Being a Ghostwriter – The Man Behind the Mask

Having been a Brand/Marketing Manager/Director/VP (TeaMaking) or whatever the then-current job title was in the heady days of the 1980s, I was on the client side, observing the last hurrah of the great Advertising Agencies.

While that gave me some control over what was spent and what got produced, I soon itched to have some of the creative action that went on in those glass and chrome West End edifices (with the impossibly glamorous receptionists). Not for me the suited and booted Client Director role, schmoozing ignorant clients (self included) and having to be the interpreter between us and their Creatives. No, I aspired to be one of those temperamental artistic folk, who were always segregated from the rest of the Agency and given licence to be outrageously brilliant.

Every now and again the hirsute Art Director and Creative Director (scriptwriter) would be wheeled out into the meeting room and would be nervously monitored by their handlers in case of bad behaviour. They would proceed to present their words and visuals, and subtly persuade us to choose the option that they really wanted (usually after showing two duds).

Then they got to go on some totally essential exotic location to make the ad. I especially remember one coffee commercial shoot in the Grand Canyon – or I would have done had I been invited to go… But I’m not bitter, unlike the coffee.

Best of all, they got fabulous salaries (to feed their expensive habits). So how could I get a piece of this? Well, I can’t draw and don’t have the greatest visual sense – but I’ve always written. All I needed was an outlet. I made it my business to write anything that was beneath the dignity of our Agency – press releases, flyers for retail promotions, trade articles, etc.

Earning a Seymour

No, I didn’t get a six-figure salary for writing a single line of copy: in those days we all aspired to earn ‘a Seymour’ – named after the £100,000 paid by Charles Saatchi to headhunt the late great Geoff Seymour. And if you wonder why, consider that he came up with the following one-liners:

  • “As good for you today as it’s always been” (Hovis)
  • “The world’s favourite airline” (BA)
  • “Reassuringly expensive” (Stella Artois)
  • “Made in Scotland from girders” (Irn-Bru)
  • “They’ll make a dishonest woman out of you” (Birds Eye pies)

Those old enough to remember these classics will not doubt their value to the brands concerned. They funded what the Guardian’s obituary described as “the champagne lifestyle for a good-looking young man: there was the Bentley, the Savile Row suits and Montecristo cigars and a farm in Wiltshire. Colleagues recall Seymour sweeping from the green Bentley into his agency’s Howland Street offices in London, wearing a cloak ‘and looking like Oscar Wilde’.”

 

The new creatives

But now I finally write for others and get paid for the privilege, the scene is very different. Yes there are still ‘full service’ agencies; but they can no longer expect to pull down an automatic 15% commission on every expensive service they provide. Now their lucrative media-buying role is often usurped by specialist media agencies that can also offer the all-important online marketing management services (which are as much about planning as they are about creativity).

And now, creatives tend to work for themselves and sell their services to clients – often at very reasonable rates, more’s the pity. (The barriers to entry are tiny).

And that’s how we do it at Bojingles, and we do fortunately have a reputation that ensures repeat business. We have low overheads because we are a small team of professionals each with a particular set of skills, but with no fancy office. As the lead copywriter/scriptwriter (no hi-falutin’ titles here), I write under any name than my own, so you will see or hear my work appear on various websites, social networks and radio or video advertisements under my clients’ logos, URLs and letterheads.

Is it frustrating to be a ghostwriter? No, not really. It would be nice to be the author of a big national TV commercial (a rare breed nowadays) but few would know it was my work: just as although we are also writing pop songs, if we have a hit then we will probably have to share the credit with the singer and his or her producer and manager.

And that’s one thing that has not changed – Colonel Tom Parker’s companies got production credits on everything that Elvis sang, or the song did not get used. The writer was, and is, at the bottom of the food chain. But there are worse chains to be attached to. So I’d better get back to the next paying article…

 

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Bad Publicity? What’s That?

An age ago (some 20 years) I ran a company called Rediffusion Music, the last man standing of a once-proud media empire. We had survived and thrived due to our speciality of supplying background music to businesses – and whereas Musak then ruled the USA, we led the way worldwide.

Now of course the playing of music in public places was, and is, controversial – and it polarises opinion. I remember relishing the fact that I was having a business lunch on the next table to Michael Parkinson, in the full knowledge that he was one of our loudest critics.

Because of our high profile within the business, we were the prime target: the first port of call for any TV, press or radio researcher looking to put together a thought piece or a whole programme, usually attacking what we did. What was my reaction? ‘Sure, bring it on’. Thus it was that we had visits from Spike Milligan (for BBC1), Tony Parsons (Daily Telegraph) and John Walters (John Peel’s late producer, doing a Channel 4 documentary), as well as phone interviews with Nicky Campbell (Radio 1) and others.

Why put ourselves in the firing line? Because if any firm was going to be identified and demonised as the home of background (or foreground) music, I wanted it to be ours. Those businesses that knew the power of music would know where to come.

In the 90s we also started building the basis of instore audio advertising, firstly through tape systems and then via satellite. Now, many retail chains have their own ‘FM’ stations with personalised messages, ads and music programming.

The Birth of Bojingles

Although we were acquired by an American competitor, AEI, and I departed, I always hankered after getting back in to audio and advertising, and when my musician friend Rob Benham suggested we set up a company to make jingles, Bojingles was born (in 2006).

This is not a Rediffusion-style operation with over 100 people, this is a small, agile group made up of dedicated professionals, now specialising in –

  • Scriptwriting and storyboarding
  • Musical composition and production
  • Radio commercials and sung jingles
  • Themes for film, TV, games, hold music, etc.
  • Design for logos, brochures, websites and more

So we will probably never achieve the level of fame/notoriety (delete as desired) as the purveyors of ‘musak’, we still aspire – don’t we all – to at least be legends in our own lunchtime.

We most enjoy writing and creating music that people will want to actively hear and pay money for – see how we are doing on our Soundcloud and judge for yourself. And if you happen to be a music supervisor looking for theme music or a massive pop song, we’re always up for the challenge…