Like it is

Way before Keysie and Graysie got into trouble, Adland had its own sexism scandals.

Several years ago, an English CD got a job in a US agency. Shortly after he’d joined, one of the female staff was apparently unsure about a new haircut and began asking people what they thought of it.

“Well,” replied the Englishman, “I’d f*ck you”.

He was put on a plane back to England more or less immediately.

Then there was the Neil French episode.

The thing about Neil was that he always told it how he saw it. (I think he was coached early on in his career by Roy Walker. “Say what you see, Neil” he used to tell the ad supremo on regular occasions.)

I’m a bit hazy on the details but they seemed to involve Neil, a french maid’s costume and some implication that women were less employable as CDs because they had a tendency to get pregnant.

I forget who was wearing the maid’s outfit, but somebody was, and that may be the most interesting part of the whole story.

Anyway, Neil, who spoke his mind on every occasion, and I love that, got into trouble. I thought it was a shame, because I always admired his courage.

Unfortunately, you don’t get much “telling it like it is” in the business these days.

Ron Collins had that quality too. So it was very sad to read of Ron’s passing the other day.

I never saw the famous Sooty puppet apparently used for critiquing students’ work, but I can well believe the story. Ron ran on two fuels called “mischief” and “maverick”.

Allegedly he once set about suing Zanussi for a faulty dishwasher in his house even though Zanussi was at the time one of the agency’s key clients.

There are actually very few examples of ‘telling it like it is’ from the UK that I know of. There was ABM’s famous pitch for British Rail where they kept the client waiting for an hour in a litter-strewn waiting room and said “Now you know how your customers feel about you”.

And there was a journalist who used to cover Adland in the 80s for the Evening News. When the paper ended her column, she wrote a final piece telling the industry’s bigwigs exactly what she thought of them. I THINK it was Allison Pearson, who went on to much bigger things, so I like to think that her honesty and courage paid off handsomely.

It certainly made for a great column.

My mate Andrew Cracknell is currently writing about the real Mad Men of 1960s Madison Avenue, and he’s got a wealth of stories to tell in this vein.


“Erwin Ephron, a media department head, remembers [Carl] Ally’s short but devastating analysis to Hugh Hefner after a long and high minded presentation on the quality of Playboy magazine’s original fiction; “Fine Hef – but take the t*ts out and see what happens”.

“His giant reputation for unpredictable and at times near suicidal behaviour was augmented when he once told the sales force of his Volvo client, “you guys couldn’t sell c*** in a lumber yard”.

“Carl was not above scrapping with his own clients, as he once did with one of the main Volvo dealers.”

Quite possibly straight after the comment above. I’m not sure I’d like to be told I “couldn’t sell c*** in a lumber yard”.

I mean, how difficult can that be ?

Even rarer, in my experience, are examples of clients telling it like it is. Although Jeremy Bullmore has a great story of a client who said, at the end of one pitch in which the agency had poured days of work and thousands of pounds into their effort:

(Imagine this in a broad Lancashire accent) “Well, before we finish, I’d just like to say one thing to the advertising agency. I think you’ve got a bloody nerve showing us work like that”.

But I wonder if we’d all be better off putting the word “authentic” into less creative briefs, and trying to live up to it more in real life ?

I wonder if we’d all be better-off if there was less p*ssy-footing around ?

I wonder, incidentally, if it’s ok to use the phrase “p*ssy-footing” ?

Given that when I wrote the phrase, the Campaign filter asterisked the whole word.

  • Chris Worsley

    More mischief makers and mavericks please. Life is very boring without them.

  • Christmas Clarke

    I’ve sent my work to dozens of people and no one has ever replied. It would be great if someone good just said it was shit. Indifference hurts the most.

  • Mike Coulter


    Following on from Ron Collins taking on his own client.

    Years ago, a writer pal of mine in an agency up t’ North, once wrote a letter of complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority challenging the copy & claims in one of his own ads.

    Heady days.

    Years ago, a copywriter pal of mine

  • Andrew Cracknell

    Re Mike Coulter’s comment: Dave Buonaguidi told me he was always anonymously complaining about his own work. Usually with good reason…

    The full Ron Collins/Zanussi story is a corker; his wife slipped on the stone tiles on their kitchen floor – which Zanussi had paid for for a shoot and he’d forgotten to return – because water had leaked from the Zanussi washing machine he’d also forgotten to return.

    As for ‘telling it like it is': from my book here’s what Bill Bernbach told Bob Townsend, the Avis client, when he asked what he would need to do to get the best out of DDB should he give them the business:

    “What you do is let us have ninety days to learn your business, and then you run every ad where we tell you to put it and just as we write it. You don’t change a thing.”

    He gave them the business and they gave him “We Try Harder” and a 25% increase in revenue in one year.

  • Andy Knell

    @Christmas Clarke, I realise how frustrating it can be. Whilst I don’t know if I can be put in the bracket of “somone good”, I would be happy to have a look at your work and give you some honest constructive feedback. If you would like to send over to me at:


  • Christmas Clarke

    Hey Andy, That’s really kind of you. But my work is a flyer about myself and I produce it on a photocopier at work so need to send you printed one. So need an address or if you give me the business name I can look it up. Thanks that’s sweet of you and yes, you’re right I was fishin.’

  • Aron Sidhu

    That ABM pitch sounds legandary?! Did they win the client?

  • Andrew Cracknell

    Yes. 1977. They did “This is the Age of the Train”.

  • Grilla Login

    Starring – now then now then as it ‘appens guys+girls, Dave, u know who I mean…

  • Chris Worsley

    now then, now then Grilla. As it happens I do…..

  • Grilla Login

    Jangle jangle… jewelry jewelry urreeurreeurrr!

  • Sue Turner

    Where’s my post? Has it been removed?

  • Grilla Login

    As it ‘appens, 0 clue… but Steve’ll know urreeurreeurrr

  • Steve Henry

    Sue I don’t know, nobody told me about deleting any posts …
    why don’t you post it again on the new one ..

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