Monday, December 15, 2008

Doing Dave Trott the hard way

One of the best advertising blogs anywhere is written by long time London ad hero Dave Trott. It's full of timeless advice, colorful stories, relevant lessons and ruthless logic. Anyone looking to get better, this is an easy, painless way to learn from a master. And make sure you read the open debate Dave had on Scamp. But my post here is not about browsing Dave, it's about Dave and me and learning the hard way...

When I landed in London at the tender age of 24, Dave Trott was already a bona fide legend. His agency was booming, the awards annuals were full of Gold Greenlees Trott work, and his sound bites made for a list of communications commandments.
Dave's agency was built in part on the sweat and talent of a very young creative department. Every few months or so, Dave would take on a few student teams, then have them compete for a more permanent position. Who cared if it was like watching ants fight? If you were one of the combatants, at least you had a chance at working in one of the best agencies in London. Needless to say, I dreamt of being one of Dave's ants.
It was a long, arduous process. I started out by attending D&AD workshops at his agency, in which members of his team would bustle in, lacerate our ideas, then go back to work.
Next, I made weekly visits to the very generous but no less hard-nosed GGT team of Neil Sullivan and Gordon Graham. With their patient guidance, I transformed my book from a series of lame one-offs into a terse collection of eye-popping visuals and straight-to-the-gut headlines.
After six months of this, I had gathered a dozen or so presentable campaigns, so I gathered six of the best into a mini-book, a copy of which I sent to Dave.
No answer. And no getting past the PA, either.
So I put six more campaigns into a second mini-book. This time, Dave’s PA called. He was looking to bring on a few teams, and my mailings had caught his eye. Would I be available for an interview 7pm next Friday night. “Y-y-y-y-yes.”
That Friday, I walked past Neil and Gordon’s office on my way to see Mister Trott. They gave me an encouraging thumbs up - I was representing their hard work as well as mine.
Dave and I spent a bit of time chatting about Australia, John Webster, and some business his agency had just won, then we got down to looking at my work. By now, after sending my best work in those two mailings, the remainder of my portfolio was on the slim side, no matter how many all-nighters I’d pulled the previous fortnight to shore it up.
Dave saw through it straight away.
“This isn’t as good as what you sent me.”
“Ummm… no.” And I gave my excuses.
“And the stuff you sent me… I like it, but I have teams here who can do the same. I don’t need a whole team of center forwards.” Dave being one for the football metaphor. And also for exposing the fatal flaw within the best laid plan.
“You have to run your own race” he continued.
And then, the irresistible wrong. The most awful words spilled from my mouth, each one dragging out the next like links in a chain. I turned white even before my sentence was finished.
“How… do… I… do… that?” I said.
Dave closed my book and looked directly at me.
“The fact that you asked that question makes me wonder what type of creative person you are.”
“But thank you for coming in. Now if you’ll excuse me, I've got work to do.”
And he got up and walked out of his office, leaving me alone to survey the stack of junior portfolios next to his desk, the mountainous pile of scripts on his window sill, and the laughing pub-goers out on Wardour Street.
After slinking out, making sure to avoid Neil and Gordon, I went home to lay in bed. For the entire weekend.
By Saturday morning, I’d devised a plan to re-pot myself into a different career. By Saturday night I had uncurled from my fetal position. Sunday morning I managed to choke down a slice of dry toast. And by Sunday afternoon, I’d thought my way back into giving advertising another try, only this time, in my own way.
Two months later, I finagled a job at a small but meteoric creative agency called Still Price Court Twivy D’Souza.
And a week after that, Dave Trott’s secretary called to ask me if I could come in for another interview.
My answer was no thanks. I already had the job I knew was right for me, and that ultimately set me on my path. My own path. But I’ll always be thankful for Dave’s brutal honesty.
Run your own race. Then you'll always come in first.

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