Real blokes care about ads

When super-adman Trevor Beattie walked out of his job as creative director at TBWA - `to make people think' - some cried histrionics, others heroics. But the Wonderbra wunderkind has already bounced back.
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The Independent Online
A month is a long time in advertising. Just four weeks ago, one of the advertising industry's top creative talents, Trevor Beattie, flamboyantly quit TBWA, the agency that had been his home for the previous eight years, by pinning his resignation letter to the notice-board. Beattie, a star name within the industry who is perhaps best known to outsiders as the man who dreamt up Wonderbra's "Hello Boys!" campaign, had got the hump - big time.

"Beattie: Why I quit over Simons offer", blared the front page of the advertising magazine Campaign. It was an explosive end to a relationship with all the ingredients of a best-seller: big egos, big money, big bust- ups, Brummie boy makes good in Big Smoke, the plot would begin. Rapid rise to become creative head of Top 20 agency wins industry admiration. Creative talent and a flair for self-publicity kindles interest from the outside world. Life is decidedly sweet on a creative director's salary of pounds 150,000 or more. Until, that is, Paul Simons - head of a rival agency, Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson - strikes a deal to merge his company into TBWA, resulting in the imminent merger of the two agencies' creative teams.

Shell-shocked, our 38-year-old hero wanders into the wilderness. Well, Soho, in fact, where he spends February licking his wounds in his favourite West End eaterie, Signor Zilli, and conducting media interviews, including an appearance on Radio 4's Midweek. Four weeks on, and Beattie has a new job: as creative director of GGT, the agency behind campaigns for Holsten Pils, John Smith's Bitter and Cadbury's Flake. Weary after his first week of wall-to-wall meetings, lunches and an awards dinner - not to mention a two-day business trip to Venice - the so-called "bad boy of British advertising" confides to The Independent that while he loves the limelight, this is not a role he ever chose to play.

How did it happen, then, Trev? His answer reveals the combination of passion and emotion that has propelled him to the top of his profession. "A merger of TBWA and another agency was always on the cards. And on paper it looked great," Beattie explains. "But I've lived through eight mergers in the l6 years I've been in this industry, and I've never seen one handled well. In this particular case, I don't think enough care was taken in managing the careers of the people involved. There wasn't enough discussion." Resigning, he claims, was an attempt to make people think. "I saw myself as a bit of a union leader - initially for the creative department; towards the end, for the whole agency."

So, our reluctant hero stood up for a principle on behalf of his former colleagues. Unsurprisingly, cynical adland immediately began speculating on his "real" motives. He felt slighted because he was not fully consulted, one theory goes. Another is that before the merger was proposed, he was king of his own fiefdom; the proposed new structure has five creative directors.

Beattie denies this. "Anyone who knows me knows what it cost to leave TBWA," he laments. "It was such an emotional time. I'm a very company- loyal person - a standard-bearer. Things just came to a head." And not just for his agency but for the industry as whole. For Beattie is passionate about advertising, and this is the key to his success.

"Advertising is just so much fun," he says with unfashionable candour. "The jingles, the famous people, exotic locations, fabulous women - it's the best job in the world. It's more than a full-time job, it's a vocation." And he's not joking. Beattie regularly works seven days a week, spending more time at work than at his home in unfashionable (in advertising circles, at least) Hackney. "It's only when people point it out that I notice the hours I put in," he claims. "But I believe life is what happens when you're busy doing other things. There are many more hours in the day than most people think."

Beattie is not your typical adman. Despite a reputation as fiery genius - according to one contemporary, he is "both superstar and little boy" - he is a champion of younger talent and has inspired a loyal following. He's also quick to champion a good cause. Two years ago, he funded a rape awareness campaign out of his own pocket after a female friend suffered an assault. His ad featured a miniskirt-clad woman with legs loosely crossed and the words neatly positioned across her thighs: "This is not an invitation to rape me". It led to involvement in a campaign to save the King's Cross Women's Centre. Last year, Beattie put money into the organisation's new headquarters in Kentish Town. When he quit TBWA, they offered him the use of their stationery and their photocopier.

After graduating in graphic design from Wolverhampton Polytechnic, Beattie got his first foot on the ladder of success by winning a national competition to find the young copywriter of the year. He joined the industry the day after the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981, starting at the London agency Allen Brady & Marsh on pounds 4,000 a year. Since then, he has come up with famous lines including "Cats like Felix, like Felix" and, for Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts: "One too many and you might turn Bertie". But it was at TBWA that he made his name, with campaigns for Nissan, including the latest spoof of the Seventies TV series The Professionals, the Canine Defence League (he penned the "Toys Aren't Us" line) and Wonderbra.

Although described by some former colleagues as "hot-headed", even "short- tempered", he is a popular figure in the industry. Within 24 hours of his departure, his mobile was ringing non-stop with offers of support - from friends, colleagues and even clients (one took him to a football match, another offered him a holiday) - and of jobs, ranging from directing commercials to feature films and senior creative roles at at least nine rival agencies.

Good advertising - and there's less of it about today, he believes - stands out from the crowd and never leaves any doubt about who the advertiser is. "I like and want to make famous advertising - advertising that's talked about in bars," he says. "There's not enough passion or enthusiasm in the advertising industry." Why? "Because it's bloody hard work - you can't have an easy life and make an agency and its clients famous." Beattie condemns the "I'm all right Jack" attitude of advertising's glory days in the Eighties. "Advertising got such a kicking, but no one stood up to defend it. Instead, they put on their spotted bow ties and polished their Porsches."

He is enthusiastic, however, about his future career at GGT. "The work they do is the kind of work I believe in," he says. "A creative pairing is a marriage, really. It's a difficult thing: the chemistry must be right." Beattie is teaming up with GGT's executive creative director, Jay Pond- Jones - a move, he hopes, which will finally nail industry tittle-tattle concerning his flamboyant departure. "It will show I can work in a department with other creative directors." And, he hopes, he can help boost GGT's profile. "The agency has not had a figurehead telling the world about its people, its clients. I want to bring pride to the place. Pride gets you a long way."

Beattie is a skilful self-publicist. But fame gives him a chance to go on Newsnight or into the national press and say that advertising is good, he claims. "Since January, I've had dozens of letters from students saying they'd never considered an advertising career until they realised a `real bloke' could work in the business." It's a nice thought. But how "real" can a bloke really be when he works in an industry still characterised by long lunches and six-figure salaries? "Well, I eat white bread and drink tap water," he offers. "I'm probably the only person in advertising who does."

And yet, in spite of all this, Beattie insists he is bemused by his reputation. "I don't know why it's happened. I've read things about me that are patently untrue, if not physically impossible. There's obviously a desire to create characters. I suppose I just happen to fit the bill"