In 1981, David Ogilvy sent a note to a colleague. It read: ’Will
any agency hire this man? He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of
college. He has been a cook, a salesman and a farmer. He knows nothing
about marketing and has never written any copy. He professes to be
interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready
to go to work for dollars 5,000 a year.
’I doubt if any American agency would hire him.
’However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later, he became the
most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth
biggest agency in the world.
’The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox
And the subject of this memo? Ogilvy himself.
Looking at today’s direct marketing sector, it seems that few agencies
would recruit Ogilvy today. Not long ago, when it was still viewed as
pioneer territory, direct marketing was more open-minded about where it
looked for talent. Now, as the industry matures, agencies take far fewer
risks with recruitment.
In terms of personnel, direct marketing is a victim of its own
In the old days, it was easier to bring in a promising outsider because
there was more time to train them. Clients and shareholders weren’t
demanding the instant results they now expect, and agencies could afford
to be broad-minded about who they took on.
Susan McGleenan, a recruitment consultant with Direct Recruitment, says:
’The whole industry has moved up a notch and levels of knowledge and
professionalism are high, which is reflected in the salaries. When
agencies recruit they’re having to pay a lot and are under pressure from
the client to deliver quick results, so they expect people to come in
and perform immediately. Yes we do need new blood, but there’s no time
for training. It’s a vicious circle.’
Surveying the scene now, it seems extraordinary that the likes of Paul
Kitcatt made it to the board of Brann within three years of leaving a
career as a teacher (see right). Kitcatt says: ’I can understand why the
smaller agencies want to play it safe - they can’t afford to gamble with
clients. But the bigger agencies haven’t got as much of an excuse. They
need to take the blinkers off and have a look around.’
Two large agencies who say that they have done just that are Evans Hunt
Scott and Wunderman Cato Johnson. Richard Bagnall-Smith, who came from
above the line at Publicis to take the top job at WCJ, says: ’There is a
real opportunity for direct marketing agencies to broaden and deepen
their relationship with clients. If you’re looking to do this, then you
need to have people with specialist sector knowledge and wider
consultancy and communication skills.’
To this end, Bagnall-Smith has recruited Rob Dargis from General Motors
to head up the agency’s Ford business and Lucy McCabe from Ericsson to
work on Vodafone. There is also Robert Diamond, who WCJ brought in from
Price Waterhouse, to strengthen its management consultancy skills.
Terry Hunt, chairman of Evans Hunt Scott, agrees with this approach.
’We’ve cast our net broadly and have talent from a wide range of
backgrounds, especially in the planning department. It’s vital we do so
because direct marketing itself has become a much broader discipline.’
Hunt says a generation of new ’stars’, who entered the industry in a
post-recession recruitment drive, are now reaching account director
A factor that will inevitably introduce new faces is improved graduate
recruitment. DM agencies claim to be attracting more graduates now than
in previous years. According to the Institute of Direct Marketing, some
240 graduates are entering the discipline every year. However, this is
only good news if the quality of the new entrants is high.
Derek Holder, managing director of the IDM, says: ’The amount of
graduates coming in is up 60 per cent since 1990, but unless the
agencies are willing to pay more and provide the training, then the best
brains will still go into areas like management consultancy. They’ve got
to pay for the best.’
Some agencies, like Perspectives, have initiated graduate recruitment
programmes. Perspectives has links with 12 universities, including
Manchester and Kingston, and last year appointed three graduates who
have been put through a structured training programme. David Moody,
director of direct marketing at Perspectives, says: ’In the past we used
to get graduates coming to us by default or by mistake, but now we’re
getting people who want to work in the industry.’
For the best graduates, the shortage of good people at account manager
and director level means that they can progress rapidly up the
Jack Gratton, director of the recruitment consultants, Major Players,
says the skill shortage is so acute that good graduates can reach this
level within two years. Major Players is working with some agencies on a
fast-track scheme that ensures that the best candidates work their way
through the lower grades quickly.
Although initiatives like this help, more impact will be felt by the
sector broadening its recruitment sights at all levels and in all
With 44 per cent of planning people working in DM agencies now claiming
to have an advertising background, cross fertilisation between above and
below the line has already brought some change. As Rory Sutherland,
executive creative director of OgilvyOne, says: ’It’s been fascinating
to see the effect of hiring people with an advertising background - it’s
a healthy expansion into the wider industry.’
Ultimately, as direct marketing moves into these territories, a wider
range of experience will not only be desirable but essential. Maybe then
the usual suspects will give way to a generation of new faces.
FOUR INDUSTRY WORKERS TALK ABOUT THEIR VARIED CAREER PATHS
Paul Kitcatt Executive creative director, 141 Communications Direct
marketing is the third career for Paul Kitcatt, the former executive
creative director and managing director of Brann. Looking back at his
first job, running an academic bookshop, Kitcatt refers to his ’Hugh
Grant days’. However, unlike Grant’s bookseller character in Notting
Hill, Kitcatt was based in Plymouth and there were no Hollywood beauties
browsing his shelves. He also says the money was ’absolute shite’ - so
bad, that a move into teaching was well paid by comparison.
