When I got into the business GGT was like Mother, Wieden’s & Droga 5 rolled into one.
Every creative from my generation was desperate to work there.
It wasn’t just that they did good ads, they were doing things in a new, almost punk way, making other creative agencies appear like Emerson Lake & Palmer; pompous, overblown and dull.
As far as creatives were concerned GGT stood for ‘someone beginning with ‘G’, Someone beginning with ‘G’ and DAVE TROTT’.
But, Dave was annoyingly picky, and didn’t have enough office space to for an entire generation of creatives.
So we gobbled up the work, philosophy and quotes.
We drank the Kool-Aid. (And ate the cup.)
Like Apple geeks devouring Steve Jobs every fart.What made a boy from West Ham want to get into the poncy world of advertising?
I was working in a factory at 16 (apprentice toolmaker).
It seemed to me that the attractive birds were all in the draughtsman’s office.
So I asked my dad if I could go back to school to get A levels to train to be an architect.
While I was doing A level art, I discovered I loved oil painting.
I went to East Ham tech to do foundation, but I got turned down by 7 art schools for a fine art degree.
My sister helped me get a scholarship to art school in New York.
I thought while I was there I’d switch to acrylics instead of oils, and do Pop art, like Warhol and Lichtenstein.
It was a short step to graphic design, then I discovered advertising and it was duck to water.
But, when I took my book round, everyone said my ideas were better than my layouts.
So I had to drop being an art director and become a copywriter.
I read that the bullseye of someone’s taste was their sixteenth summer.
What were you listening to, watching and laughing at in your sixteenth summer?Mainly Motown I guess, I was a mod.But I also listened to lots of comedy records: I knew The Goon Show and Peter Sellers albums off by heart, also Flanders & Swann, Tom Lehrer, Bob Newhart, Stan Freberg.
Those guys were decades ahead of Monty Python.
I had a Saturday job in a mod clothes shop in Carnaby Street called Robot, ‘mod’ to me meant parka’s, Tonic suits and skinny ties.
I get the sense it was more to you?
Yeah, Carnaby Street wasn’t paved over when we used to go there, there were about 3 good shops in the whole street.
Also Lawrence Corner, the real Army/Navy store, was great. You could find stuff no one else knew where it was from.
But what about the philosophy of the mods?
It meant being different, finding a new look before anyone else did.
Clothes and hair were a way to express yourself, another canvas.
So you really put a lot of effort in.
There weren’t any hair stylists in those days, just barbers who could only cut hair to look like your dad’s.
So I used to cut my own hair: short and spiky at the front, and backcombed on top.
Art School in New York.
Apart from the lack of Pie & Mash shops, what was the difference between East Ham and East Village back in the sixties?
I thought it would be the most stylish place on the planet.
Boy was I wrong.
When I got there everyone dressed like slobs, no one cared what they looked like.
Worse, because I cared what I looked like, everyone assumed I was gay.
Style had totally bypassed the USA, like the 1960s hadn’t happened.
This wasn’t the rebellious, outrageous, art school atmosphere I’d been expecting.
I felt like I’d been exiled to an old folk’s home.
I couldn’t believe I’d left London for this.
You got to work at Carl Ally in your final year of college.
One of the best agencies in the world at the time, learn anything useful?
The guy who taught me was called Mike Tesch.
He did the Federal Express “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”
He taught me logic: that everything has to be there for a reason.
Later on, John Webster taught me the same thing.
People used to copy John’s stuff thinking all you had to do was be weird and wacky, but that was just the execution.
It was always there for a reason.
Look at the difference between Honey Monster (John) and Monster Munch (bad copy of John).
Meet any ad legends out there? Bernbach? Ogilvy? The one-eyed Hathaway Shirt bloke?
Wish I did but no, I was just a kid.
I got fired from my first job for drinking the beer in the client fridge.
It was okay to smoke dope, but they had a thing about drinking.
I would go out for a pint at lunchtime and they thought I was an alcoholic.
Coming back to Blighty, did you have an idea of where you wanted to work?
Nope, just picked the first 50 names out of the Yellow Pages and sent them copies of my portfolio.
In those days my portfolio was really different: I had complete campaigns with straplines: press and TV. Media recommendations. Strategies.
Everyone else just had individual ads (usually for Guinness and VW) with puns.
