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Meet Richard Selbourne

Published

Richard has won awards at D&AD, Creative Circle, British Television, Campaign Press, the Clios, Australian Award, the Aerials, UK Radio and Cannes. Today he is Head of Creative at HPS Group in Marlow, Bucks.

 

Hi Richard, for an out of town agency there seems to be more than a few trophies heading to HPS these days, what's changed?

The most telling change we made was to target a number of smaller local clients that gave us the award-winning creative opportunities the agency had been lacking.

There's an ongoing debate about the value of awards but, for us, they have been crucial in providing a tangible measure of our progress. I'm also a big fan of the Gunn Report and strongly support the view that award-winning advertising sells more effectively than the kind no one notices.

Initially, we focused on regional awards and we targeted Fresh, which has a reputation for rewarding work that takes risks. In our first two years, we've picked up enough awards to rank us in the top 5 of the 200 or so agencies that enter, and we're very pleased with that.

This year, out target is to become top dogs at Fresh and we're also determined to get some work into D&AD and the other big shows.

Before HPS you were creative director of DDB Sydney. That must have been a big challenge, how did you get on with it?

To be honest, it ended up being a bit of a nightmare. The main reason I took the job was to work with Garry Horner, an old colleague of mine from CDP. At the time, Garry was looking after the McDonald's account in Australia while I was doing the same in the UK, and we would occasionally bump into each other at international conferences.

One freezing morning, Garry rang to ask me to join him in Sydney. I called my wife to see if she fancied moving to Australia, just as she was scraping the ice off her car windscreen. She promised to divorce me if I turned the opportunity down. Six months into the job down under, Garry and the agency's CEO were both ousted in a major management reshuffle, and I soon began to think that I should have taken the divorce option.

We did manage to get a few bits of decent work out, but I never really got to grips with the job. It was disappointing because DDB was where I started my career in London and I love the agency. I ended up staying on for a couple of years but, despite the fact that Sydney has to be the finest city in the world, it was a relief to move on.

I've read that, back in the 80's, you took a 60% pay cut to join Gold Greenlees Trott. So how was it working with Dave Trott?

I was only at GGT for a few months, but it was an unforgettable experience. I was in awe of the great man. While I was there, he ran a course of evening lectures for students to rival the D&AD student courses, which he considered to be elitist. All the agency juniors were invited to attend and it was a bonus to get such an insight into his unique way of doing things.

I learnt how tough the place was, even before I joined. Group Head, Paul Grubb offered me a job but, as it meant taking a huge pay cut, I asked him for 24 hours to sort my finances out. I rang back the next day to accept, and he told me the job offer was no longer on the table. I was mortified. Paul told me that if I needed time to think about accepting a job at GGT, then I obviously wasn't the right kind of person for the agency. I insisted I was and he challenged me to prove it. To give me a marker, he said the last junior they'd taken on had dropped a new campaign off at the agency every morning for a month until he was hired. It doesn't seem very original, looking back, but I decided that I would try and go one better than the last guy by dropping two new campaigns off at the agency every morning. I did this for a week and when it came to the Saturday I thought that I should prove to Paul that I was keen enough to work weekends. I found out where he lived from a friendly headhunter, who knew his best mate, and I duly traipsed across London to Twickenham on the train with my two campaigns to put through his letterbox. On the Monday morning, I got the second offer of a job, and this time I accepted without drawing breath.

Every Creative worked on every brief and it was very much a dog-eat-dog environment. I was advised by one of my fellow juniors to take all my ideas home with me at night because one ambitious team, who always worked later than the rest of the department, had a reputation for rifling through everyone's work and copying the best stuff. A rival team had taken to hiding their concepts in their office's false ceiling overnight to avoid them being stolen. When they learnt that this secret place had somehow been discovered by the supposed 'idea thieves', they took to hiding crap decoy ideas in the false ceiling overnight while they sellotaped their real gems to the underside of their desks. Despite such madness, the agency was relentlessly producing one fantastic campaign after another so you really can't knock it.

From GGT to CDP. No pressure then?

There probably couldn't have been two more different agencies in London at the time. While GGT was macho and streetwise, CDP was erudite with every step of the crafting process carefully considered from every angle. My office was right next to Neil Godfrey's, while Indra Sinha and Tony Brignull were over the corridor, and John O'Donnell was the Creative Director. You can't help but learn good habits off people like that, and I loved every minute of my time there. A few months ago, I attended a reunion to celebrate 50 years of the agency, and it was fantastic to catch up with everyone again. There was still a real sense of pride in the place.

So after London and Sydney, how does Marlow compare?

The daily walk to work through the park and along the river certainly beats the commute on the underground. Marlow's a fantastic place to bring up a family. We're only 30 miles west of London, so it's not like everyone has webbed feet and twelve fingers.

Every job has its challenges but what would you say has been your most testing moment so far?

I was CD of McDonald's at Leo Burnett London when the decision was made at Hamburger HQ to introduce a global campaign for the first time. The biggest problem for many global campaigns is the UK because our taste in advertising is traditionally so different from America and most other places. The trouble is, as we're a relatively small market, we usually have no choice but to lump it. That's what happened when 'I'm lovin' it' was first introduced with a series of American/German-produced commercials featuring embarrassingly-lame white, middle-class rap lyrics.

You will have forgotten this campaign by now, as well as the couple of commercials that we had to make ourselves as we tried, in vain, to 'anglicize' the campaign. I only wish I could.

I guess the story does have a happy ending with Leo Burnett now back to producing more of the warm and witty home-grown work that had made the brand so popular over here in the first place.

How have you changed from the guy that first started out in this business?

I'm not too sure how I've changed, apart from gaining a couple more chins, but what has changed beyond all recognition is the industry. This has made the job so much more exciting and everyone is busy using creativity in all kinds of innovative and involving ways that were never considered before.

I'm not just talking about the digital stuff either. Just before I left Leo Burnett for Australia a few years ago, Jim Thornton, revealed a dream to be the first man to put live adverts on the West End stage.

It was a compelling idea, but no one believed it would ever happen. Yet four months later there we all were, at the Apollo Theatre in Victoria, having commandeered a mid-week performance of Saturday Night Fever. It was a one-off production in aid of Comic Relief, and 2,000 people came along to see history in the making. Originally, a bunch of actors were going to perform a few specially-written commercials for Leo Burnett clients before the play and during the interval, but the cast of the show had embraced the idea so wholeheartedly that they agreed to work all kinds of adverts into the actual performance. The lasting memory for me was when lead character Tony Manero walked on stage and played an entire love scene dressed in the full Tony the Tiger costume from the Frosties commercials.

Where does your story go from here?

We've still got so much work to do here at HPS. We need to keep on improving the creative product until the clients are climbing over each other to give us their business. That's more than enough to be going on with for the moment, thank you very much.

Links:
www.hpsgroup.co.uk

John Fountain is senior writer at Avvio

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