My Big Break: David Reid, strategic brand marketing consultant

DAVID Reid is a multi, award-winning marketeer who has worked both agency and client side for 27 years. He is currently, among other roles, marketing director of Border Biscuits, strategic director at The Lane Agency and managing director of his own consultancy, Because Brands Matter.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

When I was at school, I loved graphic design and used to spend hours in the art department after the bell had gone, designing record covers, posters and book jackets.

I was always fascinated by the graphic relationship between pictures and typography. I then went to Cumbria College of Art and subsequently to Edinburgh College of Art to study visual communication. Towards the end of my degree, I realised that my passion for graphic design was waning and what I was really interested in was using visual imagery to change people’s behaviour.

Advertising and marketing, in other words.

I started writing to advertising agencies in Edinburgh to get work placements and, through the serendipity of timing, discovered that agencies were keen to recruit raw, home-grown talent.

What was your first media job?

I was still awaiting my degree results in 1986 when a new start-up company called The Leith Agency offered me a three-week placement.

I was the first person to join their creative department and there were only six others people in the whole company.

At the end of the three weeks, I was offered a full-time job as a junior art director, on £6k a year. Unbeknown to me, Leith entered an ad that I had created whilst still a student into the Creative Circle Awards in London. It won a Gold and a Silver and in 1987 I was awarded the rather grand title of Most Promising Beginner in British Advertising.

And my salary rocketed to £7k a year.

I ended up staying at Leith for eight years.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

I started creating ads at Leith almost immediately. Although it wasn’t as glamorous as Mad Men, there was a thrill about seeing your ads in print, on posters and TV. As the company got more successful, the budgets became bigger and the opportunity to work with brilliant photographers and directors started to increase.

More than most ‘creatives’, I think I understood the politics of what the agency and client were trying to achieve. I was always fascinated by knowing about the effectiveness of any of the campaigns I had created.

I’d always wanted to start my own company and did this at the age of 29, with Mark Gorman and Adrian Jeffery.

1576 Advertising grew from literally nothing into a business with 40 staff and an annual turnover of £4.8 million.

Seeing how The Leith Agency has evolved was fundamental to our success and, although the agency only lasted 14 years, created a lot of very good marketing campaigns for clients such as VisitScotland, Glenmorangie and Bells Whisky.

These differing working experiences have helped me create the portfolio career I now enjoy and the most contentment I have had in my professional career.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

The big break was me looking for work at the same time agencies were looking for staff. The agencies came together in 1986 and formed something called The Creative Forum. I was outstandingly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Nowadays, it is very difficult to get into an agency creative department. There are fewer agencies and the clamour, even for placements, is enormous.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

My father always encouraged me to go down the advertising route because he saw the commercial potential in it. He knew a guy in London called Gerry Dunn, who had carved out a successful advertising career and Gerry put me in touch with Jim Downie, creative director at Hall Advertising.

I always remember showing Jim some scamp ideas whilst still at college and he got down on his hands and knees to look over them on his office floor.

He was the first person to make me feel like I had a chance of succeeding in the creative department.

The creative founders of The Leith Agency – Rodger Stanier and Pete Mill – were obviously a huge influence as well and they took a complete chance on me at the beginning. The culture at The Leith Agency was based on trust. Even as a junior art director you were encouraged to manage budgets and suppliers, negotiate fees and present your own work to clients.

Such experience has proved invaluable.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

I still love my job, which is just as well as marketing does not pay anything like as much as it should for the unique talent that our industry possesses and the tangible difference we make to the ‘bottom line’ of our clients.

You can probably work out that I wish I’d known how hard it is to make good money in this sector! There are not many who have really struck gold, but, then again, how many lawyers and accountants have enjoyed the life experiences and challenges that many of us marketers have?