Next followed a post-graduate teaching course in London before a
’baptism of fire’ at an East End comprehensive, starting in 1984. On his
first day, he saw one of his pupils being chased through the school hall
by three policemen.
Five years later, having moved to Bristol, Kitcatt decided he was in the
wrong job: ’I realised I hated teaching. Teachers do have a lot to
complain about, but even so, they really are a bunch of whingers.’
A friend in Bristol who worked at Brann introduced Kitcatt to the
agency’s then creative director, Graham Robertson. Robertson had a
reputation for recruiting complete outsiders into direct marketing and,
in 1986, gave Kitcatt a chance. ’He knew creative brains are best fed by
varied experiences but warned that if I didn’t measure up in three
months, he’d fire me.’
The gamble paid off and, when Roberston later died, Kitcatt replaced him
as creative director. His work on the RSPCA account earned him 15 awards
and, before he left in July, he turned down the chance to become Brann’s
worldwide creative director.
Carolyn Schofield Regional account supervisor, OgilvyOne
Most people are either good at art or good at science, but rarely
Carolyn Schofield is an exception to this rule, so it’s not surprising
that the two sides of her character sent her career down some blind
alleys before eventually discovering direct marketing.
Reading biochemistry at Oxford University, Schofield seemed destined for
a life of white lab coats and petri dishes. Her final year at Oxford was
spent conducting research into cancer.
But then the creative side of her brain kicked in and she dropped it all
to become an actress, attending the Drama Studio in Ealing. ’I was being
very sensible studying biochemistry but couldn’t resist the temptation
to act,’ she says. After two years playing a variety of classical tragic
heroines, Schofield, like a lot of frustrated thespians, turned to
Her first job happened to be in a minor business-to-business agency in
West Norwood, Price Direct, where Schofield’s acting skills were put to
work on outbound telemarketing.
’I found I was really interested in direct marketing. The fact that you
can test things brought out the scientist in me and I also liked using
my interpersonal skills.’
Schofield moved on to client services at Aspen and then to
She says she wouldn’t be where she is now if a small agency hadn’t taken
Lisa Thomas Chief executive, M&C Saatchi’s new direct marketing
After graduating in French and Spanish from Cambridge, Lisa Thomas
sought a job in which she could use her language skills and make a lot
She achieved both goals by getting a job with the the printing firm, De
From checking watermarks to helping choose the right revolutionary
figure for the latest Peruvian Sol, Thomas spent two years immersed in
the bizarre business of making banknotes for governments around the
Having enjoyed the creative and account management aspects of her work
at De La Rue, Thomas saw opportunities to use those skills in
A recruitment consultant with strong direct marketing links got her
interviews at Grey Direct and Wunderman (as it was) and both offered her
account executive jobs. She chose Wunderman.
’I think they found it refreshing to have someone with different
experiences. You could say taking me on was a bit of a risk for them,
but arguably less of a risk than a graduate with no experience of work
at all. I had managed accounts, knew how to time projects and other
things that turned out to be relevant and useful,’ Thomas says.
She left Wunderman Cato Johnson in 1994 to join Craik Jones, which she
left earlier this year to launch M&C Saatchi’s new direct marketing
Looking at how agencies recruit now, she says: ’It’s a shame they don’t
seem to take risks on people anymore.’
Jon Claydon Joint chief executive, Claydon Heeley
Jon Claydon trod one of the most bizarre paths into direct marketing,
having spent the first seven years of his career as a City trader.
Graduating with a law degree from Durham University, Claydon stumbled
into a job at the US trading house, Cargill. Claydon traded in futures
and currencies and eventually found himself dealing in rice, organising
ships to carry the cargo to Iran or Iraq. ’There have been riots because
my boat didn’t turn up on time,’ Claydon says, proudly.
He earned a lot of money and a enjoyed a flash lifestyle at Cargill’s
base in Geneva. ’I was the archetypal Mr Late 80s,’ Claydon says,
wistfully recalling his chosen wheels at the time, a bright red
However, the job was not meeting Claydon’s ambitions to be an
entrepreneur and an old friend from university, Mark Heeley, persuaded
him to go into business with him. Heeley was then working in sales
promotion and the two launched Claydon Heeley in 1990. ’It was hard in
all sorts of ways,’ Claydon says. ’Not only did I know nothing about the
business, but I went from being a big shot to a nobody. Clients viewed
me with suspicion at first, but I think they eventually saw the benefit
of having a fresh perspective.
’The industry’s very in-bred, which doesn’t do it any good. It’s the
same principle with dogs - mongrels are always brighter than pedigrees.’
This article was first published on Campaign