Theartschool at the Houses of Parliament

Theartschool, an enterprise set up by M&C Saatchi’s Graham Fink and Deirdre Allen in 2002, irregularly offers students and other interested parties the chance to attend free workshops hosted by some of advertising’s brightest stars. Each session takes place in a different venue, and for the most recent, held on December 16 last year, Fink and Allen rustled up a very unusual setting: the Houses of Parliament.

Theartschool, an enterprise set up by M&C Saatchi’s Graham Fink and Deirdre Allen in 2002, irregularly offers students and other interested parties the chance to attend free workshops hosted by some of advertising’s brightest stars. Each session takes place in a different venue, and for the most recent, held on December 16 last year, Fink and Allen rustled up a very unusual setting: the Houses of Parliament.

Access to such rarefied surroundings was made possible by ex-M&C account man Damian Collins, now the conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe. The workshop was held in the Grand Committee Room, a debating room not used to witnessing the practice of advertising, a fact that clearly tickled Fink, who opened by remarking: “The Saatchi mantra is ‘nothing is impossible’, and the fact that this session of theartschool is taking place in this amazing, iconic building is testament to that.” To further emphasise the incongruous nature of the event, he then produced an Indian drone box and invited his audience to join him in humming a perfect middle C.  The group nervously rose to the challenge.

A harmonious start

Proceedings then returned to more traditional ground with a speech by Collins who gave a brief history of the Houses of Parliament and also discussed his experiences as an MP, before taking the group on a whirlwind tour through the building. Back in the Grand Committee Room, Fink then presented a history of 40 years of Saatchi’s greatest creative hits (featuring work from both Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi), with commentary also provided by Simon Dicketts, global creative director of M&C Saatchi. Famous spots for BA and Castlemaine XXXX were shown alongside less familiar, but excellent pieces for Cosmopolitan and Dunlop, as well as a striking film for The Samaritans. Sadly I can’t find this anywhere online to share, but it was set to a remixed version of Is There Anybody Out There? from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This feat was made possible by an unusual connection: the then head of TV at the agency meeting Roger Waters at a PTA meeting at the school both their daughters attended.

Damian Collins MP shows the group around

Collins talked a bit about the similarities between political advertising – for which both Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi are of course hugely famous – and political rhetoric and discourse, remarking that both require the use of emotion to simplify the message. He remarked: “All great political advertising distils complex political ideas to one thought”.

Industry advice was also proffered from Dicketts who recommended that it’s wise to “always be the last person to leave the office”, relaying a story of how he wrote a successful Pilkington Glass ad in the office on Christmas Eve after everyone had gone. Fink then suggested that the students “be a pain in the arse”, while relating how he pestered everyone at M&C Saatchi to get the famous BA Face ad made. Turning to more recent work, the multi award-winning Dixons print campaign, Fink recounted how the work turned the Dixons account from being one of the least popular amongst the creatives at the agency to one of the most sought after.

The showcase was then completed with brief presentations by M&C’s young stars talking about how they broke into advertising. While varied in style, the tales were united by tenacity and audaciousness, with one team relaying how they finally got a permanent contract at the agency by printing thousands of fake £20 notes and leaving them on Fink’s desk in an attempt to convince him to find the budget to hire them. One thing lacking from these presentations though, was an insight into how a less traditional creative player might find a way into M&C’s creative department, with the work shown all based in traditional TV and print media, and presented by teams of art directors and copywriters (alongside account teams). There was little talk of the new advertising landscape of digital and interactive creativity, and how this was being explored at the agency.

The students get to work on the brief

Fink then put those present to work by setting a brief, which he described as a “silent debate”. The subject proposed was the tuition fees, a hot topic for this audience, with the most recent student protests in Parliament Square having taken place only a week before, and the government cutting all funding to the very subjects that would lead most students into the ad industry. One half of the room was asked to create work that promoted the introduction of the fees, while the others argued against. With only 25 minutes to complete a set of ideas, slogans, or images that could be articulated only on paper – no speaking was allowed – it proved a tough ask, so after looking through the work, Fink also encouraged the students to send any further ideas to him by mid-January. He plans to turn these into a book to be presented to both the Prime Minister and Ed Miliband.

Fink and Dicketts view the results

Theartschool offers an opportunity for students to experience some of the pizzazz that advertising holds – previous workshops have seen contributions from guest speakers Gary Oldman and Alan Yentob, as well as ad luminaries such as Trevor Beattie, John Hegarty and Chris Palmer. But it also reminds those attending that the key to real success in the industry is tenacity, combined with quick-thinking and great ideas: invaluable advice for any budding creative-to-be.

Future events from theartschool will be advertised online here and via Graham Fink’s Twitter feed.

 

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