The Stephen Allan Story

​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.​..

You can read more on the Stephen Allan Story here

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