It is strange and humbling experience to find oneself cheek by
jowl, as it were, with genius - even if only in a literary sense. Such
was my feeling the other week when reading a piece next to my column
dilating on the extraordinary talents of Simon Chappell.
Every week in the same spot there is a profile of some marketing maestro
or another. Reading these pieces I am puzzled as to why marketing has
not yet conquered the world - or, at any rate, most of Western
Our industry is obviously filled to the point of embarrassment with
people of astonishing ability.
Simon, for instance (I hope he doesn’t mind me referring to him in such
a familiar fashion) is clearly quite out of the common mould. At a mere
35, he is a boss of a contract publisher, which puts into context the
efforts of a careless plodder like Alexander the Great who had only
managed to conquer the known world by that age - and died of the effort.
And although he had only just started in his new job, Simon was already
’a passionate apologist’ for the way he makes his living.
Apologising - passionately or otherwise - for something after a few days
seems rather like premature remorse. If it’s so good, why apologise?
A passionate apology seems to me better employed by some dodgy geezer
trying to talk their way out of a situation eg, Slick Willy. More
enthusiasm, please! Passionate advocacy would be wiser, surely?
Anyhow, all that was in fun because you and I know very well that the
entire piece was written by Simon’s adoring mum, except the part from
his best friend. That was the bit calling him ’visionary’ and ’ahead of
his time,’ and also ’very clear about what direct marketing was all
about and what you can achieve with it’ and ’a good team player and a
thoroughly nice guy’ - all qualities I lack.
I shouldn’t be so flippant; by 35 I had proved to my mother how useless
I was, having built and carefully wrecked a business empire in three
countries and lost a ton of money. Moreover, contract publishing is
Simon’s biggest competitor, Redwood, publishes the three magazines with
the biggest circulations in Britain. It gets startling results, too -
60% of those who read the magazine then proceed to go and buy something
from Marks & Spencer. And it can cost less to produce and post a
magazine than a direct mail pack.
When I first learned all this, I was tempted to change my job, since one
of the few businesses I haven’t ruined was in publishing. However, I
shall keep churning out the odd spot of direct mail, because when you
wish to sell something specific to specific individuals you can’t beat
But whether Simon is a genius or not, he has made a smart move: there’s
nothing like being in the right place at the right time.
Drayton Bird runs The Drayton Bird Partnership.