think of England photos but without the enjoying yourself bit.

Anonymous said...

I used to respect Neil French before I got into advertising. Read his quips all the time in ad books. But then, as I've been in the business for 15 years now, I realize most of the stuff he won all of his awards with was scam. We are in 2 different businesses, he and I. I still win awards, but they're for real ads. He's not an ad man. He's a self PR man.

Anonymous said...

Without the world press awards people like Mark Tutssel and Jeremy Craigen wouldn't be able to keep their air miles up flying round the world sitting on every sodding jury

Anonymous said...

My old man took me into the advertising agency he was working for when I was a boy. This was in the days before planners, research and jumped up cretins with a diploma in Marketing from Underpants College, Saffron Waldon were the clients.

We had a little walk round and when we got into the creative dept they were all making paper aeroplanes, setting light to the tails and flying them onto the Strand.
That's when I knew I wanted to go into advertising.

Anonymous said... mum's agency creative department was full of marker pens and her AD drew me a top Mickey Mouse.

Sealed it right there.

Unknown said...

i agree he's not a real ad man, but a self PR man. But still, he's been my idol forever and I still hold much respect for the man. And you can't disagree that he does have his unique charisma with his cynical tone of voice...

Anonymous said...

anyone NOT cynical about advertising is a complete fucking dud as a human being.

cynical about ads = human soul.

not cynical about ads = rich kid in nice trainers who's never thought about anything.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 1.39PM
Only a personal view, but I think we should always differentiate between scepticism and cynicism.
The sceptic says,'I won't believe it until you prove it.'
The cynic says, 'I won't believe it even if you prove it.'
All knowledge stems from scepticism.
Depression stems from cynicism.

Anonymous said...

Each day I am, in turns, sceptical, cynical, optimistic and back again. Yesterday I went through all of these, given tedious brief followed by tedious brief, only to stay till 10 because a great brief came through at the last minute.

I love this job.

Anonymous said...


i fuckin love you man. you make me not cynical about ads. you are the real deal. it's the lack of people like you that makes me believe ads are the crowning glory of capitalism.

generally, though, ads, and the sucky industry that doesn't care about them, makes me SCEPTICAL.

Anonymous said...

i said all that wrong cos a suit interrupted, but you get the gist.

Anonymous said...

The blog has been painfully boring this week.

For God's sake, put some decent topics up for discussion Scamp.

I'm actually thinking about doing some work next week if things don't improve.

Anonymous said...

hate to say it scamp, but i agree. lunar is your benchmark.

A Bhai said...

I really like Neil French, but i don't understand, how he was given permission to write such long copy? The servicing people at my agency would have bitten my head of!