What got me into marketing: Media Director

Early days

My interest in advertising started as a kid, when I can clearly remember looking forward to Saturday morning TV to see the toys advertised – I remember thinking Scalextric looked so exciting. Like most kids back then, I was also a huge Star Wars fan. So when I first saw a TV commercial advertising the cinema release of The Return of the Jedi, my jaw hit the floor. I didn’t even know a new Star Wars film was coming out.

I managed to convince the family to take me to Leicester Square to see it. The journey up to London from the suburbs was as exciting to me as the movie itself. Part of the excitement was seeing all the billboards on the Underground – which still to this day are a great way to get my attention. We arrived late at the cinema, and not only had we missed the start of the movie, but I was also upset that we had missed the adverts because everything looked amazing on the big screen compared to the smaller 80’s TV at home.

Making educated choices

My path to a career in marketing started to take shape when picking GCSE subjects. I chose Business Studies as I enjoyed the real-world practicality of the subject compared to much of the curriculum. After managing to scrape a decent grade, I continued studying it at A Level alongside two other subjects that sounded interesting (and easy); Media Studies and PE.

However, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career during my A Levels, as the lessons were somewhat secondary to going out to pubs and clubs at this stage. I remember having to create an advert for a product of our choice in Media Studies. Keeping the topic to something I could relate to, I created a commercial for a hangover cure. It featured my friends on the town followed by the morning after, which was miraculously cured after drinking the miracle tonic (if only!). My friend who studied art helped to draw the storyboard (only cost me two pints) which we then filmed on an old school handheld video camera. The VHS tape is safely locked away in the loft somewhere never to be seen again…

When the time came to decide on a subject for university, I put Business Studies down as my first choice. It covered lots of ground including marketing, and I clearly enjoyed these lessons more than quantitative methods or accounting, so it was here that I really honed in on marketing as a potential career.

As part of my degree, I did a six-month placement at the Institute of Direct Marketing. In 1998, direct marketing was an exciting area (honestly) with more and more brands selling direct to consumer. I loved the fact that it was targeted, measurable and therefore accountable. As part of my role at the IDM I sat in on the judging of the annual awards with all the big names in direct marketing – people whose names made up the initials of the agencies they represented. I also got the opportunity to visit the offices of those who were studying the IDM exams and was blown away by their fancy London spaces and the whole agency vibe. I knew then where I wanted to work.

Into the ‘real world’

When I graduated in 1999 I wrote a letter (yes, with paper, envelopes and stamps) to 20 of the agencies that I had heard of during my placement. I received three replies: Ogilvy kindly replied to say they didn’t have anything right now, but I also got two interview requests, one from WWAV Rapp Collins and one from Evans Hunt Scott. I went to see WWAV first and turned up in Hammersmith at these amazing glass offices on the Thames to be greeted by the guy that ran the Media department. I didn’t have a clue what the ‘Media department’ did but I didn’t care, I just wanted to be working at a place like this. They explained to me that the Media team decided where the advertising was placed and negotiated with the media owners to get the best price for the clients. I thought that sounded awesome. Luckily, I think my enthusiasm paid off as I was offered the job.

On my first day, I walked into the office with the other grad and we were sat down opposite two lads (one of whom is our very own Nick Harrison!) who quickly ripped us to shreds… I’m pretty sure much of the treatment we received wouldn’t be allowed today, but it was a brilliant environment for me. We worked hard (until Friday lunchtime) and played hard.

WWAV was a brilliant training ground as we got exposed to so much so quickly, which in turn helped us to develop quickly. I started planning and buying print campaigns before becoming one of the first people in the agency to work on digital activity – where there was a fair bit of making it up as we went along. I was also involved in buying the agency’s first search campaign – remember GoTo.com or Overture anyone? At that point, I could never have predicted how important search marketing would become.

On the way up

After five years I decided it was time to move on, so joined an agency near Covent Garden, Vizeum, to head up their direct response offering. I also had the opportunity to learn brand advertising and was exposed to clients such as AOL, Coca Cola, Halifax, Heinz and BMW, all of which made me a more rounded media person.

At the time there were two big players in direct response; Carat and MediaCom. They sounded like great places to work as they were winning lots of business and had the best tools and systems. A friend of mine who worked at MediaCom (yes, Nick Harrison again) suggested I joined the dark side… I couldn’t resist the opportunity to join the biggest and best in the world of direct response media, so I jumped ship. I was immediately blown away by the people and resources I hadn’t seen anywhere previously, especially in terms of business science and effectiveness.

After several months of being at MediaCom, Nick left to take an opportunity that set him on his path to Gibraltar, so I took the reins on clients such as Direct Line, Churchill and Sky. I learned loads and was surrounded by people that challenged me every day, which helped me to achieve my personal goal of being promoted to the board (with 50 others I might add). I was happy in my role at Mediacom, but then I was headhunted by Carat who needed someone to head up their direct/performance division. I wasn’t looking to leave, but the opportunity to lead a department at a top three agency was too good to pass up, as I thought it would help to develop my leadership skills further.

Coming HOME

After three years at Carat and in the middle of another company restructure, I was starting to question whether I wanted to continue navigating network politics, when Nick Harrison once again popped up. He explained that after a few years of managing the media side of things at HOME he was keen to hire somebody that could help him run media and also set up a London office. I was interested in getting back to the full service agency world – I believed media and creative needed to work closer together and felt that a smaller independent agency which could achieve that would be of huge interest to clients. I was also keen to learn more about the running of agency business, because you don’t really get that at networks, no matter how senior you are.

After a final interview with Dave and Nick, I was on my way back home when I spotted a huge digital poster above the Waterloo station barriers. It was advertising the new DreamWorks movie, Home. I felt it was a sign to accept the job and in the blink of an eye I have now been at HOME almost six years, longer than any of my previous roles.

I have enjoyed working with great people who really understand their clients’ businesses and always go the extra mile to deliver service levels far above the norm, as well as having a few laughs along the way. We have already come a long way in the time I have worked at HOME and I truly believe that the next chapter will be our most successful yet.

Like many others I fell into the media side of advertising by accident, but I am very grateful for the chips to land that way as I have had the best time, met the best friends and even my better half in the industry.

Written by:

Ben Cunningham Media Director


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