Farewelling—and learning from—an advertising giant

Advertising is famously populated with characters. The cliche is that of the ruthless, dashing fellow characterised by Don Draper in the TV show Mad Men. There are the Machiavellian, the tortured and insecure, the banal and phantasmagoric; the attention seekers and poseurs. And then there are folk like Roger Dickinson, who died over the holidays.

Roger had been ill for many years. His illnesses cut short a fabulous career in advertising in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. And he never succumbed to the worst characteristics one might sometimes encounter in the creative industries.

He was certainly colourful and, though his specialty was media direction, he was a creative man through and through.

His company was prized by everyone who knew him for his good humour and generosity of spirit.

I worked with Roger at the long defunct agency Hutcheson Knowles Marinkovich (HKM) where he was in charge of media. We remained in contact when he went on to a senior role at Television New Zealand.

When I set out on a whim for the UK in ’94 it occurred to me that I knew no-one of any consequence there and resolved to ask friends with important titles and impressive letterheads to write letters of introduction for me.

Though I had left it until the last minute (because I do succumb to some of the creative stereotypes), Roger obliged me in the most touching way. I unearthed his letter when I heard he had passed and it reminded me perfectly of his manner and charm.

He was a delightful man. I know he will be sorely missed by every one of his family, his many, many friends and former colleagues.

At the service to mark his passing one of his family read Roger’s ‘Ten Commandments’ (see below) and they were a heart-warming reminder of how important decent, everyday values are in marketing and marketing communications.

Roger succeeded in his life because of his values. For him a successful result was important, to be sure he was a businessman, but never without an understanding of what motivated people. So he was perfectly suited to his chosen career. He was a man with integrity. Listening to the eulogies from family and friends his principles plainly prevailed throughout his life.

So, while we mourn Roger’s passing, his legacy is a wonderful reminder that, in the era of intimate media (social media if you will), connecting, communicating, marketing and selling is always, always easier when you genuinely care about the other person; when the transaction has inherent humanity and never cynical.

The best products, ads, designs (or everything we creators do) are expressions of a genuine desire to help others solve their problems.

There was none better at that than Roger Dickinson. He was a lovely man. Glad to have known him.

Roger Dickinson’s Ten Commandments (shared at the funeral by his brother Peter)

Roger wanted to have the last say. Being an ad man he was naturally focussed on what he wants you to “Think, feel and do”, with a real emphasis on the DO.

1.  Never Bet against the All Blacks

Or, in other words, be LOYAL, not just in good times or when something is popular. Loyalty is unswerving, whether that be family, friends or the ABs

2.  Appreciate everything you have – while you’ve got it

Overall we are such lucky people. Appreciate your family, friends, work and your health. It’s a shame that sometimes we have to lose things to appreciate them.

3.  STOP Complaining

We tend to get into a complaining habit, moan, grizzle, huff and puff. Either do something about it or just suck it up.

4.  You’re not too busy to help people

Our young people in particular need mentors and you shouldn’t be too busy to sit down and talk (one interesting observation though is that 95 percent of the people that Roge helped were female – but we won’t hold that against him!).

5.  Thou shalt not pigeonhole people

It doesn’t matter if you are short or failed maths at school. Big doesn’t mean strong, pretty doesn’t mean good, and academic doesn’t mean bright.

6.  Never, ever give up on people

Everybody can have problems. It might be alcohol or drugs, or mental illness, or physical disability. Roge never gave up on anyone and believed that if he could help someone to feel better about themselves, then they could help themselves.

7.  Humour can solve many problems

In Roger’s case it could even get him out of tricky situations he had created for himself. A world famous author, now living in Northcote, once wrote “Dickinson’s one of the funniest people I know”. Last year Roger’s cough was so bad he actually broke ribs coughing and laughing would always make him cough. But that didn’t stop him.

8.  Thou shalt talk to strangers every day

Going out with Roger was a real experience as he would engage with everyone. I used to be embarrassed but then I realised he actually made peoples’ lives better. No matter what his situation he would smile and ask about them. And occasionally tell a perfect stranger his life story.

9.  Words are a wonderful tool but also a weapon

Roger used words to make people feel better not worse.

10.  Women are wonderful creatures – be good to them

So, those are Roger’s Ten Commandments. You’d make him a very happy man if you took just one of them and acted on it today.

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