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The spike in stabbings across west London prompted the Copywriter Collective’s Fraser Bailey to recall his time as an advertising student in the area.

On 22 March 2019, 17-year old Abdirashid Mohamoud was stabbed to death in Isleworth, a west London suburb. He is just one of the numerous young people to die in this way across west London in 2019, as London’s murder rates continue to surpass that of New York. A couple of days after Abdirashid’s death, BBC Radio 5Live conducted an interview with a local youth leader who claimed there was nothing for local youngsters to do and highlighted the need for more youth facilities etc. 

 

This is, of course, a regular complaint. But it resonated with me because I was once a teenager of limited means living in the area, whereas I have never been a such a teenager living in Edmonton, Tottenham, Croydon or any of the other places where such stabbings routinely occur. 

 

As such, I know what it is like to live there as a young man from a bog-standard comprehensive attending a bog-standard College of Further Education. And I have some idea of whether or not there is ‘nothing to do’, or whether it is indeed necessary to go around stabbing people in order to pass the time.

 

Of course, one should first acknowledge that the area has never been, and probably never will be, an area overflowing with sophisticated cultural or entertainment opportunities. When I arrived there in 1984 its greyness was alleviated only, as I wrote to my parents, ‘by the colourful saris of the Indian women’. Thatcher’s reforms were already working their magic elsewhere in London, but Hounslow and its environs continued to embody the dull, suburban ennui of ‘That’s Entertainment’ by The Jam. The brick that came through the window one evening when we were watching TV only served to confirm this.

 

Despite this, in the nine months between September 1984 and June 1985, while living in the depths of Hounslow profonde – otherwise known as Hounslow West – I found it perfectly possible to fill my time with a plethora of activities and entertainment. So much so that, looking back from middle age, one marvels at the energy required to fit it all round a full-time college course (four and a half days each week) and its related evening workshops in central London, along with working in the bar of a bingo club three nights a week. 

 

For a start, I saw a half of the world’s best bands of the time (The Fall, REM, Jesus And Mary Chain etc) including The Pogues on about seven occasions, all at venues easily reachable from Hounslow, and before taxi apps and all-night tubes made it easier to get home. I was also to be found at the theatre quite often, not least the Royal Court where I saw a young Gary Oldman in a revival of Edward Bond’s social-realist plays of the 1960s. (All I can say is that one has a high tolerance for such progressive nonsense at that age). The Watermans Arts Centre in Brentford, close to where the unfortunate Abdirashid Mohamoud lived, offered a lively programme of plays, performances and films, and we sometimes went to the cinema in Richmond.

Popping along to QPR on a regular basis was easy enough, and I saw Derby County (and sometimes Stoke City) whenever they played in London or the south-east. Those were the days of real fans in real grounds. I was punched in the face at Reading, terrified when I went to Millwall for the first time, and present at Stamford Bridge for the League Cup semi-final in March 1985 when the Chelsea fan ran on to the pitch and attacked Clive Walker after he’d scored for Sunderland against his old team. Halcyon hooligan days!

 

Then, of course, there were the usual student parties and the like, at which I can be fairly sure that the (mild) drugs were not supplied by murderous gangs. Rooting around Hounslow’s charity shops unearthed gems such as John Coltrane’s ‘Ascension’ and Captain Beefheart’s ‘Safe As Milk’. The second-hand bookshop near the entrance to Osterley Park was always a delight. We went to the muddy dystopia of Glastonbury, and later that summer to Berlin (West and East) in search of Einsturzende Neubauten.

 

Twickenham abuts Hounslow and I attended both Five Nations matches there that year, as well as the first Freight Rover Cup final at Wembley. I played football once a week, tennis once or twice, and attended gatherings of the Derby County Supporters Club London Branch.

 

But, you might say, everything was cheaper in those days and you had the benefit of a full student grant. Well, I can assure you that there was bugger all left over after paying for the necessities of rent, food, travel, art supplies and clothing. Hence the need to work three evenings a week and even that wasn’t possible during internships (or ‘placements’ as we called them).

 

And not everything is more expensive today. Looking at the website of the Waterman’s Arts Centre in Brentford I note that the prices for tickets, food and drink are very reasonable by London standards. Moreover, it continues to offer an interesting selection of contemporary and historical films, along with a variety of live events and exhibits. There are certainly enough options to keep young men like Abdirashid busy for a couple of nights each week. Equally reasonable, and no more expensive than the 1980s taking inflation into account, are the ticket prices for Brentford FC. 

 

And don’t forget that young people from the area are living at home and spared the cost of rent and food. Streaming services make it easier and cheaper to consume music and film. Clothes and consumer goods are relatively (and sometimes actually) cheaper than they were 35 years ago. Taxi apps and all-night tube trains at the weekends make travel to other parts of London more viable.

