I, like most people in the business have had the success they’ve had thanks to the influence of a lot of people along the way. Here are some of mine.
I studied Graphic Design at Salisbury College of Art not really knowing that there would be such a distinction between advertising and design.
After leaving I set about getting a job with my creative pal from college, Gary Boller. Gary taught me a lot about creativity and advertising but also about being a decent human being. He introduced me to ‘Sabbing’ – Fox Hunt Saboteuring. We ran the gauntlet of angry, burly farm workers as we tried to disrupt the Wilton Hunt on a Saturday morning.
Sadly our work partnership didn’t work out as it relied on me being the copywriter. And of that, I knew very little…
I became the default writer of the two of us after I lucked out on an ad brief for British Rail with the line ‘Waterloo is not half the battle it was’, but it was a shot in the dark.
Over a year after leaving college a full page appeared in The Independent. The headline read – ‘Win a job in advertising’.
It was a young copywriter's competition. Despite my lack of training I could not, not enter.
Nervous of my limited writing skills I answered every question by trying to keep my writing to a minimum. Not realizing that’s exactly what you should be doing. I also picked up some key advice from Patrick Collister that made a big difference to one of my ideas. And it was that idea that caught the eyes of the judges.
I came second to someone who had actually studied English and writing! But thankfully Dawson Yeoman, the then ECD of Leo Burnett hired me as an Art Director to partner the winner.
During my time at Leos I worked with four different writers, learning much from each of them. Most of my time at 48 St Martin’s Lane I worked with Richard Russell (of Honda Grrr fame) and then with Clive Pickering.
Richard manfully put up with an art director who was learning the ropes. Wisdom like ‘Always shoot the board’ was yet to have landed with me but we got on well non-the-less and he has become a life long friend. In that time we created award-winning work for Radio Atlantic 252 and Biactol Facewash.
Clive and I then worked together and went looking for adventure and found it in South Africa.
We were poached by Ricardo de Carvalho, a true maverick and fetched up in an agency in Joburg three months before Nelson Mandela’s election.
After a rollercoaster of a year we joined Stephen Burke and Dave Bester at TBWA Cape Town working on peachy briefs like the launch of the Two Oceans Aquarium.
And after three wonderful years we returned to the UK and to BMPDDB.
Hired by Tony Cox after a recommendation from Jeremy Craigen, the department was stuffed full of talent—Flintham & McLeod, Wenley, Gill, Burke, Paterson, Buchanan and Omlette to name but a few.
Also, there was a certain John Webster.
Under John we worked on one of the early Walkers Gary Lineker ads. Under Jeremy Craigen we created VW Surprisingly Ordinary Prices and American Airlines ads, and under Messers Buchanan & Omlette some Love it or Hate it work for Marmite.
It was the best of times.
From there we had a short but fruitful stint at BBH.
Our task was to kick-start the floundering Keep Walking campaign for Johnnie Walker. We created ‘Fish’ which ran in 110 markets and flatteringly was called ‘the game changer’ by then Diageo Latam boss, Andy Gibson.
In 2005 I joined Ogilvy alongside my old pal Richard Russell as creative director on BP and Lucozade amongst others. It was there that I enjoyed my first agency/client working relationships. By that I mean as creative lead working with Angela Johnson on the agency side and Philip New, Jackie Fionda and Des Johnson from BP Fuels. It was a lovely open and collaborative relationship.
From there I was asked by Jeremy Craigen and Laura Jones to return to DDB London to run the global Philips account. Philips wasn’t an account that everyone wanted to work on but between London and Amsterdam we won consecutive Cannes Grands Prix in 2009 and 2010. The people who made that happen are too numerous to mention in full but in addition to Laura, there was Roger Trollope, Neil Robb, Dan Ng, Mariota Essery, Zoe Clark, Sam and Shish and Grant Parker on the agency side and Gary Raucher and Andrea Ragnetti on the client side.
Remi Babinet approached me to launch BETC London.
It was quite a challenge given that no one in London knew who BETC were at the time. But thanks to us quickly winning Diet Coke, Cow & Gate and Bacardi, we put BETC on the London map.
Praise from non other than Harry Styles put the icing on the cake.
Apart from a two year stint in NYC, I have worked for myself.
I should mention that in that time in the big apple I worked with two fine men – Robert Rutherford & Darren Borrino. They created great work and kept me sane in a world gone nuts. They are two of the best.
Founding Neil A Dawson & Company has allowed me to continue doing the work I love.
Clients can cut through the old agency faff and talk straight to the talented folk who are creating their work.
And personally I get to work with colleagues and clients, old and new, all of whom want game-changing work. And I love my work as much today as I did as a young art director doing spot cream ads.
I asked Neil a few questions to gain an insight into the work he admires created by others, what's exciting about the industry now and the advice he would give to those wanting to make a move into the creative industry...
Lucy Smith: Which campaign, that you created or were part of creating, stands out as the most memorable and why?
Neil A Dawson: Surprisingly Ordinary Prices was the most famous campaign that I was part of.
It changed the trajectory of my career.
As a creative director I would say that my decision to take the Philips role was really satisfying as I spotted a global opportunity where others had not.
But as a creative I think it would have to be kick-starting Keep Walking for Johnnie Walker. The agency & client were becoming jaded with a line that wasn’t delivering all they had hoped. Most of the BBH creative dept had tried to crack it without success. In an afternoon Clive and I came up with ‘Fish’. It ran for over ten years and set the course for Keep Walking.
LS: What piece of creative work, that you didn't create yourself, do you admire/respect or feel inspired by, and why?
ND: There’s a lot less great TV out there these days but this spot for the CBS coverage of the AFC is a belter. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve watched it. And very much unlike Kia’s use of De Niro in their ads, this is a wonderful use of celebrity. Perfect casting.
LS: Right now, what's the best/most exciting thing about the creative industry?
This industry will always be about looking for new ideas and new ways of working. As long as you still have the appetite for that and are prepared to take a chance, the industry will always deliver.
LS: Best strapline of all time?
ND: Stella Artois. Reassuringly expensive.
LS: If you weren't in the creative industry, what would you be doing and why?
ND: I would be restoring classic cars. They are things of beauty.
CM: What advice would you give others wanting to make the move towards a career in the creative industry?
Understand you’re in the business of selling.
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