Most advertising and media stars profess a debt to a mentor who honed
their talent and encouraged their career. Anne-Marie Crawford reports
What exactly is a mentor and who should have one? Chambers English
Dictionary defines a mentor as a ‘wise counsellor, a tutor or a
trainer’. But a mentor can also be someone who influences and shapes
another’s opinions in a less hands-on way, for example, through a
particular book or a speech, or simply by the sheer force of their
Who could claim to be unaffected by the pioneering actions of, say,
Stanley Pollitt, co-founder of BMP and the inventor of account planning?
Certainly not Chris Powell, chief executive of BMP DDB, who although he
now declares himself ‘too old’ to have a mentor, admits that if anyone
influenced him as a thrusting young tyro, it was Pollitt. ‘He took an
industry that was mad and crass and introduced thoughtfulness and
sensitivity,’ Powell says.
For Raoul Pinnell, head of marketing at NatWest, the main source of
inspiration was a book. As a young Heinz sales executive in the mid 70s,
he picked up Peter Drucker’s Management, Tasks, Practices and
Responsibilities, and has been a Drucker aficionado ever since. ‘I loved
it because it was about real things in business and life. Ever since
then I have kept up to date with Drucker,’ he says.
But it’s people that arguably serve as the strongest influences. There
are numerous industry luminaries who are worthy of a mention here and
who have undoubtedly served as gurus for many: Maurice and Charles
Saatchi, John Hegarty, David Abbott, Ron Miller and even Rupert Murdoch.
M. T. Rainey, managing partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, names
two special influences: Annie Rothwell, now an independent consultant,
and Jay Chiat, the founder of Chiat Day. But she thinks it’s going too
far to say they were mentors. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to work with many
diverse and brilliant people,’ she says.
Nevertheless, she does acknowledge a special debt to each of them.
Rothwell was head of planning at TBWA when Rainey worked there between
1980 and 1983, and she worked with Chiat for the following ten years up
So what exactly did they teach her? ‘I had an instinct for advertising
but Annie taught me the discipline of planning. She was hard on me and
drummed into me how important it was to do my homework,’ Rainey says.
‘Jay was a very avant-garde thinker and way ahead of his time. He had a
commitment to the corporate culture and proved you could develop an
environment in which creativity thrived.’
Curiously, Rainey says she would be surprised to find anyone with a
single guru throughout their entire career. She hints that certain
individuals may be ‘sponsored’, but declines to elaborate.
Often, the mark of greatness is admitting your debt to others. For Peter
Mead, chairman of the Abbott Mead Vickers group, a mentor is ‘someone
who teaches you invaluable and lasting lessons about business and life’,
and he admits to having two of them. The first is David Kingsley, one of
the founders of the influential Kingsley Manton and Palmer, an agency
that set out to chase potential clients and to work for fees instead of
commission - both of which were, in 1964, against IPA rules.
Mead recounts a tale of the time they worked together many years ago.
Mead had been at the agency for about a week. Kingsley was leaving early
and asked Mead to type and deliver a document to his house that evening.
Mead takes up the story: ‘David opened the door and I handed him the
package. As I was walking away, he asked me what I was doing now. I said
‘nothing’. He asked if I’d eaten. I said no, so he invited me in for
supper. He was the first boss to treat me like a human being. You
remember that sort of thing - it made me want to walk through walls for
Mead’s other role model is Bill Bernbach. ‘He’s one of those people who
colours the way you behave when you become a boss.’
For John Nicolson, marketing director of Scottish Courage, there are
heroes and mentors. Pictures of his four heroes adorn the walls of his
loo, namely: his dad, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela and the Scottish
footballer, Slim Jim Baxter.
Nicolson first met his guru, James Kelly, in 1977. Kelly is one of the
founding partners of Kelly Weedon Shute, but at the time he met Nicolson
he was marketing manager at Brooke Bond Oxo.
Kelly was different from Nicolson and earned his respect because of it.
