An alternative look at a career in advertising

By Collective copywriter Fraser Bailey

This is not another boring story of which clients I worked on while working for such and such an agency. Instead, it’s a more personal and football-related view of the proton-sized bits of enjoyment and planet-sized bits of misery I have experienced during my ‘career’.

Free newspapers

My first job, aged 20, was at Colman RSCG, considered to be one of the best agencies in London. It was the height of the 1980s ‘Happy Hour Again’ Covent Garden wine bar zeitgeist. But I took no notice of that, preferring to spend my evenings at the Scala Cinema immersed in the history of European film etc, or hanging out in filthy squats in Vauxhall with ‘musicians’.

The best thing about the agency itself was that the Creative Department had all the newspapers delivered to a table right next to my office. Thus I could read the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian every day for free! My other memory is of hiding from ‘work’ at the nearby library in Charing Cross Road.

Semi-final goals 

After a couple of years I moved, for no good reason other than boredom, to an agency called DMBB. I did no useful work here but did meet a lot of great people. Even more importantly, I scored two goals (and made one assist) in the semi-final of the advertising agencies cup. We then won the final at Woodford Town FC.

In a cupboard with Isaiah Berlin

I subsequently found myself at an agency called Madell Wilmot Pringle, which is quite a silly name even by the standards of ad agencies. My art director and I worked from what was, essentially, a cupboard. And from this cupboard we masterminded the European launch of the Citroen ZX, which did at least get us a couple of weeks in New Zealand filming what may well have been the world’s most expensive commercial at that point in time.

My main memory of this particular agency is of a colleague suggesting I see a psychiatrist when he saw me with a book of Isaiah Berlin’s essays. Well, advertising agencies have never been the most intellectual of places… Another fond memory is the unlimited supply of chocolate biscuits, which should always be the key measure of an agency. Sadly, this perk was stopped for some reason.

Return to Covent Garden

 Because the name was indeed decreed by the authorities to be too silly, Madell Wilmot Pringle was absorbed into RSCG and I found myself back where I’d started. This was a truly horrible agency and a truly horrible period. I refused to attend even the Christmas party or any other agency event. On the other hand, at a personal level, I did have some great trips to Russia and I became the first person to play 100 games for the Derby County Supporters Club London Branch.

Frankfurt

 My career having hit a dead end in London, I took a very well paid job at McCann Frankfurt, working on Opel for Europe. Now this really was a madhouse, and I contributed my fair share of the madness. I also contributed quite a few goals to another agency football tournament and became known as the ‘English Gerd Muller’ for a few days. Despite all this, I did actually manage to do some OK work, and one Creative Director subsequently gave me a job on the basis that I had done the only good Opel work he had ever seen. Even better, Frankfurt is every near to the Rheingau, one of Germany’s most important wine making regions.

After a year the circus was moved to McCann Paris. This was almost as bad as RSCG in London, but again quite good on the football front. We had a good agency team, and we even played against the Variete Club de France, which featured Michel Platini, Dominique Rocheteau and other greats.

Amsterdam

 Via London I arrived in Amsterdam (where I had always wanted to live) at a very good and international B2B agency called Anderson & Lembke. After years of big agency politics and stupidity, this really was lovely, at least for the first two years. We traveled a lot and did some good work. Traveling is great when you are the creative because you don’t have to pay for anything or look after the client – you are simply there to enjoy the food and drink and make the gags.

I spent much of my time sitting in an arm chair overlooking Leidseplein, and I could walk to work in two minutes from my apartment on one of Amsterdam’s main canals. Opposite the back entrance to the agency was the Rokerij, a funky new coffee shop, which sometimes rendered the afternoons a write-off. And next door to my apartment was a wine cellar with the best collection of old wines in the Netherlands.

We didn’t have an agency football team, but I did play football with Kessels Kramer on Sunday mornings, which was always fun, and for a variety of other teams. There are probably more sporting facilities in Amsterdam than the whole of England outside London.

Owing to the abominable behavior of the San Francisco office I resigned from A&L in September 1998 and have freelanced ever since. Obviously, this has involved more agencies, clients and projects than one can remember. By far the best in terms of chocolate biscuits was an agency called Sledge in Shepherds Bush. I have also had the pleasure of working with one very nice agency – Vaz Dias – for 18 years now. Is this a record?

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