Dave has worked in advertising for over 30 years, founding St. Luke’s, the world’s first Co-operative ad agency and most recently Karmarama in 2000.
In 2003 he created the iconic MAKE TEA NOT WAR poster for the anti-war march. It now is part of the collection at the V&A and hangs in the Trento Museum of Modern Art. He loves to make work that creates a reaction.
I was totally useless at school, I just didn’t get it. I think I was probably dyslexic and also OCD, but in those days you were just called ‘thick’. I just couldn’t engage with anything that I wasn’t interested in and as a result I failed everything except for art and woodwork.
I didn’t really hate school, but I was certainly marginalised, school and I were like ships that passed in the night. I was good at sports and art, so I got away with it, but when it came to anything that required learning I was just hopeless. It’s frustrating, because with my own kids, I love helping them learn and do homework and revise for exams, and I love the challenge of getting my son, who is just like me, to ‘click’ and find things interesting.
I found my first job whilst serving pasta.
The only two creative subjects I studied at school were art and woodwork, I then went on to study at art school, doing a foundation course and then a graphics degree.
At school there was very little information about a career in the creative industries. I got most of my information from my dad’s Italian restaurant! Working there as a teenager introduced me to the world of advertising through the customers who came into eat - most of whom worked in advertising agencies in the area. They looked so glamorous and cool and seemed to spend all day in the restaurant eating, so I thought it looked like a pretty good job. I wrote them letters and some of them kindly offered me work experience.
My parents taught me to strive for what I really wanted.
Both my mum and dad are immigrants who came to London from Italy and Denmark in the late 1950’s. They are both very entrepreneurial and that is the most inspiring and supportive structure to grow up in. Neither of them spoke great English at the time, and so I wasn’t really helped in my school work, but they taught me that if you want something, work out how to get it.
Luck, hard work and taking (slightly dodgy) chances.
I got into the creative industries by pure luck really... I did a few placements in ad agencies over the holidays, kept in contact with people and just kept going back for advice. I also used to steal all the art equipment I could lay my hands on and then sell it at college (don’t try this at home kids!).
With my mentors at that time, I always listened to them, responded with new work, then kept going back to them. I probably annoyed the hell out of them but it helped me improve and work out what I needed to do to get a job. I put together a portfolio of my ideas and teamed up with a copywriter that I was introduced to, we put both our ideas together, did some stuff together and quite quickly got my first job at TBWA, a small agency in Covent Garden, London.
Creating your own path.
My biggest problem is that I hate convention and I am not in any way corporate and advertising is built on conventions, and so I always found it hard. I would spend every minute trying to do something better, or different to what had gone before, and that is a much harder route. I was fortunate to work for people and in companies that also felt the same, so it encouraged me to keep going and not give up, being part of a gang that feels the same is very important in keeping your morale up.
Later on in my career, I was introduced to lots of corporate, selfish, money-obsessed people who I loathed, and this inspired me to try and create a different type of company that would be a great place to work and would also attract clients who felt the same. There were plenty of challenges along the way and I found the best way to face this was to keep rolling with the punches… I am too stubborn and probably too stupid to give in, so if I believe it’s right, I will never roll over and will always keep doing it the way I think it should be done!
Anything you’d do differently?
Oh god yeah! I’ve made so many mistakes I’ve lost count. There are some people I wish I’d never employed, and a few I wish I’d never given large lumps of my time to, and a few people I wish I had punched really hard in the teeth (don’t try this at home either kids!) but I still have time for that.
To be honest a lot of the things that happened were driven by circumstance at the time, most of the time the most important thing is to make a decision and not dawdle. If I replayed my life, I would probably do a lot of things the same way again.
And any words of advice?
It depends on why you want to do it…. If it’s for the money, the fun and the lolz, go f*** yourself!
But if you want to make a difference, then please please do it and fight for everything and inspire people and make it better for you and the people coming in after you.