 

Earning the money to pay for it all seems just as easy, if not easier. (Officially there were about three million unemployed when I was at college, although of course there was work for anyone that wanted it). The bingo club in which I worked seems to have disappeared, but there are plenty of shops and fast food outlets in the area, as well as an Ibis hotel. Even the Waterman’s Arts Centre has a vacancy. My guess is that working three shifts a week at somewhere like KFC would yield around £120 with no tax to pay in this era of a rapidly rising minimum wage, and a high personal allowance. 

 

Indeed, it seems to me that the only sense in which it might be more difficult for young people these days is the cost of major sporting and entertainment events. Just one evening working at the bingo club would have paid for both my Twickenham tickets. You would have to spend a few evenings working at KFC to buy those tickets now. Equally, one is staggered by the sums that people cough up to see the likes of Drake and Ed Sheeran. (And that’s before all those appalling online scalpers get involved). 

 

All things considered, I sense that teenagers in the Hounslow area in 2019 are no worse off than I was: either financially or in terms of the employment or entertainment options available. As such, there is no need, and no excuse, to further indulge in the national sports of stabbing people or complaining to the BBC. Moreover, I would give anything to be back in Hounslow, 19 years old and heading off to another historic Pogues gig.

Read more about Fraser Baily

 

English copywriter in AmsterdamAbout the Author:

Fraser Baily is a native English copywriter in Amsterdam and creative (director). Baily has vast experience across all sectors and media, including social media. Recent clients include AkzoNobel, ING, Nike, IBM and Atos.

Interested in hiring Fraser? Contact Copywriter Collective today.

 

We recently caught up with copywriter of many parts Simon D-T to mull over a career that has been many things but never boring.

You’ve won innumerable international awards. What’s the best ad of yours that never got made or never won an award.
The best, easy. It’s not an ad but a whole campaign. Cuervo the tequila people have a tiny island that they open up from time to time as a holiday getaway in competitions – a sort of Necker Island for spring break. They asked me to come up with a new promotion. Ignoring the usual holiday in the sun nonsense, the approach was simple. Win the chance to run your own country. You could become president, your friends could make up the government, you could make your own laws. And not only that, as we would also try and get FIFA, the UN, Miss World competition and so on to recognise you. The Mexican government were up for it too and were prepared to hold a party at their Embassy in London. To this day I still don’t understand why they said no.

You set up and ran your own agency for years. The highs and the lows must have been incredible. What did you learn? Did you do it because you wanted to do things differently? Sum it up for us.
I have so many ideas as to how an agency should run to be future proof: a new type of creative department structure, a new range of skill sets, a different approach to working with one another. We tried many of them and we succeeded massively, especially in the areas of creativity and the work, so I feel vindicated. But my biggest lesson is that you can’t run ahead of where people are comfortable and sometimes, a little patience is going to be way more effective than enthusiasm and vision.

Clients. How do you deal with them?
Gently, with patience and with respect. I’m horrified sometimes at some agencies’ attitudes to their clients. In the course of my career I’ve seen marketeers get smarter and smarter, they’re now hugely savvy especially when it comes to the media landscape. When it comes to creative work though, it’s important to remember how scary looking an idea for the first time is. Just because I can see what is in my head down to the nth degree doesn’t mean they do. Plus you’ve got to remember that creative appraisal is a tiny part of their job. That’s why you’ve got to take the time to explain why something is worth investing in, what the idea is about, why it will work and then give them the tools to help them up-sell internally.

“Great creatives are born, they’re not made”. Do you agree?
Utter rubbish. Not even great writers or artists are born. A belief in oneself, a thirst for knowledge and the capacity for hard work is all you need. Creativity is after all just about making connections that other people haven’t seen.

After far too many years in advertising are you still passionate about it? Was it better before the internet? Before mobile devices? When life was simpler.
Yes I am. Right now, if you’re brave then there’s never been a better time to be in the industry. I have no time for those who mourn the loss of the multi-million dollar 60 second commercial. This is the beginning of something new.

Which creatives or ad agency do you most admire now? Who’s got the hottest hotshop? If you could start out again in any ad agency which one would it be?
You can’t separate an agency from its time, so it would have to be Wiener & Gossage, San Francisco in the 50s-60s. Or CDP, London in the 70s. Today, maybe Droga5 or 4Creative.

You’ve worked all around the world. What’s the best country to work in? What way of working have you found the most refreshing? And the least?
I love the South Americans. They’re so creative, uninhibited and, in the best sense, child-like. The worst, maybe not the worst, but I’ve always found Russia and Poland a tough audience.

