Hello boys. Let me handle your election

New Labour liked the Wonderbra and fcuk campaigns so much that it hired the creative director. Trevor Beattie tells how he plans to win Tony Blair a second term
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The Independent Online

Trevor Beattie is going to win Labour the next general election. He's sure of that. The creative director and his team at the advertising agency TBWA GGT Simons Palmer have just seen off competition from two of Europe's biggest ad agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi and J Walter Thompson, to win the highly prized Labour Party advertising account.

In doing so, Beattie has realised a dream that he's held for more than 15 years. While the Tory party has struggled to find an advertising agency even remotely interested in handling its account, it's been a markedly different story for Labour. But to understand the real significance of the win, you have to understand Beattie.

In a world full of suave, suited southerners and precious creatives, Beattie, a Wolverhampton Polytechnic graduate, is a unique cheery Brummie. He has no pretensions about his vocation, describing himself as "a scruffy, dirty salesman who flogs things". While his salary could easily afford him a plush dwelling just about anywhere he fancied, he lives in Hackney, east London and takes the bus to work.

He shot to prominence at TBWA with the famous "Hello Boys" campaign for Wonderbra. Then came "fcuk" for French Connection and Fi Fi the cyber babe for Sony PlayStation. All his clients have his mobile phone number, and they use it. Trevor Beattie is well known for his inability to take time off, and on the afternoon we meet, he hasn't eaten properly for two days but still finds an hour to enthuse about his latest project.

His office at the agency has been described as a cross between a teenager's bedroom and a pimp's boudoir. It is jammed full of memorabilia. The room is dominated by a giant TV screen, adding to the five he already has at home and the mobile TV he carries with him wherever he goes. He is obsessed with the mass media.

To the untrained eye, nothing else looks significant with the exception of two prominently framed photographs. One, which was taken on the shoot of the Equitable Life ad, shows Beattie arm in arm with Muhammad Ali, an indication of his other passion in life, boxing ("imagine the courage it takes to step into the ring for a fight knowing that your opponent could kill you"). The other is a signed photograph of Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands, Beattie's favourite film ("because it's such a powerful love story").

Beattie is dressed as though he's in training for the London Marathon, sporting a pair of black plastic trousers, the sort that Eighties aerobics instructors use to wear. His trademark bouncing black locks are pulled back into a ponytail, revealing a wide grin of success.

"Pitching for the Labour account was the best presentation I've ever been involved in," he says. "Often someone will screw up or something will go wrong, but not this time. If I had been sat on the other side of the table, I would have appointed us. In the pub afterwards, I told the team: if we haven't won, it's not our fault - they've made a mistake."

When the good news came, it came straight from the top. While Peter Mandelson, the Northern Ireland secretary, made the final call, Tony Blair is the client and the man Beattie will now set about selling to the masses ahead of the general election, which will probably be next year. The agency will also handle the elections for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and the London Assembly vote on 4 May.

"If a week's along time in politics, then so is a year," explains Beattie. "The first thing we have to do is to explain to people the great things that the Labour government has done. The public are blasé about it and have short memories because they have very quickly forgotten how bloody awful it was under the Tories. We might have underestimated the tallness of the order, but we're on the case."

Trevor Beattie is adamant that there will be no need for ranting aggression, but also believes that the last election campaign was mild. A poster campaign featured endlines including "Britain deserves better", "Things can only get better" and "Enough is enough".

"It's very different in opposition, because you're attacking the record, while in government you're defending it. I thought that the last election campaign was incredibly low key. It was quite gentle, and I'm not sure whether it contributed massively to the win."

With Beattie, the line between the Labour Party man and the ad man is heavily blurred. His involvement with the party dates back to the mid-Eighties, when he became involved with the Shadow Communications Agency. "Peter Mandelson and I literally had to meet in pubs - we were like the French Resistance," he remembers. "It was very strange. People laughed at us. We were a quirky little group to them."

The turning point for Beattie came with the ousting of Margaret Thatcher. "I was so angry that the men in grey suits got rid of her. That wasn't their job - they shouldn't have been legally allowed to do it," says Beattie. "She was voted in by the general public and they had the right to kick her ass out of it. It enabled the Tories to giggle and say, we shot your fox."

Beattie's allegiance remained undented through Kinnock and Smith's terms, but it wasn't until Blair and Gordon Brown took charge that he thought Labour had any real chance of success. On the 1997 election night, he held the mother of all parties at a club in Mayfair's Berkeley Square - a deliberate choice of a venue at the very centre of the Tory heartland.

"And then came the moment when Portillo was knocked out," he recalls, "and everyone was firing off bottles of champagne. I walked out of the club and went home. I never said goodbye to anyone. It was like This is Your Life: everyone I ever knew in the world was in that club, and I thought, 'this will do for me - I need to go and experience this.' I walked out into Berkeley Square, and a nightingale probably sang at that point."

Now Beattie is facing what he describes as one of the easiest briefs of his career. "It's not complicated, but it does require a lot of trust on either side. It's about ensuring that we all think the same thing and that what we release is right and isn't a compromise - there's nothing worse in politics than a compromise."

"We need to get Tony out there and reintroduce him to the people - Tony unplugged is the best thing. I've seen him stand before a live audience and have unrehearsed questions fired at him. We don't see enough of that. I'd like to show that to people more often."

Beattie refuses even to contemplate the ramifications of not having won the Labour account, but says that it would not have altered his support for the party. "I'm not Ken Livingstone. I'm not willing to throw it all in the bin for anything. I wouldn't have stamped on my hanky and said 'right, you can throw me out of the party now, I'm going to have a bloody big sulk because something's gone against me and we lost because you counted the votes wrong, so I'm not Labour anymore, so screw you.'"

The shine isn't likely to wear off Beattie's latest win for some time to come. "Remember when Thatcher was a goner and we just booted her out. She shed a lovely little tear for herself, which was quite sweet, then she drove off to the House of Commons and it became this big pantomime," recounts Beattie.

"When she made her final speech she said 'I'm enjoying this, I'm enjoying this,' and I'm reminded of that now. I keep sitting here and thinking to myself 'I'm enjoying this.'"

Jade Garrett writes for 'Campaign' magazine