In the latest chapter of ‘The Media Men’, a compilation of stories of the founders of today’s agencies, Festival of Media Global 2016 speaker Stephen Allan recounts how he chose the path of media and never looked back.
Growing up, I loved photography – that was my passion. So, frankly, at the age of 16 or 17, I thought there was no point in going to university. I couldn’t see the benefit. I started looking at advertising photography, checking out the spreads in the colour supplements – trying to work out, “how did they do that?”
By about the age of 17 and a half I realised that I possibly wasn’t good enough in my own right – or related to the Royal family – to make the kind of living I wanted as a photographer. But the advertising industry – that looked interesting, so I decided that I should look at that a bit more closely.
I started looking for information in libraries, career rooms – anywhere I could find – and I read about the job of an ‘account director’ and I thought, okay, I’ll be an account director.
It turned out it wasn’t quite that simple. I wrote to 80 agencies and I got back 80 refusals.
One day I was – quite literally – talking to someone at a bus stop, and she said, “My next door neighbour’s called Michael Peters. He’s something to do with advertising, I could introduce you.”
It turned out that he was really a top guy in the design and packaging field. He agreed to see me, and he proceeded to tell me all about this “line”. Did I want to be “above the line?” or “below the line?” I was thinking “what’s this line?”. In the end I said “above the line”, because that sounded better. And Michael said he would put in two calls for me, one to Charles Saatchi – whose name really didn’t mean anything to me at the time – and one to Mike Yershon.
He made the calls in front of me. The Saatchi call went nowhere, but this Yershon guy said, “Send him along”.
As I was thanking him, Michael Peters said to me, “Just don’t get his name wrong. It’s Yershon.”
So I went round to their offices above Caesar Shoes in Bond Street, and I walked in and said, “Good afternoon, Mr Gershwin.” It wasn’t a good start...