I've written God knows how many articles. Here's something that ran in a magazine 12 years ago.
As David Ogilvy noted in his first book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, if you wish to succeed in advertising become an expert at something. But it’s no use being an expert unless everyone knows it.
So you must do two things. First, learn so much about your chosen area of expertise that you know at least as much and probably more than anyone you are likely to meet. Second, fool as many people as possible into thinking you are brilliant.
This is achieved quite simply, though - like most good things in life - not without great effort. You must be tireless in acquiring relevant knowledge wherever and whenever you can find it - preferably where other people might never think of looking. And you must communicate that knowledge wherever and whenever worthwhile contacts might see, hear or read you.
So now let me talk about myself - always such fun, don’t you agree? Here’s what I do to manage a modest degree of success in marketing.
First of all, you can’t succeed in our sort of business without what someone called a “well-furnished mind”.
I read every issue of Marketing, Marketing Week, Precision Marketing, The Week, The Spectator, The Oldie, Advertising Age, Direct Response. Who’s Mailing What, Subscription Strategy – and anything I find interesting in newspapers or magazines, particularly The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Economist and Fortune.
I also devour anything that catches my attention on trains, planes and my dentist’s waiting room, plus Vogue, Tatler, Vanity Fair and other things my wife buys.
I watch a lot of TV – ranging from the Discovery Channel to MTV or VHS, not forgetting the glorious Jerry Springer show, plus the occasional film and quite a few videos. And I read a lot of books.
When younger, I went to every conference or event where I thought I might learn something or meet someone interesting. Happily nowadays instead of having to listen to other people shooting their mouths off, I get paid to do it myself. I can only do so because I put in all those years and those long afternoons listening to mostly very bad speakers, hoping from time to time they might say something useful.
So, that, briefly, is how you gain knowledge – though I should add something about unexpected places. One problem with people in marketing, as with most industries, is that they are so busy making a living they never have time to think of anything else.
Do not restrict your acquisition of knowledge to the obvious – e.g., books about business and marketing. Just in the last few weeks I have found very interesting little snippets or observations in odd places. One was a book written 50 years ago by an insurance salesman, one was in the third chapter of War & Peace by Tolstoy, one was an essay by Mark Twain on public speaking.
The ability to learn from these sources enables you to astonish people by your culture and erudition, approach your subject from a slightly different or unexpected perspective, and educate yourself – a process which largely starts after you leave school, not before.
The second part of the recipe I propose is to communicate as much as possible. Again, since 1978 I have written four to six articles every month in a number of publications and countries, but mostly here in the UK.
The most difficult challenge - but in some ways one of the most rewarding things you can do - is to learn to speak in public. You probably know that next to poisonous snakes, this is the thing that terrifies most people more than anything else.
It certainly did me. I was too terrified to speak in front of an audience until I was 41. And when I did I had to be fortified by two large brandies and a couple of Valium. It took me a year to begin to master the art but it was one of the most valuable things I have ever learned. (When I say ‘master’ what I mean is, not to be so terrified that I actually run off the stage).
Again, if you are going to pursue this course you must give it your all. For the last 20 years I have been prepared to talk just about anywhere, to anybody, on any subject. If I didn’t know enough, I had to learn. And it was all in the hope that somebody there might be impressed enough to give me some business or some praise sooner or later, directly or indirectly.
So there you are: one man’s recipe for success. It may not all work for you but I would be amazed if some of it didn’t.
There is one other element which is almost impossible to develop and I didn't mention in the original article.
Try to avoid dealing with shits, cheats, bullies and liars. They are almost impossible to spot and there are quite a few about. One has just cost me an immensely valuable member of staff.