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How’d You Get In: Neil French

Posted on August 27, 2008 and read 3,474 times

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neil Howd You Get In: Neil French






We’re pleased to announce a brand new regular feature here on ACADEMIA. It’s called ‘HOW’D YOU GET IN’ and it’ll be a bi-weekly column that will focus on a well known Creative Director and how he/she got into the business.

Those of you who’ve been around for a few years will remember that I had a pretty interesting story about breaking in, but I’ve got nothing on the likes of Neil French, Luke Sullivan, Ty Montegue and Lee Garfinkel – all of whom will be featured in upcoming installments of HOW’D YOU GET IN. They’ll be joined by top Creative Directors from all over the world including Zak Mroueh, Richard Bullock and Damon O’Leary.

And what excites me most is that none of their stories sound like this: Well, I went to school. Put my book together, made one call and got a job. It paid quite well and came with a corner office.

Each and every one of these guys who are now leading the ad world had their own struggles and challenges as they tried to convince agencies to throw them a bone.

So it is with great pride that I introduce our first feature. He’s a man who really needs no introduction, Neil French, former WPP Worldwide Creative Director and founder of the World Press Awards.

“Although everything we’ve done makes us what we are today…for good or otherwise…I guess you’d like the precise moment when I had my first job in this racket.

Having been thrown out of an English Public School for decking the Deputy Headmaster, I got a job (via my long-suffering Dad’s Masonic contacts) as a rent-collector in Birmingham. To describe this as miscasting is like saying that Buddha and Torquemada had a lot in common. They gave me the toughest areas, the red-light areas, and the immigrant ghettos. They also gave me a leather satchel and a German Shepherd, and some bus-fare.

Oddly-enough, I loved it. The people were really nice! The red-light area was an education in itself in so many ways; the Irish taught me how to fight dirty, drink Guinness, and operate betting-scams; and the Caribbean immigrants taught me to dance and smoke funny cigarettes.

The only snag was that I failed to collect any rents.

On my final day, I was widdled-on by an angry tenant, and chased up a high street by a large gentleman from Jamaica. The dog? It disappeared in the distance, never to be seen again. Dogs are smarter than they look, plainly.

On my arrival back at base, sans pooch and pouch, the boss called me into his office.
“You’re not really cut out for this, are you?”
“No, Sir. Not really”.
He leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“In my experience, anyone who’s totally useless at everything else seems to go into advertising. I have a friend who owns an agency. Would you like me to make a call?”
“Yes, Sir. Please, Sir. That’s jolly nice of you.”

Ten minutes later, he called me back in and handed me a page torn out of the hitherto unsullied rent-book.
“There’s the address. You have an appointment in an hour. Better hop on a bus right away, I think.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Goodbye, Sir.”

By the time the door closed, I’m sure he’d forgotten me. But I got the job, and I owe that nice old bloke a huge debt.






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