How you create an agency, by David Walden

Having worked at TBWA from 2005 to 2010 alongside David Walden, Michael Goldthorpe was asked to share a few words about his mentor and friend at last night’s Effie Awards, which fell on the same day as Devo’s unsurprisingly well-attended and colourful funeral. And he decided to let Devo’s words, which serve as the introduction to a book that will be available to buy soon, do most of the talking. 

A famous tech guy once talked about “making a ding in the universe”.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of working with David Walden, you’ll know that his version of “making a ding” often required a lot more than a panel beater.

Today, we said goodbye to a friend. Many of you were there to pay respects, to laugh, share stories and celebrate the life of one of the most influential characters in our industry.

Some have talked about the end of an era. Others have mentioned the end of an earache. But everyone acknowledges the huge gap Devo leaves in our wider marketing family.

I don’t think that’s how he would see it. The party isn’t over. It’s still going. Stronger than ever.

Here’s a whole bunch of genius in one room, collected together to celebrate the best of the best in marketing. It’s on us to pick up where Devo leaves us hanging and make sure that the industry he loved so much doesn’t ever change from being the kind of industry someone like Devo would love.

He was passionate about people. He loved great work. And he was never shy about taking a moment to celebrate … just about anything that deserved a celebration.

But he never once lost his razor-focus on the point of what we do. His job was to deliver incredible work that could change the way people think.

Today’s show is designed to celebrate just that kind of work.

And today I have the privilege of sharing some advice on that.

Some of the best advice any of us will hear.

It’s the intro to a special book that you’ll soon be able to buy …

It’s Devo’s words.

How you create an agency.

“I’ve always believed that if you assemble the right mix of talent under one roof, light the ‘touch paper’ and stand back to see what happens, incredibly clever ideas and creative solutions will effortlessly emerge.

Once those ideas have been discussed over a few quiet beers or vinos, a new campaign is born. It’s like making magic.

Of course, it wasn’t all red wine and roses. Everyone worked incredibly hard. There were long days, late nights and lost weekends. And while many of these stories talk to the indulgence of legendary lunches, it’s important to remember the business side of business.

Our TBWA office in Auckland was the only agency to win two Grand Prix at Cannes. At its height, Campaign Palace in Melbourne was the most creatively awarded agency in the Southern Hemisphere.

Both built strong, trusting and long-lasting relationships with extraordinary clients. That’s the business of advertising.

When we set out to create an Auckland office for TBWA our strategy was simple. We unashamedly stole the best things about The Palace, Saatchi & Saatchi and Colenso. Then we built a business around them.

But all the best learnings from the best agencies in the world don’t guarantee an ‘agency culture’ This only comes from having the right mix of people and giving them the freedom to do their thing. 

Our philosophy was equally simple. It’s something else we stole from The Palace:

Do good work. Make money. Have fun.

That’s all there is to it. Collect the right people, give them confidence to push the boundaries and you can create a powerful force in the industry.

And then there’s lunch. I must admit that on reading, re-living and relishing the many memories in these stories , there is quite a focus on lunch.

Perhaps that’s because lunch is important. Advertising can be a tough business. It’s essential to let your hair down, celebrate your wins and ease the pain of the losses. Both of the above are always better with friends.

Because it’s people who make the magic that is advertising.

Keep making magic. ​


He was a genius. He was a maverick.

He was a bon-vivant, a big-idea man.

An adman.

He was open-minded, single-minded, stubborn and brilliant.

For many he was a hero.

And when things got tough, when accounts packed up or people were lost, he would lean back on one of his most famous one-liners.

“It’s just advertising, it’s not a cure for cancer.”

Ain’t that the truth …

  • Michael Goldthorpe is the founder of Hunch. The book about Devo is set to be released soon and we will be sure to let readers know where to get it. 

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Michael Goldthorpe is Managing Partner at Hunch.

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