Friday, 7 September 2007

Star Stories: Gareth Kay

Our third star story comes from Gareth Kay, an expat Yorkshireman. He's currently head of planning at Modernista!, an agency in Boston that not so long ago won Cadillac's US business. He also writes a blog called Brand New, which is a great read.


by Gareth Kay

I fell into advertising by chance rather than design. I had my heart set on working in the music industry so when my band failed, I looked to be an A&R man. But after some work experience at a major record label, I realized it was more about business than the music, and the politics and backstabbing were truly amazing.

So I began in my second year at University to think about what I could do. I was studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford Uni and didn't want to fall into the trap of satisfying one side of my brain by going to a bank or a management consultant (which I think about 80% of my year did).

So in thinking about a career that might exercise all my mind and frankly be fun I thought about all the ads I had grown up enjoying. Didn't really have a clue about any of the agencies or disciplines, so I just wrote for placements at the dozen agencies that had that year won prizes in the Daily Telegraph Press Awards.

Eleven agencies said thanks but no thanks, but there was one moment of serendipity. I met with a small agency (no longer around) called Harari Page (probably best known for their work on Harvey Nichols) who were willing to take on a placement. Spent 3 fun months being thrown in at the deep end, predominantly as an account man but helping out in TV production, print production and planning (which was more of a research thing there). At the end of the summer they offered me a job which I took as an account exec.

So, my first year was spent being an account exec. And there was real benefit to that. You learn about how stuff is made, timelines, budgets. And the benefit of a small agency is you end up being exposed to every discipline and working out what you like doing. So, I decided planning was my thing - I enjoyed working with creatives to develop work, was curious about people, culture, brands and enjoyed the strategy part. The next challenge was finding somewhere to be a planner.

After 18 months or so I began to get the usual call from headhunters and every time I told them I wanted to be a planner they said "good luck finding a place". Eventually, I began to interview at agencies with more established planning departments in the hope to get a job as an account person and quickly transfer.

I interviewed at a place called BST.BDDP (now part of TBWA) and I was offered a job as an account manager. That was the point I decided to get serious and I turned down the offer and explained that I wanted to be a planner. The MD there, Nick Kerr who I owe a huge amount of gratitude, decided he liked me enough to arrange a lunch with their head of planning Chris Baker. Chris is a pretty legendary figure, especially in terms of ad effectiveness, and he decided he'd take a chance on two account managers who wanted to be planners and hired myself and Rob Alexander who is now a planning director at JWT.

So it was about perseverance and serendipity. Being really passionate in the end about planning. And being lucky. After Chris I was lucky enough to continue working with the who's who of planners - Simon Clemmow, Gary Duckworth, John Lowery and many other people I learned and stole from. And it's down to them and the trust they placed in me that I really owe any success I have.

I know it's hard to get in to planning, and hard to establish yourself, but stick to it. I think perseverance works, and I think it brings you some serendipity down the road. It's a great job. And probably the most exciting time to be in advertsing, especially as a planner, since the 1950s as it's all up for grabs.


haze said...

Is it a problem that EVERYONE in the industry seems to have fallen into it (my good self included)?

Nobody seems to ever strive to be an adman. Why is this?

Will said...

Perhaps it's the perceived wisdom that it's not a 'noble' calling, in the same way as say being a Doctor is.

Nor is it perceived to be necessarily 'proper' business in the same way Management Consultancy (but I think that's being debunked) is.

If I worked for the IPA, I'd push for more business/advertising tie ups, like say an IPA/MBA accredited qualification. That'd go some way to helping, I think.