Monday, 19 May 2014

FIVE THINGS (I NOW REALISE) I LEARNED FROM DAVID ABBOTT.

David hired Mary Wear and myself back in 1995.

We had the honour of being the last creative team he ever hired.

In the time we spent with him we did some of our best work.

And learned many things.

Stuff that, only on reflection since his death two days ago, I realise has had a huge effect on me.

These are a few that spring to my, rather sad, mind:



1. Only work with great people.

Every single member of David’s creative department was so good and so experienced they could have run departments in their own rights. 

That allowed David to relax and in effect just say yes or no (usually yes) to the greatness that his teams produced, thereby giving him the space to run the business and write the occasional ad.

He also wasn’t afraid to work with big characters.

Clearly a glutton for punishment, he’d worked with one of the biggest, my father Ron, twice in the past. First at DDB, and then to be his art director at his first agency French Gold Abbott. 

To be one of the few people to have successfully wrangled my old man deserves a place in history all of its own.


2. Creative people can run successful companies.

In an industry that’s infamous for seeing founding creative partners ousted from their own agencies David’s power and influence was unheard of. 

When Mary and I got to AMV he was Creative Director, Chairman of the agency and Chairman of the PLC board.

Years earlier, when DDB was at its ‘Mad Men’ prime, he was both the agency’s Creative Director and Managing Director.

You don’t keep roles like those for long if you don’t know what you’re doing.


3. Start a business with brilliant friends.

I could never get over the love David and Peter Mead had for each other.  

Love borne out of respect for each other that meant they could relax and get on with their jobs knowing they had each others’ backs and wouldn’t fall victim of boardroom politics.


4. Have the courage to leave your comfort zone.

To be honest, when Mary and I were asked to go to AMV we had to think twice.

The agency had always done lovely work, but for us the place had an aura of middle class gentleness about it. (Unsurprising bearing in mind who ran the place.)

But what made up our minds to go was the existence in his creative department of Tom Carty and Walter Campbell.

David had backed them when they wanted to work with the, at the time, black-balled Tony Kaye, and had approved what is, to this day, the most bonkers (and seminal) piece of advertising ever: Dunlop’s ‘Unexpected’.

And that belief in and support of Tom and Walter led to them producing work that changed AMV's reputation of being the best print agency in London to being the best TV agency in London.


5. Keep your word.

You could never accuse David of being flaky.

He made a point of following through on his promises.

Even when that included leaving the very agency he helped found.

For years he told everyone he planned to retire by his 60th birthday. 

True to form he waved an elegant goodbye to us all two days before the event.




I never told David how much I learned from him.


So, in his leaving us I have learned another lesson: 

Don’t wait til it’s too late to thank someone for having a profound effect on your life.



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