‘James is unflappable. I’m quite flappable when I’m tense. He is
intelligent, proactive and a thinker. His style is challenging, yet
cajoling, but never aggressive. He’s also a great listener at all
So who should have a mentor? John Blakemore, head of advertising at
SmithKline Beecham, believes each of us can benefit. ‘You’re always
looking to learn in life and if you’re not, you’ve got a serious
problem. You know your own weaknesses and you learn from those people
who are strong.’
Learning from your mentor and using that knowledge to make a difference
is the crucial part. Each of the players mentioned here has gone on to
forge their own individual style and some of them will undoubtedly serve
as mentors for future generations of agency executives.
Christine Walker on Derrick Southon
In August 1976 I put on my prettiest frock and best smile and boarded
the No. 73 bus to 197 Knightsbridge, the home of Benton and Bowles,
where I was interviewed for the position of graduate trainee by Derrick
He asked me lots of questions, including: ‘What’s 70 per cent of 7?’
which I got wrong. The phone rang endlessly, he chain-smoked and then
dismissed me. How very un-advertising, I thought. The next day I got the
job and there began a partnership which has lasted 20 years.
Derrick didn’t really speak to me for about six months. Finally, he
called me into his office and told me that I would be joining the
Procter and Gamble unit as a media assistant. He pointed out that P&G
was a great marketing company and if I did a good job my career would be
made. He was right.
Every Friday night he would question me endlessly on my TV schedules,
which taught me the value of attention to detail and questioning every
Derrick’s obsession with looking outwards to clients and spending as
little time as possible on internal matters has shaped my career.
Clients, he says, will forgive most things, but never poor results. How
right he is
Bruce Haines on Peter Mead
Other people may have taught me the individual elements of the
advertising business but Peter was the man who showed me how it all
In professional terms, Peter is a terrific designer, motivator and
constant reminder that quality is all. In particular, that profit is the
reward for quality. He also taught me that, after hiring a pessimist as
finance director, your role as manager is to play the optimist - a role
that his chairmanship of Millwall FC has given him more than enough
As a man he is kind, thoughtful and caring. Once he commits to a
friendship you can rely on it for life. Our one and only falling-out
still bothers me - not because I think I was wrong, but because my
attempts to treat it as a business issue, rather than a disagreement
between friends, genuinely hurt him.
Peter is a star who has never sought the spotlight for himself, but just
by being there for those who do take centre stage he keeps the whole
fragile thing together. And that’s the one lesson I think I’ve learned
best of all
David Kershaw on Bill Muirhead
Bill rescued me, in 1985, from the obscurity of a planning ‘sabbatical’
at Charlotte Street to work on the pre-privatisation campaign for BA.
From that moment, I learned from him and I’ve never stopped learning.
First, unlike so many agency people, he listens. And he listens with
more sensitivity than Jodrell Bank. I still marvel at his ability to
sense what people are really saying and what truly motivates them. I’m
sure it’s this uncanny talent that is a big reason why he has such
strong relationships both with clients and agency people.
Second, he is utterly obsessed - whether it is with convincing a client
that an ad really is brilliant for their brand or just making the
impossible happen, he never gives up. When everyone else is in terminal
depression, Bill will still be trying to turn things around.
The other lesson to learn from Bill is the importance of building a team
of people who have totally different strengths from yourself. He’ll
sniff very good people out and then earns and gives real loyalty. And,
of course, apart from all this, he’s drop-dead gorgeous
EVEN THE BEST NEED CAREER GURUS
‘Stanley Pollitt turned the industry upside down’; Chris Powell, BMP
‘At BT, Adrian Hosford is someone who is a great believer in communications and how much they can help people’s personal and
professional lives’; Sholto Douglas-Home, BT
‘James [Kelly] used to write great briefs that were only a paragraph
long. I say now that everything has to be written on a single page’;
John Nicolson, Scottish Courage
‘My mentors are Mike Elms and Bill Patterson. They taught me about
media’s role in business and in advertising in general. A lot of people
find that very funny because the general industry thinks we hate
each other’; John Blakemore, SmithKline Beecham
‘It’s about learning from the best people you meet and trying not to
pick up bad habits from the worst people you meet’; M. T. Rainey, Rainey
Kelly Campbell Roalfe
This article was first published on Campaign