What’s the best or worst experience you’ve ever had in an agency? It doesn’t matter which. Give us your juciest anecdote.
The worst experiences can best be summed up with the initials, SA, MS and RW. Each one awful. The best(s): blagging my first job, winning my first-award, running my first agency. Nothing better than a first

There’s a lot more to life than advertising. Please plug some of your other projects.
I have a passion for craft and, in my case, that means writing. Right now I am 45,000 words into my next novel which I’m hoping will be the first of many best-sellers.

Once upon a time in the West End …

Apart from a year as CD on Barclay’s at Leo Burnett London in 2009, I’ve been working for myself since 1995.

When I started doing it, freelance was pretty much a euphemism for ‘Can’t Get A Job’. But I’d trained under the iron brogues of the great Paul Arden at Saatchi’s London, and by the time I left my next job at Lowe, I was a creative director and Head of Copy … and lucky enough to have won around 20 awards.

So I’m sure I could have ‘got a job’ somewhere if I’d wanted to. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t ‘get a job’ for another 12 years.

The best part of freelance writing. what I like most

I stayed freelance because I liked it. I liked travelling. I liked being my own boss. I liked not having to work in an office. I liked being able to choose who I work with. I liked meeting clients in person and not having their needs filtered through a third party. I’m comfortable presenting my own work. And I don’t mind working on my own if necessary. Or working with people other than art directors when I need to.

I also liked not having to waste 40 hours a month commuting into an office when I could be spending that time working, or writing or composing music or … well, doing more stimulating and creative things than strap-hanging on the London Underground. (Ad agencies have always been remarkably conservative in how they expect creative people to work, and this formulaic approach of shoving a writer and an art director into one room in a city office block all day and expecting them to be creatively productive didn’t work for me. It still doesn’t.)

So I welcomed freelancing with open arms

When I launched myself into freelance writing, I gave a talk for D&AD…

One of the first things I did when I left Lowe all those years ago was to lecture college lecturers about what I thought the future held for their students. I imagined a future in which everyone would be freelance, boundaries between creative disciplines would be blurring, with writers and art directors doing the same job, and not only writing film but making it themselves, directing from their home studios. I envisaged people working virtually, across time zones. People working how, when and where they wanted to, mixing their advertising work with creativity in other fields. Making their work better. Making their lives more varied and fulfilled.

Well, I didn’t get the waves of approval I’d hoped for. Instead of a lot of nodding from my audience, I was met with a wall of stony faces. In fact the only real reaction I got was when I suggested that people would soon be shopping on the internet. Which was met with guffaws of disbelief.
Guffaws. I’m not making this up.

Sure, this was a long time ago, and the internet/telecoms revolution was in its infancy. But I still look back with bewilderment that so many intelligent people could fail to see what to me was obvious. That much of the traditional business we knew was about to be shellacked by a tsunami of change, and that our lives would be changed accordingly.

I’m not taking any great credit for these predictions, by the way – there was definitely a bit of wishful thinking in my talk, and more than a touch of Utopianism, too. (In fact, looking back, the only missing element was a heavenly choir in the background.)

However. Whether it was through pure luck or assisted by the spirit of Nostradamus, I somehow turned out to be more or less right. OK, I was a decade or so out. But much that didn’t come true at the time is certainly a reality now.

And it’s a long-ish list …

The world has changed. Eek.

  • Boundaries have indeed blurred between the various branches of the comms industry, and will blur further still. PR, social media, advertising. Everyone’s fighting for the territory where they all converge, and it’s an increasingly large area of ‘no-man’s land’. (Perhaps that should be every-man’s land.) In any case, it’s very confused, and it’s confusing everyone.
  • Marketing clients don’t know where to turn. Thanks to the small matter of a global recession, their budgets have been hacked, and since the online revolution they can’t work out what sort of comms campaigns they want anyway. Or who to get it from. The only thing they do believe in right now is data. Few currently trust creative solutions.
  • The long-term prognosis for comms agencies isn’t good. The world economy may pick up, but the arrival of the internet as a cheap DIY advertising space – and a fundamentally flawed business model where agencies still give ideas away for next to nothing – means comms agencies will continue to struggle to employ people full-time. The freelance market will be more flooded even than it is now. That means more competition. Less work. Lower fees.
  • We in the West are losing influence as the East prospers, taking wealth away from ‘Western’ businesses. So they’ll spend even less on marketing-based campaigns.

And so on.

‘Eek?’ Not necessarily.

You can choose to see a thundercloud of doom and gloom in all this if you like. Or you can choose to observe what’s good about it. To cherry-pick opportunities the new landscape offers.