So you chose BMP to learn how to do TV from John Webster?
No, I was much better at press then, so my book was mainly press ads.
I got offered jobs from Peter Mayle at BBDO (a press agency) and John at BMP (a TV agency).
I nearly went to the press agency because that was what I was good at.
But then I thought, if I go there all the heavyweights will be working on press so I won’t get any.
But if I go to BMP, all the heavyweights will be working on TV, so I should get loads of press. And that’s what happened. I would work on TV during the day, trying to learn it, then I’d do some press at night just to make sure I got something into D&AD.
GOOD NEWS: You get your first ad into D&AD…
You wait till the annual comes out.
You run to the book store.
You pick up a copy and go straight to the credits to find your name…
That must have been irritating, being called ‘David’?
You famously lied and cheated your way in to BMP, would you recommend that route to students?
It’s only cheating if you get caught, and if you get caught you’re stupid.
I only nicked a few ads that I knew I could have done anyway, just to pad out my book.
The guys I nicked them from were in NY and they’d never come to London.
6 months after I got the job, John Webster doubled my salary.
That’s when I told him about nicking the ads, I thought it was funny but he went ballistic.
I said “Why, you’ve given me the raise for what I’ve done since you’ve hired me. The book was just the platform ticket”.
Anyway, secretly I think he loved the story so he built it up and told everyone.
I think naughtiness and creativity are linked.
Let’s imagine I’d got a job with you at GGT.
A couple of months in you discover that my book had been padded with stolen work.
I defend myself ‘I could have done it, my book is a mere ‘platform ticket’.
I can’t believe you would’ve responded wit a ‘fair enough son, now back to work you young rascal’.
What made you want to give up your evenings to start the D&AD Student workshops? Nothing on TV?
At my art school in NY they decided they couldn’t teach us advertising properly so they sent us to Madison Avenue to learn from the pros. I thought it would be a good idea to do that when I got back here.
So how did you persuade a whole bunch of creatives to use their evenings to teach instead of getting drunk? (Getting drunk was what creatives did in the seventies wasn’t it?)
I wanted to get a different person to teach each week at their agency, but no one answered my letters because they didn’t know who I was.
So I thought it needed some credibility. I asked D&AD to sponsor it. As soon as I did, 60 creatives signed up for it.
I decided to launch it one evening at BMP, but Jeremy Sinclair was the only person who turned up.
I was furious and ready to chuck it in, but Jeremy said “No one knows nobody else turned up.
Everyone thinks they’re the only person who didn’t come, so let’s carry on, on our own.
He nominated me as Chairman, then seconded me, then said it was unanimous. And we started filling in names in the calendar and sent it out to everyone.
Jeremy was right, everyone thought everyone else had agreed, so they all meekly complied.
That was how it started.
Legend goes that you were overlooked for the Creative Directors job at BMP so stropped off. True?
John Webster had to choose between me and Graham Collis for the ECD job, I was a pain in the arse so he chose Graham. I would have worked for John forever, but I couldn’t work for Graham, so I had to leave.
Who came up with the idea of starting an agency, G,G or T?
Cathy Heng, my wife, had worked at FGA with Mike Gold, she said he was unemployed so I called him.
He said he wanted Mike Greenlees. Cathy said Mike Greenlees was a workaholic, that was good enough for me.
GGT went nearly a year without any business.
How many days were you from packing it in?
DT: My plan was never to have an agency.
I wanted a job as creative director of a big agency, but no one had heard of me so I had to work out how to get famous in a hurry.
Mike Gold was David Abbott’s ex-partner (FGA), I thought if we opened an agency Campaign would have to keep putting my name next to his, people might think I was somehow in Abbott’s league.
We put our houses up against a bank loan and, if we didn’t take a salary, that would last us 6 months.
By the time we ran out of money I thought I should be famous enough to get the CD job I wanted.
You finally win an account, Holsten Pils, and the agency burns down.
You must have thought it just wasn’t meant to be?
Nah, an agency is the brains behind it, not the building.
We had a phone line put in Mike Greenlees’s house and were up and running the next day.
Didn’t miss a beat.
You were brilliant with young people, less good with senior citizens. Why?
Youngsters were more desperate, they didn’t have a choice, they had to do what I told them.
