About three years ago a reader of my helpful marketing ideas asked me how we built THB & W - the firm I sold to Ogilvy and Mather for what seemed a lot of money until my ex-wife got up to speed.
I listed – I think - 17 things, and said I would write a little book called How even a business idiot like me managed to make a million or two.
This is one of three books I want to write before I croak, but business keeps getting in the way - as with some of my other plans.
But from memory, here is what we did. And we must have done a good job, because 7 years after I sold THB & W it came 15th in a survey of which firms people rated as worth hiring
Weird, eh? A brand can live on after you don’t even exist.
Interestingly, we set up that business during, would you believe, a recession. Not a monster like this one. But a recession - especially for us as individuals
We were all in debt - so for the first few months we worked from home whilst keeping our jobs.
We did a test to see if we should tout ourselves as people to come to for international advertising or as direct marketing experts. Direct marketing won.
I wish I had kept the letter I wrote. One fool with time on his hands (Creative Director of Young and Rubicam advertising) said it was too long and there was a grammatical error at the top of page 3. Advertising people often know very little about selling anything except themselves.
I wrote a plan listing what kind of clients we should go for in order of priority and why. I was planning director (what a laugh) and my more talented partner John Watson was Creative Director.
We worked out how much money we needed to survive by Friday each week. On Wednesday I would say to our new business partner, “Where’s the fucking grand, Glenmore?" (That's how little you needed in 1977!)
We charged more money than anyone else – a pretty good positioning statement. Glenmore was exceptionally good at extracting money.
For the first three years we never paid rent for offices: we exchanged work for the space.
At least one of us went to every event we could, with the proviso that we had to get enough business to cover the cost.
We did house advertising – which nobody else did (advertising agencies rarely believe in advertising, had you noticed?)
Glenmore suggested – and drafted – a booklet on 35 ways direct marketing could help your business. I still have a copy somewhere.
He also forged alliances with agencies in New York and Hong Kong, which made us look good
We ran conferences in four cities on direct marketing. They made £10,000 profit - a lot then. I won the top award for the letter I wrote – lost that letter, too.
Reluctantly, because I was utterly terrified, I start public speaking. I did so anywhere at any time for anyone who asked.
In 1982, at Glenmore and John’s suggestion I wrote my first business book, Commonsense Direct Marketing which has now morphed into Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing.
I was – and remain - astounded at how well it was received. And even more astounded at how many successful people (far more so than me) have been influenced by it. It's now in its 5th edition and out in 17 languages.
We had regular training sessions. You can't do it all yourself. We wanted the best trained staff.
We threw great parties and had annual sports days and mystery tours.
We had birthday parties which lasted all afternoon for every member of staff.
In three and half years we were the biggest agency in our little world. But we fought like mad and my partners both left the agency.
Over time we were approached by 8 of the top 20 ad agencies to sell.
I couldn’t stand the strain, so I sold to Ogilvy and Mather. What we were doing was closer to their founder's philosophy that their own direct agency in London, which was a joke.
I gave a share in the proceeds to everyone who stuck around. My dear P.A. Daphne was able to buy her house and a big field to the back of it.
What I sold was not an agency. It was a brand. To this day, 34 years later, people occasionally mention THB & W and say what fun it was.
A brand comes from an attitude and what you do more than what you say.
Most people don’t realise that. If you do - and you act on it - you have a remarkable competitive advantage.