My biggest mistake

MY BIGGEST mistake was something for which I am still doing penance. It began when I started a direct marketing business in 1976, and I thought we could grow the business off the backs of a few self-taught and fairly gifted professionals and a spot of on-the-job training.

I'd always prided myself on never reading a marketing textbook and I had never seen the need for any formal education. And this is where I went wrong.

Now, there must be at least 30,000 people with knowledge of direct marketing, from practitioners in it to small businesses. But at about that time there must have been fewer than 500 people engaged in direct marketing of any kind. To give an idea of the kind of environment we operated in, it would have taken a room full of mainframe computers to do what a desktop can do now.

All this was going on around me when I had my head down and was trying to get the business going. I didn't realise the industry had a massive training problem, like other emergent businesses. Anyway, with some scary moments we managed to expand the business, and in 1983 I sold it to a US advertising agency that made its name with the Volkswagen Beetle and subsequently became part of Omnicom. And in the 1980s it grew like crazy.

It got to the point where even quite senior people had less than three years' experience. Because direct marketing works by testing things, rolling them out carefully and then measuring the results, this meant that we had many people who had never been through the complete cycle. As a result, I could be held as responsible as anybody for us getting a junk-mail image.

Sending out masses of mail is not really what it's all about. Direct marketing is, in fact, about trying to anticipate people's needs and wants, and serving them on an individual basis. We all benefitted from the changes in technology, but I for one didn't really understand them and their effect.

When I completed my earn-out arrangement with the US agency that bought the business, one of the first things that I did was to write one of those despised marketing textbooks - the kind I never read. I also started working for the Direct Marketing Centre, which had been started in 1981 by Derek Holder and Caroline Owen- Jones at Kingston Business School to offer recognised courses in the field.

In 1990 I was talked into becoming chairman of the organisation, which has helped promote best practice in a rapidly growing field. Having been granted institute status by the Department of Trade and Industry last year, it was officially launched as the Institute of Direct Marketing last week, with Derek as managing director.

The reason I am still doing penance is that I now spend a lot of my time on training - which it took me until 1983 or '84 to recognise the need for. So far, the organisation has given some form of training to 11,000 people, which is more people than I ever thought would be involved in the industry.

Things have developed so quickly that the whole concept of marketing is changing. What many business school lecturers are trained in is really mass marketing, which is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable