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Early death of Philip Gould reminds us of the days when admen ruled the UK political world

And Philip Gould (latterly Lord Gould) wasn’t even a particularly famous adman before he was chosen by New Labour presiding genius Peter Mandelson (later Lord…etc, etc) to be the about-to-be-revived party’s opinion pollster (usually focus groups) and sage.

Gould died today at 61 of throat cancer and the tributes have been justifiably fulsome. He helped to connect, first, Neil Kinnock’s and then Tony Blair’s Labour Party to middle class and aspiring working class voters, formerly the exclusive preserve of the Conservative Party. In this not especially lucrative career he was much helped by his marriage to Gail Rebuck, the CEO of big book publisher Random House. Just as current PM David Cameron’s adman guru Steve Hilton has hardly been hindered by his marriage to Google Europe PR boss Rachel Whetstone.

Prior to being hired by Mandelson, via his company Philip Gould Associates initially, Gould was an ad agency planner in London, and hardly one of the stars of the bright young breed who sprung up in the 1980s as agencies realised that ‘planning’ was a good way to persuade clients that the ads the creatives wanted to do were what consumers wanted to see.

I first met Gould when he emerged at a short-lived agency called Tinker & Partners. This was an offshoot of Wasey Campbell-Ewald, then the second string Interpublic agency in the UK to McCann Erickson.

Jack Tinker’s agency had been quite a big player in the US but in the UK nobody had heard of it. But Wasey’s boss Colin Goodson decided that the agency needed a trendy creative offshoot so he teamed account director Caroline Le Bas with planner Gould to give it a punt.

It didn’t really work but later Le Bas teamed with legendary Collett Dickenson Pearce copywriter Tony Brignull (he wrote CDP’s famous Parker Pen ads with art director Neil Godfrey) to form Brignull Le Bas but, sadly, that agency didn’t really work either. I think Gould was involved briefly but I’m not sure.

But this was the time when admen were all over Downing Street as Tory PM Margaret Thatcher surrounded herself with smooth-talking communications wizards. Chief among these were Tim Bell from Saatchi & Saatchi (‘Labour isn’t working’ and all that) and Maurice Saatchi, both to become ‘lords.’

All of which was noticed by Labour in the 1980s which, although pretty unelectable under left winger Michael Foot, had its admen too. The main man was Chris Powell (pictured, now Sir Chris), managing director of the world’s then greatest creative agency Boase Massimi Pollitt.

Chris was always careful to keep Labour at one remove from BMP (his boss chairman Martin Boase was anyway) but all his toil in a lost cause came to naught when former LWT current affairs producer Mandelson moved in and selected his own team which consisted of planner/pollster Gould, press spokesman Alastair Campbell (a former political editor of Robert Maxwell’s Daily Mirror) and, more briefly, adman Trevor Beattie who was then creative director of TBWA London.

But many of them were ‘connected’ in a way that only the British political classes seem to be. Gould himself wasn’t but Caroline Le Bas’ father was John Gilbert, a patrician Labour defence minister who knew absolutely everybody in the defence establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. Powell’s brothers, Charles and Jonathan, were, respectively, chiefs of staff to Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Mandelson himself was the grandson of one-time Labour cabinet minister Herbert Morrison.

Gould, partly thanks to his marriage to Rebuck, moved easily in this environment and became known as the political guru even though many in adland would scratch their heads a bit at this. But, thanks to Blair’s three general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, the ‘gang of four’ – Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and Gould, seemed the bee’s knees, until the Iraq war anyway when, all of a sudden, the communications advice didn’t look so good.

But, as admen say when the client cocks ups up, if only he’d listened…

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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