When people still working in advertising agencies realise that I
first started with an advertising agency over 40 years ago, they get a
sort of wistful gleam in their eye - and I know exactly what they’re
going to say.
It is my own most Frequently Asked Question: ’Was it really more fun
then?’ Two things make an accurate answer difficult. The first is all to
do with growing up and being promoted and trying to become responsible
and having to hire and fire people and finding that other people are
expecting you to win business or keep business or restore morale or make
That’s certainly not as much fun as knocking out a couple of pretty good
ads in the morning and then playing snooker for the rest of the day.
I suppose there must be some people who get a great buzz from meeting
budgets and cutting costs and trying to hold on to flakey accounts and
smiling in the lift when they’ve just lost four new business pitches in
a row - but I wasn’t one of them.
There was a great deal of fun, all the way through: but there was more
at the beginning than at the end.
The other problem is memory. So in the hope of checking memory against
record, I’ve recently re-read two good advertising novels: Murder Must
Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, first published in 1933; and The Agency
Game by Bernard Gutteridge, first published in 1954.
To the modern eye, the Dorothy Sayers’ agency seems quite formal. First
names are never used - everybody is either Mr Tallboy or Miss Rossiter -
but they do have fun. They make jokes, they gossip in the typing pool,
they go out to lunch, they have staff parties and they play cricket
matches against their clients.
It’s clear that the workers at Pym’s Publicity were having a great deal
more fun than their equivalents in the City or in insurance.
By the 1950s, to judge from The Agency Game, advertising people were
having even more fun. The workers at Slender Oliphant & Queste scheme,
lust and, above all, drink. They drink Tio Pepe and beer and brandy and
pink gin. The account man Shotover invariably starts his evening session
at the Lion with a couple of double-double gins and tonics.
The two new products that occupy them most are a bra and a chocolate
drink which turns out to be an aphrodisiac. They make a potent
But I was pleased to note that both books confirmed my instinct. The
people having the most fun were the juniors; and the people having the
least fun were respectively Messrs Pym and Slender.
So I think the truthful answer to the ’was it really more fun then?’
question is: Advertising has always been more fun than doing practically
anything else and it probably still is.
But if you want to go on having as much fun as you did at the beginning
of your career, you must be careful never to get promoted.
This means, of course, that before very long you won’t have a career -
but I’ll leave you to sort that one out for yourself.
Jeremy Bullmore is a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group
and WPP Group.