Now, where was I?
Around this time, I was coming to the end of my first year in a London ad agency. Like many graduates with a shiny new degree, I’d found myself taking a job I was dramatically overqualified for, at least on paper. But the deal was that if I became the production trainee in a little agency called Primary Contact, in my spare time they’d teach me the rudiments of being an advertising copywriter.
Located just off London’s Oxford Street, Primary Contact was unusually creative for a business-to-business agency. When I joined, its main claim to fame was advertising the new Sinclair pocket calculator in the Sunday colour supplements, rather than in the expected office equipment mags – it had spotted that a potentially boring business tool could become an aspirational ‘must-have’ gadget, and sales took off. With a staff of just over 20 people, the agency was billing about £1.3 million a year – heady stuff in those days, especially as it operated a profit-sharing scheme.
My job as ‘demon child’ – even I was young once – was problem solving, which ranged from keeping the archives up-to-date to finding and ordering 500 little plastic walking dogs from Hong Kong for a mailshot. I was also the
delivery service for important mail around London – usually accomplished via mini-cab, which often seemed to be the same Wartburg Knight estate that others were rude about but which I thought was interesting.
Around the time of our main photo, we were also operating without electricity for two days each week, as the Government’s response to the strikes in the power industry. My task before this started was to buy up 50 camping gas lights, to keep the agency illuminated (we could have later resold them many times over to the less far-sighted). Fortunately we didn’t have computers then, so it was business as usual, even on days without electricity.
All the while, I was learning the basics of copywriting, though I knew I would never match my mentor, Primary’s gifted creative director Richard Jeans. Nowadays potential recruits have to go to college for a proper marketing qualification or become an unpaid intern, but I doubt they’d learn half as much as I did in that first year. It was the best ad agency I worked in.
The new Sinclair pocket calculator proved useful for helping young Tony keep track of his profit-sharing.