Many years ago, the agency MD asked me if we could make space for an account man as a copywriter.
He said he’d never make it as an account man, but he was popular in the agency, and he wrote funny lines on leaving cards, so that was proof he could be a writer.
I said, no problem, let’s see his portfolio.
The MD said, he doesn’t have a portfolio, he’s an account man, he’s never written any ads.
I said that’s okay, let’s just see his portfolio of roughs.
The MD said, he didn’t have any roughs either, but let’s make him a writer anyway.
I said: so he’s not a good account man and you want to get rid of him, but you don’t want to fire him because he’s a nice guy, so you move him into the creative department then that’s your problem solved?
I think the MD got the idea: I didn’t like the creative dept being used as a dumping bin.
Several years later, at another agency, a different MD approached me.
He wanted to be a copywriter himself, the difference was he’d actually been a great MD.
He’d run an entire ad agency and brought in lots of new business.
But he loved working with creatives and he’d written the lines on some ads.
I asked to see his portfolio, it was seven ads, mainly trade ads.
I wanted to be polite, so I didn’t tell him that they were, at best, average.
I said, you have to understand that what you’ve got here is a portfolio of 7 ads whereas a junior writer’s portfolio would normally have at least 30 roughs.
You were a terrific managing director, pulling in a lot of new business, worth a fortune to your company.
But you can’t expect to be a junior copywriter and still be on the same salary.
You’ll be earning less than a tenth of what you were on as MD.
It was pretty obvious he hadn’t thought of this, so we didn’t discuss it again.
I think most account men look across at the creative department and think what they’re doing looks fun, I could do that, it looks easy.
One person who thought that, but did it the right way, was Mary Wear.
Mary left university with a degree in English.
She got a job in account handling and found it boring, she looked across at the creative department and thought that looks much more fun.
But then Mary did it the right way, she went to Watford and did a year’s course and built a portfolio.
That meant Mary now knew copywriting from the bottom up, not just writing a few funny lines on leaving cards.
Mary was one of the best, most thorough, copywriters I ever had work for me.
She was smart, and witty, and tough, no-nonsense.
Mary eventually became a creative director at Abbott Mead Vickers.
She won pretty much every award there was.
Peter Souter told me the account-men at AMV were frightened of her and used to call her ‘Scary Mary’.
Good for her, she knows how to do their job, and she won’t suffer fools gladly, why should she?
She can recognise a lazy brief because she can write a decent one herself.
Mary made the switch from account-handling to creative the right way.
She respected the job, she didn’t just see the creative dept as a playpen.
Of course it’s fun, ads are meant to be fun, why would you make ads that aren’t fun?
It’s fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s trivial.
Like anything done well, it needs to be taken seriously.