If they did what I told them they’d soon have a really good book and reel.
Middle and heavyweights wouldn’t do what I told them, they wanted to do it their way.
I didn’t need the aggravation of that.
Plus they were overpaid for the amount of work they did.
I could get 5 young teams for the cost of a heavyweight team, 10 young teams for the cost of two heavyweight teams.
Inside a year those youngsters would be as good as the heavyweights for a fraction of the price.
The D&AD Rejects Course. Why start a rival to your baby the D&AD Students course? altruism or fuck-you cockiness?
The idea of the D&AD Advertising Concepts course was to take anyone (bike messengers, secretaries, etc) and see how fast they improved.
So people at the start would be pretty bad. That didn’t worry me, but D&AD only wanted to allow the best people onto the course.
That was the opposite of the original idea: it was like elitism.
So my agency decided to teach “The D&AD Advertising Rejects’ Course” instead.
It was like the dirty dozen.
We managed to get the rejects more jobs than the people on the main course.
What I loved was that we had people pretending to be rejects who’d actually been accepted to the main course, because the rejects’ course was better.
So, yeah, definitely a fuck-you.
Did you rule by fear?
Maybe, but that’s not a bad thing, like Alex Ferguson at Man Utd.
You want to be great, my job is to make you great.
That may not be comfortable, but it’s not comfortable getting to be the best.
If you’re desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be great, then I’m the right boss.
If it’s more important for you to feel comfortable and nice and stroked, then I’m the wrong boss.
I can still recall reading a quote of yours that made me think you might be a bit evil: ‘Insecurity is a great battery to plug into.’
Are you a bit evil?
I think you have to make yourself more frightened of failing to fulfil your potential than you are of embarrassment.
Fear is a great fuel.
Learn how to turn it on, learn how to make fear your friend.
Learn how to use fear to make you do what you know you really want to do but are too embarrassed.
(I’ll put ‘No, not Evil’.)
Did you buy a spare copy of this issue for your Mum?
How difficult are you on a scale of one to ten.
If you’re good: I’m 3 or 4. If you’re not: I’m probably 9 or 10.
Because if you’re good you want to grow, and that’s constantly difficult, and that’s what you want.
Someone to keep stretching you.
To me, GGT was the first punk agency, rejecting experience, knowledge and qualifications, in favour of energy and enthusiasm?
There’s a lot more fun in being the underdog.
All the fun is in beating people who are better, richer, more talented, more experienced, people with more advantages than you.
People that you shouldn’t beat.
There’s no fun in beating people who you should beat.
You’d come from the best agency in the country, partnered the best creative in the business and had recently picked up D&AD pencils for Courage, Victory V’s & Fisher-Price? Some underdog?
Garry Neville said “Indignation is a great source of energy”.
So you need to find a source of energy you can plug into.
For me that was convincing myself I was the underdog.
Convincing myself I wasn’t as good as everyone else, so I’d have to try harder to beat them.
Telling yourself you’re as good as anyone else just makes you relax and take your foot off the gas.
You get complacent.
Then you lose.
GGT were big zaggers:
a) Hiring scally’s from up and down the country, not southern, middle class Oxbridge types. (Wherever that is.)
b) Sticking two fingers up to endless refining ,rewriting and generally diddling around type craft.
c) Not trying to appear smooth, tasteful or arbiters of ‘cool’.
There was a real buzz in doing exactly the opposite of all the smug fat-cats.
They wanted Oxbridge educated, well-crafted, tasteful, advertising.
We used to call it the “Dare We Suggest” school of advertising.
They wouldn’t say “This is big”.
They’d say “This is big, dare we suggest, bigger than you’re used to”.
We used to call ours “Fuck me” advertising.
We wanted people to look at it and go “Fuck”.
‘Smug Fat Cats’, ‘Oxbridge’, ‘Dare We Suggest’.
Other working class creatives assimilated, what made you want to fight?
Growing up in east London I thought changing my accent and pretending to be middle class was the only way out.
Then I went to New York.
Bill Bernbach was celebrating what made people different: Jews, Italians, Irish, Blacks, not hiding it.
He made middle class just seem boring.
I thought if I go back to London I can do that for working class cockneys like me.
They’re a lot more fun than the middle class.
You’re always very complimentary about BBH, on the face of it, the complete antithesis of GGT?
