Diary: What will direct marketers say they do for a living when asked at Christmas season dinner parties?


I always confess at dinner parties that I run a company that delivers four billion leaflets. My dinner-party companion usually looks blank and turns to the person on their other side. The few who dare ask questions take some time to understand unaddressed as opposed to direct mail. On one of the few occasions a guest seemed interested, it turned out he was a Unilever board member in charge of marketing for Europe. He appreciated that his job attracted a better line of conversation than mine.


I used to say I worked on the bins, just for the fun of watching people prove they weren't snobs. Now my response depends on who's asking. If they know about advertising and marketing, I say I'm in DM. If they don't, I'll say I work in marketing. If people want to know more, I explain that last year the firm I work for raised £55m for a charity. Everyone can understand that.


I admit to being in the contact centre industry, which often provokes comments akin to those of the 'grumpy old men'. But I'm proud to be part of an industry that employs more than 375,000 in the UK and has probably offered training to more than a million people in areas where employment is welcomed. When the conversation inevitably turns to offshore call centres, I explain how savings are passed on to the customers and most people decide they are glad to pay less for their insurance and banking.


I can't wait for people to ask me what I do at dinner parties. The enjoyment I get from guessing their postcode area is incredibly rewarding. I struck it lucky at one party by bumping into a chap from Malaysia, who had no idea about postcodes and their value to UK industry and commerce. He was so absorbed by my job he forgot how much he was drinking and got so drunk he couldn't remember where he was staying. I came to his rescue by giving the cab driver his postcode and grid reference, ensuring he was dropped off within 10 metres of his hotel.


I explain that I don't do the creative design, but the exciting bit; I work in media devising strategies for clients to advertise their products as cost-effectively as possible. Then I give examples of our client base and they are suitably impressed. It often kick-starts a lively discussion about advertising as something that touches all our lives.


I tell people that I work in data and say I'm a sort of magician. I identify. I profile. I even segment. I target and I analyse. In fact, I do all sorts of clever stuff with data that allows the likes of PC World and O2 to stay in business and make lots of money.


I say I work in advertising because no one has a clue what direct marketing is. They say: "Oh, really? You work in junk mail?" In my 20 years in the industry I have never worked in junk mail, but I have been in advertising. But people seem to hate this even more and recoil in horror when I mention it. They think I'm a shallow charlatan.


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