Memories of an extraordinary individual – Part Two
A few months back Denny Hatch of Target Marketing asked me to write about my experiences of working with David Ogilvy.
An abridged version was published, but here is part two of the original memoir.
10. He had no false modesty.
I once asked him if he would come and talk at a conference we were having for all our creative directors.
“What would you like me to talk about?” he asked.
“Well, we all know about your triumphs. Could you talk about things you got wrong?”
He started by saying “Drayton asked me to talk about my mistakes. We have an hour. It will take me three and half minutes to deal with the mistakes. The rest of the time I will talk about what I got right.”
His greatest mistake, he thought, was going public. “Once you do that, you lose control of your business.”
He was proud that he had brought in all the agency’s five biggest clients.
“I made their bed. They lie on it.”
11. He was never too proud to seek criticism
When he had finished drafting Ogilvy on Advertising he sent it to Joel Raphaelson with the note: “Dear Joel, Kindly improve. D. O.”
When planning a speech about direct marketing, he sent me the draft for comment.
12. He was extremely quick-witted
We were having a seminar in Barcelona.
People were showing their work. One man showed something which David did not rate very highly and the person said that it had done very well.
David commented, “Imagine how much better it would have done if you’d done it properly.”
13. He was fun
I used to go around making a lot of speeches – I still do.
David rang me one day and said, “Why do you go around the world making all these speeches – giving away our secrets?”
I replied, “You’ve been doing it for years – decades – and they still can’t do what you do. You can talk until you’re blue in the face but people won’t know how to do what you can do.”
And I quoted Kipling to him: “They copied all they could follow but they couldn’t copy my mind.”
He never forgot this. I remember him ringing me at home one day and saying, “Hello, David here. Just back from making another speech are we then?”
14. He could be very sly.
Shortly after I sold my business to Ogilvy and Mather I was asked by the people in the London advertising agency to look at some work for the World Wildlife Fund.
They sent the copy and asked for comment.
I did so and wrote, “David Ogilvy says advertisements without headlines are headless wonders. This copy has no urge to action at the end. It is a tailless wonder” – which I thought was rather a clever way of putting it.
The next day the phone rang. It was David. He said, “Thanks for looking at my copy. You’re quite right. I shall change it.”
That was clever. Would I have been as frank if I had known it was his work? I doubt it.
15. He was a tremendous worker.
As he fascinated me I used to ask those who knew him better and longer what made him so remarkable.
One, Joel Raphaelson, told me how he used to go into the office on a Saturday morning to get work done and David would already be there.
Then when he used to drive past the office on Sunday evening the lights would be on. David was still working away.
16. He did not give up
I asked Ken Roman, the chief executive of Ogilvy for most of the time I was in that business, what he thought made David so remarkable.
Ken said, “Well, I’ve done quite well, one reason being I don’t give up easily.
“If something doesn’t work immediately, I’ll try again; and if it still doesn’t work I’ll try again. And if it doesn’t work then, I’ll try again. And again. And again.
“I’ll keep going for a couple of years before I give up. But David never gives up. He’ll keep going for 40 years.”
17. He was amazingly good at spotting good people
He had the most amazing ability to pick out people, often people who didn’t seem very important but had ability, and get to know them.
His reach was astonishing. I rang up our agency in Singapore one evening to talk to somebody there. The person I wanted wasn’t there but some young guy answered – his name was Chris Foo – and he said to me, “Oh, I’m reading your book.”
So I said, “How come?” And he said, “David Ogilvy told me to.”
At the time, Chris was a trainee who has since become very successful. So David had this ability to single out young people who he could see were going places. I don’t know how he did it.
Around the same time, I was approached by R. Sridhar who was running the Bangalore office in India.
He wrote to me and said, “I’m reading your book. I’m wondering if you would like to come out to India and help us set up a direct response agency?”
I asked him, “Whose idea was that?” He said, “David Ogilvy’s.”
18. He was a snob
After Ogilvy and Mather was bought by WPP, he invited Martin Sorrell to come to Touffou.
I happened to be there and listened to a long discussion as to a) how formal the occasion should be (evening dress was decided upon) and b) who else should be invited.
Many great names were mentioned, including that of a former French President. David was never afraid of dropping a name or two.
19. He had a great sense of theatre
The first time I ever saw him was in London, speaking at a direct marketing conference.
He was an expert at the dramatic gesture. After he was introduced, everyone applauded.
He wasn’t on the platform but in the front row.
He rose very, very slowly and walked to the podium.
People were waiting eagerly to hear what he was going to say. He said nothing.
Then he took off his jacket to reveal his red braces and paused.
Then, like an old-time preacher he said in resonant tones:
“My text today is from The Gospel according to St Matthew, verse so and so, chapter so-and-so”.
He had that audience in his power.
20. He enjoyed repartee.
The first time I went to a meeting he was attending in Amsterdam I arrived late, sweating profusely. I used to wear a lot of cologne in those days.
I got to a room outside where the meeting was being held.
David was sitting on a settee and he patted the space next to him and said, “Come and sit next to me.”
As I did so, he said, “My goodness, what are you wearing? You smell like a whore’s boudoir!”
And I said, “How do you know?”
He didn’t mind people making fun of him. I think most were too awed to do so.
21. He did not suffer fools gladly.
That day, after we chatted for a minute or two, there was a break in the meeting.
In the next session, people were reporting on what their offices were doing.
A man from Switzerland stood up and did a rambling presentation which showed his offices and explained who the people were but didn’t really tell you much about what the business was doing.
In a very loud voice which must have been terribly embarrassing for this man, David said, “I can’t stand another word of this,” stood up and walked out.
22. He was a great gossip.
He once told me a story about a former partner whom he had promoted to run the New York office.
This man, who was handling the American Express account, died young.
“I woke up and dreamt he had come back. He wanted my job, you know.”
David told me how when they worked together the American Express billings were going up like a rocket.
He was very impressed and couldn’t understand why until after the man died.
The secret was that the fellow was having an affair with the advertising manager.
23. He never stopped thinking about business.
He rang me one morning at around ten o’clock, and without any preliminaries asked me what was wrong with Ogilvy and Mather.
I said I didn’t know but I’d think about it and write to him with my thoughts.
Then he said, “Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas!” Yes: it was Christmas day. As far as he was concerned, every day was a working day.
These are some of the things I recall about this remarkable man.
I do not think I ever forgot any conversation we had. It was a privilege and a joy to know him.