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What got me into marketing

Group Chairman


Dave Sewards



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Here goes the Charles Dickens ‘boy from poor family tries to better himself’ bit. Sorry in advance for that, but it’s a necessary part of the tale for where things began.

Back in 1983, Shergar the racehorse was kidnapped, a law was passed decreeing that we had to wear seatbelts in cars, Michael Jackson released the album Thriller and I left school aged 16. I’d passed all my exams and wanted to do my A-levels with my mates before going to university, but my family were having a rubbish time of things. They were struggling to pay the rent and had loan sharks at the door every Friday night, so I needed to get working.

I started with two jobs. At the weekend I worked in the warehouse at the Co-op and on weekdays I was grafting at a garage in Holbeck. The garage had won a contract to re-spray Warburtons’ lorries, and the main part of my job was rubbing down 40’ orange trailers with sandpaper, I bloody loved it! I got paid in cash at the end of the week and felt like a millionaire, but I knew it wasn’t the career for me – these delicate hands wouldn’t take the strain…

So, one day whilst walking to get sarnies for lunch, I went past the Jobcentre and saw a card in the window advertising for a Trainee Accountant. I went for the interview not knowing what an Accountant was, wearing a borrowed suit and trainers (clearly, I was ahead of my time). I must have been the only applicant as they gave me the job! I took a pay cut to £17.50 a week and dived in. The main part of the job was auditing and I travelled around the county checking the books of some big companies (on one audit, I found a Director had paid for his house extension with company money – that got me a promotion!). But the best audit was at a startup ad agency called BRAHM. Most of my working life at that point had been spent in factories and warehouses, but BRAHM had flash offices, a fridge full of beer and the Directors all had MR2s, XR3s and Peugeot 205 GTIs. It was enough to turn any boy’s head.

I got on really well with the Financial Director, a brilliant bloke called John Knibbs (no house extensions there) and on a whim as I left on the last day I said, “If ever you need a side kick, give me a call”. Three months later, the call came. Lives turn on the smallest of things sometimes, don’t they?

On my first day, one of the Directors, Keith McPhail, took me for lunch to The Flying Pizza. I was that p*ssed on my return that I fell up the stairs going back in, so John kindly sent me home. It was then that I knew I was in the right place. For the first 18 months I loved being in the Accounts department. Knibby and I would smoke cigars when a big cheque came in as if we were responsible for it, but more and more he’d have to come and drag me out of the Creative department (we handled the Porsche account), the Media area or Production, and it became clear that’s where my real interest lay. One of the Directors lent me the book ‘Ogilvy On Advertising’, which I still refer to now. They were kind enough to let me spend time in each of the departments, a bit like an unplanned grad scheme, to find out where I fit best. Due to my numbers background, they assumed it would me Media. I had hoped for Creative, but despite my best efforts, I sucked. In the end it was Client Services that drew me in as I liked the variety on offer. Having to learn enough, but not everything, about all the marketing disciplines suited my ‘easily bored’ brain.

My first client was Yugo Cars, until the war in Yugoslavia meant the car factory got converted into one for tanks – I hope they were more reliable than the cars. Following that, I nearly went to Poulters, but was ‘bought’ back with an Astra GTE.

And away things went from there…

I know the title of this post is ‘What got me into marketing’ and I’m aware this is more ‘How’ than ‘What’, but that’s how it was for me. It was, like for many, a moment of luck that took me in this direction. Would I swap it for rubbing down Warburtons’ lorries? Probably not.

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