Tuesday, 24 September 2013


There’s a gag about a chap in a Rolls Royce who passes a Big Issue seller and recognises him as an old school chum. 

He stops and commiserates on his pal’s penury. The friend asks how the toff became so rich and he embarks on a long story about how he began collecting and selling firewood but making a pittance, then he collected more wood but still earned loose change and on and on it goes until the punchline: “then my uncle died and left me £20m.” 

I sometimes feel the same about marketing. At the 2008 How-Do Awards I sat next to a charming lady who said she was a marketing expert. I asked her to name the one book she had read that revealed the secret of that black art. It was called Simply Better, she said. 

So, after a trawl on the internet and ignoring the publisher’s marketing guff, I bought it, cheap, on Amazon. Some 216 pages later I, too, had the knowledge. 

The key piece of advice ran thus: devise your product or service, turn up on time at the right place, don’t knock the furniture over, do what you promised, don’t overcharge....and wait. 

Straight from the old Ronseal School of Business Studies. 

There was other stuff like “identifying generic category benefits” but you get my drift? 

Personally, I’m a great believer in serendipity. I recall once turning down the role of Royal correspondent on a national newspaper. The bloke who sat behind me took the job. 

A year later Diana had spilled him the beans and he was a millionaire. His name? Andrew Morton. 

I felt a bit like the Big Issue seller in the gag. 

You have to have talent, of course or an ingenious and original product. 

I remember spending 20 minutes on the telephone at the Sun trying to explain the system of patents to a reader who claimed he had invented the spiral staircase. 

Stelios chose a high risk strategy to market easyJet. He handed over care of his company’s reputation to the fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaker for Airline. Sure, the planes were often late or filled with drunken sots on a stag do to Latvia

But the tickets were £5 each way and the real stars of the show were the easyJet staff, so diplomatic and courteous they should be rounded up and sent to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict.

One of the best marketers I ever encounted was a London barrow-boy I unearthed when asked by a newsdesk to find the “real life Del Boy”. 

                                                           Tony Jordan - real life Del Boy

Tony Jordan was straight out of Central casting. Black, curly, swept-back hair, drainpipe trousers and talked exactly like Trotter himself. He revealed all the tricks of the costermonger’s trade. He certainly had the gift of the gab. 

Later I wrote about him again when he set up classes to teach others how to flog tacky porcelain angels from Taiwan for multiple of their true value. We lost touch and then one day, years later,  I saw his name in a newspaper.  

He was listed as the number one television screen writer in the UK by Broadcast magazine. Apparently, he joined the soap after sending a speculative script to the BBC about market traders, with a covering letter saying he had been born and raised in the East End of London. 

Tony Jordan - years later

The BBC turned down the script but gave him a job on EastEnders because of his apparent life experience. Ironically, what Tony never told me or the BBC was that he was actually a Northerner and kept that quiet for years until he was established. Not so much Little White Bull, more Little White Lie.  That’s serendipity.

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