The one thing BBH did that I agree with is they got their thinking right.
We all learned at the Bernbach school (same as Abbott and Webster).
Reduce it down to the simple thing, the reason anyone should buy this.
Our execution was very different, but our basic thinking was the same.
“GGT? The new Allen Brady Marsh, jingle merchants. I don’t know what all the fuss about?” – A previous Creative Director of mine .
Was Rod Allen an inspiration? Do you own a Bontempi organ?
Agencies often refer to their competitors in a mocking way, it’s a back-handed compliment.
BBH used to refer to us as “The thinking man’s Allen Brady Marsh”
M&C used to refer to BBH as “Miserable excellence”.
My influence was John Webster not ABM.
Webster mixed the corny concept with an intelligent execution, ABM, like Leo Burnett, etc just stopped at corny.
Incidentally, Cadbury’s kept taking accounts away from BBH and giving them to GGT, because our advertising worked better for that target audience (mainstream).
BBH were better on upmarket products – Levis, Audi, etc.
How did you go, kicked or walk?
Mike Greenlees had moved into the PLC, which meant GGT lost its best account man.
Mike wanted a less argumentative, more fashionable, ECD than me. He told me the name, I disagreed.
I wrote a list of every ECD I would step down for, all the people I respected.
Then I added that name to the bottom and said “Spot the odd one out”.
Mike said that was a great list and took it to see if he could get any of those names.
Actually he ignored the list and hired the name he wanted, but I heard he showed that list to the creative department and said it was a list of everyone I respected including the guy he’d hired, in my own handwriting.
Very clever, I had to admire it.
What was the hardest thing about leaving?
So you missed Gold and Greenlees and ‘everything’.
Why did you leave again?
We disagreed about the way we should grow.
Mike Greenlees wanted to go for size, I just wanted quality.
Mike was CEO of the public company and hired a new creative director. That left me with nothing to do.
Were you ever tempted to get a big, fancy job?
DT: Before GGT I was, but it never happened.
I don’t think I’m political enough to be able to play those games.
Why weren’t BST ginormous?
The 3 partners never agreed on what we were doing or why.
I missed Mike Greenlees and Mike Gold too much.
At GGT we all agreed on what we were doing (until the very end).
That’s the difference.
A creative director can’t just push it through on his own, it’s a team game.
Facebook communities of 20,000.
23700 followers on Twitter. 196 likes on Instagram.
Clients seem thrilled with these small numbers, what’s happened to mass communication?
Yup, it’s just fashion.
People think they’re missing out if they don’t jump on the bandwagon.
Everyone is confused, it’s a great time to be selling media.
Over the years you’ve put a lot of brand names and product information into people’s memory banks.
Today, people can find anything they want, anywhere, anytime, so is remembering stuff still important?
Remembering your name is only NOT important if you’re market leader.
If you’re Coca Cola, or Nike, or Microsoft, or Hertz.
But if you’re not market leader, if you’re Pepsi, or Adidas, or Apple, or Avis that works against you.
If I ask for a beer, I’ve got more chance of getting a Bud than anything else, because they are the market leader.
But most beers aren’t Budweiser, so they have to get specified or they’ll get ignored.
That’s why Meerkats works better than anything else in that sector.
If you don’t get specified, if you just sell a generic property, you sell the market leader because they have more distribution.
I last heard the term USP in2002.
Are they still relevant in an age of content, twitter feeds and social communities ?Why did you marry your wife?
If you can tell me what’s good about her, what makes her different that’s her USP?
Why did you buy the car you’ve got, or the house you’ve got, or anything you’ve got?
Was it because of the number of Facebook likes the brand got, or what you read on Twitter about the brand?
I don’t think so.
You can call it what you like, but the mind works the way it’s always worked.
Don’t listen to the latest gimmick, just look at your own behaviour.
Advertising used to be one of the few outlets for a creative mind.
As the number of outlets has increased do you think the IQ of the average Ad person has decreased?
I think what’s ruined it is too many university graduates.
Too many people who’ve been trained to think exactly like everyone else.
The great people came through the post room: Charlie Saatchi, Tim Bell, Frank Lowe, Peter Mead.
They had to learn it for themselves, how to out-think other people.
How to hustle.
