To celebrate the launch of a new book featuring a who’s who of the marketing world sharing their stories about the “larger-than-life and times of David ‘Devo’ Walden”, we’re republishing the entry from his long-time partner in crime at Whybin\TBWA, Andy Blood.
If Oscar Wilde is perhaps the most quoted man on earth, then David Walden must come a close second.
The other day, Devo and I were chatting about our love for Stephen Fry. We’d both just finished Chronicles and really enjoyed it, and Devo mentioned that late at night, whenever there was nothing on, he would watch QI.
I had to check, but ‘QI’ in Stephen Fry’s lexicon means ‘Quite Interesting’. That surprised me because I’d often thought it was just a perversion of ‘Intelligence Quotient’. Clearly I’d made my bastardisation up. But it suits my purpose.
I could fill a book with Devo’s ‘quotable intelligence’, but right now a chapter will do, so I’ll begin with my favourite quote: a Freudian slip of epic proportions.
One morning, in a final-round pitch presentation to a major client he raised the roof, and eyeballs, with this epic one liner:
“I’ve always been a fan of breast appreciation week.”
The cast seated around the boardroom table that day was predominantly female, and the CMO in particular was a very well endowed lady. All credit to the fine ladies present, they laughed heartily through the shock.
What he meant to say of course was “breast awareness week” which in itself is another clanger, but that’s how he corrected himself, launching more laughter, more raised eyebrows, and even tears on cheeks.
The conversation was actually about the SkyTower turning pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Week – so you’ll be able to work out who the client was.
We did win the business. And that’s the great thing about Devo: you just never knew what you were going to get, but it would always be legendary. And everyone would love him for it (and for the very same inappropriateness that would get you and I fired).
Another day, we were having lunch at Soul, Judith Tabron’s fine establishment. We were seated around Devo’s favourite table, being served by his favourite waiter, no doubt serving his favorite glass of pinot noir, when he piped up: “So how is morale, Andy, do we need to hang someone?” With a twinkle in his eye, he continued: “There’s nothing like a good hanging to boost morale”. He didn’t need to elaborate further, I got it the first time. It struck me as something that could’ve come straight from the pages of Wolf Hall, Machiavelli’s The Prince, or even Game of Thrones. And I have to admit, it’s one of my favourite Devo-isms.
Devo also showed a fine grasp of HR by instituting his ‘no c***s’ policy. He took his inspiration from that other well-known psychopath/savant. A clipping on Devo’s wall for many years was from Steve Jobs: ‘Hire integrity and ambition’ it said. Neither one alone will be enough. And Devo stuck to that. Certainly in my time we only ever hired two or three (and paid the price when we did).
“I’ll never stab you in the back. But I will stab you in the front.”
Another bit of charm, from David Thomas Cromwell Machiavelli Walden.
Devo’s not a saint, and nor should he be portrayed as such. And tempting though it is to canonise him, we must remember he was both cannon and cannon ball.
He’s generous to a fault, and kind to his friends and loved ones. There’s no one kinder, or more supportive, or more generous. But he’s also ruthless. And honest with that ruthlessness. Why would you stab people in the back, when you can stab them in the front? Much more fun. And you get to see their eyes while you’re doing it.
“Shag, marry, or push off a cliff?”
Another inspired “HR” policy. And a great parlour game, to be sure, but not one I’ve ever played, because being the possessor of a Y chromosome I was never on the invite list to the year’s best event: Devo’s Christmas ‘Ladies Lunch’.
Each Christmas, everyone in the agency who possessed a pair of X chromosomes was invited to the Northern Club. Devo being the odd one out, but playing gatekeeper, ringmaster and provocateur, he was the exception to the rule, and his rule was law. Which would be laid down.
Several hours of good food, good wine, good conversation and conviviality followed. Then at the appointed time, each ‘lady’ present would have to answer three questions: ‘Who would you shag?’, ‘Who would you marry?’, and ‘Who would you push off a cliff?’ The answers themselves would have to come from names on the staff list. Male or female. Or perhaps even both. Needless to say the answers were confidential. “What goes on in the Northern Club, stays in the Northern Club.” Until the 50 or so ladies present wound their way back to the agency where they couldn’t wait to spill the beans. Oh, the secrets, the laughter, the joy and occasionally, the tears.
I love this man to a fault. You couldn’t want for a better business partner, colleague, and mate. Our time at Whybin/TBWA was a rollercoaster. We defied gravity. And we scraped our knees on the floor. We knew amazing success, and we also knew tough times. And we’re still the best of mates. More so now than ever. And I’ve got a book of Devo’s wisdom and quotable intelligence inside me, to keep me going for years.
- Andy Blood spent over eight years at Whybin\TBWA and is now creative director at Colenso BBDO.