Do you remember what it was like when you started out? If you were anything like me you probably focused on getting the basics right. Becoming good at the key elements of the job. Making sure that you were employable rather than thinking too much about who would employ you. Well, that's where my head was at when I was 18.
You should have seen my Dad's face when I told him I wanted to work in advertising. He didn't get it at all. I might as well have told him I wanted to walk on the moon. This concept was so far off his radar that he asked me to repeat it, just to make sure he'd heard me correctly. You see, our family don't do things like work in advertising. We fix motors. We re-point chimneys. We don't write 40 second spots for pregnancy tests.
So when I decided I really did want to write ads for a living I was under a bit of pressure from day one. I had to prove my Dad wrong and the only way I could do this was by getting full-time employment in an industry that, even in the 70's, was notoriously difficult to crack.
Amazingly, I did crack it. After a few months of dragging my portfolio around London, I was offered a job at a big London agency as a junior copywriter. The agency was called Benton and Bowles. My parents couldn't believe it, but to tell the truth I wasn't exactly over the moon.
At the time, I knew enough about the industry to know that B&B was not a top agency. It was, at best, bottom of the first division. But at 18 I didn't care. I was doing what I wanted to do, I was learning, and most of all I was being paid. So I accepted the Benton and Bowles shilling and signed the letter at our dinner table with my Dad looking on.
Later that same week I went to one of the D&AD evening classes for student creatives. On this particular evening the workshop was held at the legendary agency CDP and hosted by the equally legendary creative team Paul Weiland and Dave Horry - two of the top guys in the industry. I was always in awe of CDP and walking onto the creative floor literally gave me goose bumps. That evening I'd brought some work along for a crit and to my joy these guys said they both liked it. They showed my stuff to the other students and then after a bit of back-slapping, they offered me a two week placement at CDP. I was knocked out with the reaction, but then remembered I'd agreed to Benton and Bowles.
Now here was a dilemma. Do I take the full-time job at a shitty agency and prove my old man wrong? Or do I take the gamble of a two-week placement at CDP, the best agency in the world, and try and get a foot in the door?
Hmmm. This was a very difficult call for me to make at 18, but I went with Benton and Bowles. I guess I really wanted to prove the old man wrong.
But did I make the right decision?
No. Six months later they made me redundant.
I really could have kicked myself. And let me tell you that 30 years on, I still do.
John Fountain is a copywriter.
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