AdLand Suit is Dan Shute, a Board Account Director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren, a top ten London Advertising Agency. This is where I write about the life of a Suit - which can include pretty much anything. Delaney's didn't know I was doing this, but they do now. They still don't agree with everything I say though. They'd also probably rather I swore less.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Ah, Books

As a mild change of pace here at ALS, I thought I’d run you through the books I read whilst I was away, and share my thoughts thereof. First off, a couple of things I believe: anyone who wants to be a good writer needs to first be a good reader; anyone who claims they have ‘a favourite book’ isn’t to be trusted; and finally, young Suits will learn more about how to be better at their jobs by reading Updike, Roth, James and Marquez then they will in Whipple, Herd (personally, I’ve always harboured a soft spot for Earls’ first book, which is essentially about a banana) or Ogilvy on Advertising. Leave the ‘Advertising and Marketing’ books to the Planners – they love that shit.

So, to my reading holiday. I’ll start with the only advertising book in the pile – Matt Beaumont’s ‘e2’. If you work in advertising and haven’t read ‘e’ then you’re really missing out, and whilst the follow up lacks some of the energy of the first one, it’s still one of those books you have to read. Beaumont, as you might expect from a Creative Director, can’t write Suits particularly well, and Planners are patently a total mystery to him, but he sure can write brilliant Creatives and management. It goes without saying that it’s very funny, and it goes without saying that some strands are much more affective than others (some of them, it has to be said, are utter nonsense), but I was genuinely surprised to find myself getting a bit emotional about one of the characters as I came to the end of the book. These are cartoon creations, but some of them come with a pretty sizeable cartoon heart. Go read.

Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’ had come highly recommended from somebody whose opinion I respect, so I was pretty disappointed to find it cold, emotionless, contrived and utterly lacking in any kind of heart. Ford’s clearly a very good writer, and I could appreciate the craft of it, but it was all pretty joyless, and ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Lay Of The Land’ made the journey back home unread.

The same was very much not the case with John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ books. This was my first experience of Updike, having always looked to Roth for my ‘Contemporary American Fiction’ fix, and I can now gleefully admit that I’d missed out. For the unfamiliar amongst you, there are four volumes of Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ books (‘Rabbit, Run’, ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit At Rest’) each written and set a decade apart, and dealing with the life and times of the eponymous Rabbit, a high school sporting legend and local hero raging against the fading memory of his glories, and his family and friends, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough. Rabbit is far from a sympathetic character, but Updike writes him with such a wonderful mix of frailty, fury, insecurity and arrogance that you just can’t help but care. These are incredibly human books, and incredibly involving as a result – and also, at times, extremely funny. The way in which they were created means that you’re not just reading the story of Rabbit’s life, you’re reading the story of America in the second half of the 20th Century, and it makes for a subtle, involving and addictive read. Finishing ‘Rabbit At Rest’ was quite a big moment – there was a genuine sense of loss as I realised I’d never get to read a Rabbit book for the first time again. Anyway – the ‘Pomposity Sensor’ is ticking, so I’ll move on.

To balance the amount of middle-aged naval gazing literature I’d brought out with me, I dipped into Wodehouse from time to time – a couple of hours spent dashing through the merry travails of Jeeves and Wooster were hours pleasantly passed. It lightened the mood and it made me laugh out loud, and sometimes that’s a very important thing.

I’ll dash through the rest now before I bore you all terminally. Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Return’ was just about smart enough to sit slightly above your standard holiday puffery (though not miles above), and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Angel’s Game’ was Garcia Marquez re-imagined by somebody who is distinctly lacking in soul. Not a bad book by any means, but as a Spanish novel dealing with preternatural themes, it’s playing in a pretty tough league, and it struggles. Geoffrey Household’s ‘Rogue Male’ on the other hand (an old-fashioned ripsnorter of a tale, following our protagonist as he attempts to avoid being captured after a failed assassination attempt) is bonkers, and brilliant. And finally, of Roth’s ‘The Human Stain’, an achingly intelligent book, all I’ll say is that it’s one of Roth’s finest. That should be all you need to know. And finally, from time to time, I dipped into Louis MacNeice - 'Snow' and 'Sunlight On The Garden' are worth the price of the collection on their own.

So there you have it – read Updike, Roth, Wodehouse and Beaumont. When it comes to Richard Ford, don’t believe the hype. But, most importantly, just get reading – proper books. Put down John Grant, and step away from Earls. There are far too many wonderful books out there to waste your time reading about advertising. Apart from on ALS, obviously.

Something Lovely For A Monday

A friend of a friend did this, a very talented chap by the name of Gavin Leisfield. It is three minutes forty-four seconds of unremitting, unalloyed, haunting loveliness. You should all watch it and then tell people about it. And then feel slightly better about a world with something this pretty in it.

An Atypically Personal Post

Last night, as those who have the dubious pleasure of following me on Twitter will know, was spent at a University reunion – or, rather, a gaudy, as my esteemed establishment of learning terms it. And, as is my wont, it got me thinking.

I was at University with some really quite fantastic people. I am in touch with several of them, but not as many as I’d like. And advertising has played a part in that. One of the side effects of working in Adland is the number of brilliant people you meet – and one of the sad facts of life is that there’s only room for so many folk, and working in advertising has meant that more of those slots are filled with people I met in my 20s than is the case for friends who work in other, more lucrative, but less fun industries.

As life progresses, you have to make decisions – sometimes conscious, sometimes inadvertent – about who gets to remain a part of it. And if life does come with regrets, then that, for me, is probably the area in which most of them lie. So if you are a student, be aware that choosing to work in advertising will mean that you lose touch with a lot of the people that you currently feel are indispensable. And that sometimes it’s only human to regret that.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Come on now, DHM. You've had enough.

Another Thursday, another beautifully crafted (by the fabulous Dave Dye) press ad in Campaign for Dye Holloway Murray, an Agency staffed by lovely people that's been making some very lovely work for a while now, but not really getting anywhere. They're now trying to make a bit more noise, in this instance by proudly proclaiming how quickly they can make those all-too-tricky 'can we pitch' decisions - previously they've sold themselves on geography. I'm sure the 'We're smaller than AMV' execution is in studio as we speak.

Making a bit of noise is a laudable and sensible intention, and an absolute necessity in 21st Century Adland, but I'm far from convinced that this is the way to be doing it - I'm sure I'm not the only one getting a vague whiff of desperation. DHM are in danger of turning into the drunk bridesmaid at the wedding, and while there's never a shortage of people willing to take her home, not many of them will hang around for breakfast.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Smoothest Of The Admen

From Anthony Sampson's, 'The Anatomy Of Britain' (1962):

"The smoothest of the admen are the account executives, who look after clients; they are the salesmen for salesmanship. They are masters of ploy and one-upmanship - knowing just where to live, who to know, what to say, where to take their clients to launch....

Most senior admen come from Oxford or Cambridge. Advertising is a favourite destination for the public school boy, and men who thirty years ago might have gone out to rule India or pace the quarterdeck may now be selling detergent campaigns at the Connaught."

As true today as it ever was...