Matt Charlton: why Nick Kendall is my ad hero

In the second in our series My Ad Hero Brothers and Sisters CEO Matt Charlton chooses a planner who introduced strategy to luxury and taught him the importance of generosity in an ad agency.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with and learn from so many people who I could easily class as real heroes of advertising. Hegarty, Bogle, Dru, Henry, Babinet and Erra in France and Koepke and Jensen in the US. But it struck me recently that one person more than any other has effected my career and is a true hero to me. That person is Nick Kendall (below), ex-BBH group strategy director.

I was lucky enough to work with Nick solidly for nearly seven years at BBH, plotting and stretching Johnnie Walker around the globe. I also worked on it 100 per cent so it was an undivided learning opportunity. That resulted in me spending much time in his office, surrounded by framed IPA Gold certificates and casually asking about every single one. That resolved over time in hearing the effectiveness stories behind Levis’s to Audi to One 2 One (remember them) to Lynx to Haagen-Daz to Polaroid to Boddingtons. You get the point. Each certificate was like a door to a safe filled with some of the greatest campaigns ever produced.

The strategy on Johnnie Walker of course is now globally famous but at the time we were always trying to work how to evolve it without breaking it. It was a hazardous path. You really needed to know what you were doing. I had to learn what I was doing by listening a lot.

I also observed Nick very carefully navigate the creative department. He was extremely clear that they were the ultimate owners of the solutions and the strategy only served the purpose of creating great work or it was a worthless irrelevance.

Nick was also a master of analysing the people around him and put a great deal of time and effort identifying those of real talent. I remember very clearly him casting great doubt on an otherwise very talented person because they lacked generosity. I never since heard anyone pin-point that so accurately as a defining characteristic. Yet he was so right because much of what we do in agencies is give stuff to others; in our teams or by allowing other departments to take credit. The really great people don’t care about credit but the end result. I have found myself since often revisiting Nick’s POV on whether someone is generous. If they are not then they rarely thrive no matter how smart they are.

When we launched Johnnie Walker Blue Label Nick showed me the principles of luxury marketing he had come up with, at a time when literally no one was talking about a strategic approach to this sector. It was fascinating and I still have them burned into my brain. They are as relevant today as they were 15 years ago.

Nick encouraged me greatly to believe in myself and I remember him once, after I’d passed comment at a BBH board meeting, going out of his way to compliment me and say that they sounded like the words of a future CEO. It’s those little things that become the building blocks of your own confidence. He did not have to say that but chose to do so because he was generous.

I thought my career had been built on my love of creativity or genuine enjoyment of working with clients. However, I have come to realise that the real concrete under my feet was put there by Nick, teaching me how you really build brands on truth. How there are different types of insight depending on the job. And what a really big idea looks like. Teaching me to think at a whole new level which in all my subsequent jobs I have used constantly, sometimes to great effect.

Probably the greatest example was winning the global Bacardi account when we had only 15 people in a room at BETC London, ripping it from Johannes Leonardo in NY and beating Crispin and BBDO NY to it. The idea of ‘Untameable’ for Bacardi was a pure rerun of all I had learned on Johnnie Walker and I knew once we had that we could not lose. The Ad Age Headline “BETC London rips Global Bacardi Account from WPP” was as good as it gets for a little London start-up. It should have read “Nick Kendall’s playbook rips Global Bacardi Account from WPP.”

Matt Charlton is CEO of Brothers and Sisters

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