We were all brought up to believe that ‘having a job’ was the norm, and being ‘freelance’ was a bit weird. But as I said to a bunch of students recently, the norm, in this profession and in many others, will soon be self-employment. The Industrial Revolution model of the working population travelling to workplaces in cities, receiving a wage and getting a pension when they get too old to work … that model is almost dead now. We can’t think and behave like passive wage-slaves any longer. None of us can expect to have a ‘job’ for most of our working life. So now we have to think and behave like entrepreneurs.

For many creative people this scenario isn’t a comfortable one. But it’s a nettle that, once grasped, can be liberating.

Because in many respects the world is changing for the better. The internet/telecoms revolution might be killing the advertising star, but if you’re a self-employed person it also means you can work wherever, whenever, however, and with whoever you want.

Earlier this month I was in a village in France, having Skype meetings with a London agency. This week I’m in London working for a UK client direct, alongside their chief designer, who happens to be in Canada right now. Earlier this week I was emailing a colleague about a project in Dubai.

At no time in any of this did I need to change out of my dressing-gown. (Don’t worry. The webcam was off.)

I worked the hours I needed to, not ‘office hours’. Which leaves me free to do other things when I feel like it, which in my case means anything from blogging to writing music to going to a museum.

And you’ll notice that I said I’m working directly with a client. This is something I believe is crucial to all of us. If we as freelancers want to make a good living, we have to offer our services beyond the existing comms agencies to some of those companies fighting over advertising’s traditional territory: to management consultants, media agencies, PR, and, crucially, brands themselves. Do we really need to do work for brands through third parties? I don’t think so. We should get better at mining these potentially rich seams. And encourage our agents to do the same. It’s very much in their interest, too.

The future we’re all gazing into is one that’s pretty uncertain. Some factors are beyond anyone’s control. But aspects of our future aren’t. As UK Prime Minister David Cameron said last week, we all have stark choices.

Either we can stick our fingers in our ears, do everything we’ve been doing up to now: perpetuating a model of the business which is basically the same as it was in the 1950’s. And hope for the best.

Or we can be proactive, reconfiguring our behaviour and thinking for a different world.

Being more entrepreneurial. Bypassing comms agencies and going direct to brands. Being more businesslike and professional. Being better organised. Making a better case for the value of what we do.

Supporting each other by everyone insisting on realistic fees, for God’s sake.

It’s a challenge, and it’s scary. But whenever there’s big change and upheaval, opportunities always open up alongside those that disappear. The dinosaurs were replaced by smaller, leaner, more adaptable animals, after all.

’Freelancer’ itself is a word I’ve always hated and I wish we could lose it. To me it demeans us all. It sounds a bit ‘junior’ and low rent. It also describes our employment and tax status rather than what we actually do. What matters is the value each of us can bring to a brand, and we should think of ourselves as self-employed consultants who add incredible value to the marketing mix. Never forget that we can make a fantastic impact on behalf of somebody’s business. We should not only be confident about this, but more importantly, behave more confidently about it.

Whatever else the future holds for freelancers (ugh), one thing’s certain. If we choose to, we can enjoy the best things freelancing offers. Living more flexibly, doing a wider variety of things, with the time to enjoy other life-enhancing stuff. Because fundamentally freelancing is about freedom.

So. Above all, enjoy it. Life’s short, isn’t it?

Freelancing. Some thoughts for the future

  • Self-employed is the new employed.
  • Talk up what you do. Always remember that you can turn a brand from a zero to a hero.
  • Don’t be intimidated. Negotiate realistic fees. (Because you’re worth it.)
  • You’re a business. Think like one.
  • Your future clients are clients. Build relationships beyond ad agencies.
  • Adopt a ‘portmanteau’ working life. Do other things alongside advertising and design work. It’ll supplement your income, inject variety and make you more creative.
  • The internet is a loudhailer. Use everything it offers to promote yourself.

Most of all …

  • Embrace change. Because you can’t stop it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Simon works as a creative director, writer and brand strategist for advertising design and branding agencies and brands.

He began his career at Y&R London before moving to Saatchi & Saatchi, then Lowe, where he became a creative director and Head of Copy. In 2009 he was creative director, Barclays, at Leo Burnett. As a freelance he has worked in 11 countries on 4 continents, with over 100 agencies, and taken part in more than 100 new business pitches. From 2006-9 he was a member of D&AD’s Executive Committee, and his awards include a One Show Gold, a Cannes Silver Lion and the Eurobest Grand Prix.

Alongside advertising, Simon has written two unpublished novels and proofreads for Penguin books and others. For 5 years he sang opera professionally and is currently a singer and guitarist in two London bands.


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