THE UNCERTAIN YEARS
At 5 years of age, I ran on to a rugby field for the first time, playing for Lane Cove Rugby Union Football Club. I continued playing rugby for the next 16 years. Clearly, I loved the sport.
I’m no Mensa member, but I was smart enough to understand that no matter how much I loved rugby, I wasn’t very good at it – certainly not good enough to build a career on it.
I also wasn’t very good at mathematics. Unlike rugby, I didn’t love maths. If I had been better at it (and if I’d loved it) I might have followed my dad into accountancy.
At school, I used to while away time in class by drawing in my exercise books. I mostly drew cars and houses. A vocational guidance counsellor suggested I might make a good architect. (The counsellor got this brainwave shortly after I mentioned that I enjoyed drawing houses.)
I went to the University of New South Wales to study architecture. I soon discovered that architecture was 5% design (which I loved) and 95% drafting (which I found boring). I left.
I returned to uni to study psychology and marketing research. (It was already becoming clear that I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career.) I went to work in a marketing research company. I sat in rooms listening to groups of women talk about laundry detergent.
The research company was owned by an advertising agency. The creative department was upstairs from my office. Every day as I sat studying computer printouts, I had to suffer the endless laughter coming from the creative department.
It got too much. I went up to see the creative director and said I wanted a job as a writer.
He asked me if I’d written anything. I mentioned a couple of poems that had been published. He smiled sympathetically. He handed me a creative brief and told me to come back when I was happy with what I’d written.
It took me 2 weeks of writing and rewriting before I had the courage to return to his office. He looked at what I’d written and offered me a copywriting job.
THE ADVERTISING YEARS
Those early, confused years were followed by a couple of decades of stability (career stability, if not emotional stability – I was now an advertising copywriter and a certain amount of eccentricity was acceptable, if not fully expected).
I worked as a copywriter and then creative director in advertising agencies in Australia and the UK.
I had finally found something that I appeared to be good at, and something I enjoyed. Perhaps I had found my element.
Probably my best-known campaign (in Australia at least) has been the Bundy R Bear campaign for Bundaberg Rum, created in 1994.
I started to learn a bit about business – both from working with my clients and also as a Director and shareholder of, first, Australia’s largest independent agency and then of Leo Burnett’s Sydney office.
I began to appreciate that advertising was just a small part of the picture. There was a whole lot more to a brand’s success than the ads I was creating – no matter how clever I might have believed them to be.
THE YEARS OF CHANGE
After a couple of decades of advertising writing, I could almost do it in my sleep. Perhaps I did. I was no longer being challenged. I’d get a brief, come up with a couple of concepts and go to lunch. I needed a change. Of career? Of location? I left Leo Burnett, unsure of what I wanted to do next.
As it turned out, it was location that was to change. Two weeks after leaving the Sydney office, I got a call from Leo Burnett in Mexico asking if I’d come over for 2 years to run the creative department of 30. The opportunity to work in a country with a language I didn’t speak was impossible to resist.
Whilst there, I was asked by client Procter & Gamble to run a workshop on how to write an inspiring creative brief. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of creating the material and facilitating the workshop. I ran a couple more workshops for clients and agency staff.
THE DARK YEARS
My assignment in Mexico complete, I returned to Australia. Having worked in businesses of between 10 and 300 people, I thought I’d try a company of 1.
I enjoyed the independence of working solo, but missed interacting with others. Two years later, I was persuaded to go into partnership with an art director and a strategic planner. I invested in the business, only to discover that my partners were completely dysfunctional – and rarely in the building. As a formerly irresponsible creative type, I found myself in the weird position of providing the emotional stability and work ethic needed to keep the machine operating.
The agency imploded. I was back to thinking about a change. Two ‘friends’ convinced my wife Sharon and me to go into partnership in a restaurant. As a keen cook, I’d always fancied the idea of owning a restaurant and so we rashly agreed. Things started badly when, after signing agreements, leases and guarantees, our friends revealed they didn’t have the money we’d agreed to invest.
It went downhill from there.
I will spare you the details. Suffice to say it involved secret accounts and fake bank statements. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We slipped into depression. Health suffered. It wasn’t a pretty time.
Some people are terrified of trying something new – and some people become increasingly terrified of trying something new as they age. Even if this had been true in my case (it wasn’t), our new impoverishment meant that we had to find a way or ways to recover our financial position, as well as rekindle our enthusiasm for life.
My love of running workshops had found a happy outlet when, in the early noughties, I started presenting workshops designed by Dr Wayne Lotherington PhD, founder of global consultancy Allsorts Habit Creation.
As a writer, I especially enjoyed teaching clients how to replace idea-blocking bad habits with creativity-igniting good ones. As I often say (to anyone within earshot), there isn’t a business that creative thinking can’t improve.
I was showing clients how to rediscover their creative selves, to innovate, present memorably, lead effectively and gain valuable insights into their audiences.
I started having fun again.
THE DIVERSIFIED YEARS
When a newspaper runs a headline STATUE SPEAKS, it’s a miracle. When I speak, it’s simply a business engagement. Facilitating workshops has led to invitations to address seminars and business groups.
It has also led to a number of projects which include an organisation created to foster and celebrate innovation in regional Australia, another helping businesses to develop their online presence, a third helping promote regional development and a fourth designed to improve the success rate (and reduce the churn rate) in the network marketing business.
A client to whom I consult approached me with the idea of running a conference for their industry. I convinced them that if we were to do it, it would have to be different from established industry conferences. We set two rules: The conference had to be challenging (we named it The Day of Confrontation) and there were to be no industry speakers on the agenda.
As well as teaching business owners how to win clients, I have written a book to help them keep clients. The Fine Art of Losing Clients will be published in 2014. This was a very easy book to write. I have witnessed the loss of many clients over the years.
So this is what I am doing today: branding, communications, innovation, regional development, workshops, new product development, conferences, books, public speaking and startups.
One thing’s certain: I will not get bored.