Now that’s a dirty word, now everyone has learned the same stuff at the same institutions so they’re all interchangeable.
Who’s the best adman/woman you’ve ever come across?
For me John Webster.
But Paul Arden always said Charlie Saatchi. John Webster always said Colin Millward. Helmut Krone always said Bill Bernbach. Ed McCabe always said Carl Ally.
I guess it depends who you were exposed to.
SOPHIE’S CHOICE SECTION: What’s more useful;
Talent or hard work?
Toughness or empathy?
Observation or imagination?
Putting a creative department together is like putting a football team together.
You need a spine of hard workers you can depend on, (Ferguson had Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, Roy Keane), I had Dave Waters, Nick Wray, Paul Grubb.
You need some people who maybe don’t work so hard but can really surprise you sometimes, (Ferguson had Beckham), I had Steve Henry and Mary Wear.
Tony Cox used building a creative department was like hosting a dinner party, pick a couple of people to keep the conversation going, a couple of eccentrics, an annoying person to wind people up, a sprinkling of attractive ones, etc.
Yes, if you see it as a cocktail party.
Steve Henry once said the difference between working for me or Andrew Cracknel was the difference between football and cricket.
I imagine that’s probably true, and includes cocktail parties.
Just think of what the desired outcome is in each case.
Which of your ads has had the biggest effect on your career?
It would be a toss-up between Gercha and Toshiba I guess.
What’s your best hiring ?
I can tell you in a pub over a pint. But if I say it here whoever I don’t mention will be pissed off.
I don’t hear the phrase ‘been done’ much these days.
No one remembers more than a year back, so no one knows what’s been done.
Also it’s international so no one knows what’s been done.
Also it’s mainly about clients and suits, so no one knows what’s been done.
Also it’s just about awards (not the annual) which are forgotten inside a year (unlike the annual).
One day on Scamp’s blog, people ridiculing your pamphlet ‘How To Get A Job In Advertising’ . The next day was a 24 hour Trottothon.
You made yourself available to answer criticisms live, all day.
On the face of it, a generous gesture, but to me , knowing a bit more about you than the Scampettes, I thought you were saying ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!’.
My attitude is, this is advertising, it’s the wrong place for shy people.
I just thought, at the time, it was a very fast way to get back in the mainstream.
Sure lots of young twats were being pretty shitty (always the ones who sign themselves ‘anonymous’).
I just thought who cares what they’re saying, as long as they’re talking about me I seem relevant.
As Mae West said “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked”.
The exchange went on for several days.
So I copied it off and sent it to every client and marketing person I could think of.
I don’t think anyone read it all, so the bad comments didn’t matter, but everyone got the idea that I was really fluent with digital media and online.
So it worked for what I wanted.
Why such little sentences.
Helmut Krone started it by cutting up Julian Koenig’s copy.
He said copy has to look inviting (less dense, more open space) or people just won’t read it.
Before you engage with your mind, you engage with your eyes.
Check out e.e.cummings.
What’s the point of blogging?
If you look at any purchase decision as a funnel, it goes: Awareness, Footfall, Conversion.
First you have to be aware something exists. That’s the point of most advertising.
Then you have find out where you can get it. That’s mainly the internet.
Then you have to actually part with the cash. That’s either the physical shop or online.
Depending on the blog, how big the audience, the subject matter, etc, it will fit into one of those boxes.
Your blog turned into books and lectures, was that a plan?
I never saw it as a blog, but as a book in progress.
I knew I wouldn’t write a blog if it disappeared after I’d written it.
I also knew I couldn’t write a 300 page book.
So I thought let’s put them together.
The fact that it’s going to be a book will make me rewrite each post properly like a piece of copy.
The fact that each is a page long means I don’t have to write 300 pages.
But at the end of a year that’s how many pages I’ll have.
How did the Forum help your career?
Before it was The Forum it was called est.
Think of it as a boot-camp for the mind.
What I loved was that it took the fear out of living.
It replaced emotion with logic.
Now, if it made sense you could do it, whatever conventional wisdom said. It showed me the stupidity of making decisions by worrying about what other people said.
I encouraged the creative department to do it. Everyone who did it either became an ECD or they opened their own agency.
Oh yeah, but as Gordon says “It’s better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t”.
Thanks for your time Dave.