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A new chapter for me and Different Kettle

After more than 20 years as creative director of Different Kettle, I’ve decided to step aside this Christmas.

The time is right. The agency is in the best of health. The strongest team we’ve ever had continue to produce brilliant work for a wide range of amazing charities. And, the truth is, they’ve been doing it for quite some time now without needing much input from me. So, while I still can’t quite bring myself to use that dread word ‘retirement’, it seems silly for me to keep coming in and cluttering the place up.

But before I go, I can’t resist writing a few brief lines of reflection on the last 23 years. Especially as, just this once, the only person who will get to amend my copy is me.

When I left my previous job at the end of the last century, I had no intention of setting up an agency. As creative director at Target Direct, I had discovered my passion for the charity sector. But the plan was simply to freelance whilst I wrote a novel. (Yes, I know. How many copywriters have said that before?)

Thankfully, both for my career and for the literary world, I quickly found all my time taken up working with a small number of wonderful clients including Macmillan Cancer Relief (as they then were) and Amnesty International.

It was all so exciting that I decided the book could wait. Which it did. For the next 23 years.

Or perhaps it’s truer to say, the book I thought I was going to write turned out to be something else all together. It turned out to be Different Kettle. Because pretty soon I found I was getting all the creative satisfaction I craved through my work with those early charity clients. For the first time in my career, I had the freedom simply to give the best advice and do the best work I was capable of, away from the constraints and confines of big agency structures.

With more and more work coming in from a growing number of clients, it soon became obvious I would need to build a team. Dare I say, maybe even an agency. Not because I wanted an agency. But because I wanted to keep doing great work for great organisations. So I was determined from the start that what was to become Different Kettle, would always stay true to that initial ethos.

We’d stay lean, agile and personal. We’d recruit only the most committed and passionate team members. We’d work with organisations we could truly believe in. And we’d keep our focus not on growth or profit, but on strategic and creative excellence.

I think it speaks volumes for the success of this approach that so many of our client relationships have passed the test of time. Not least those two original clients. Our work with Amnesty continued for the next 19 years. And as 2022 comes to a close, we’ve just finished work on our 23rd Macmillan Christmas appeal.

Relationships of two decades and more are virtually unprecedented in this business. These two alone have garnered a string of industry awards and raised millions of pounds. But it’s the longevity of relationship that we’ve enjoyed with so many clients that I’m most proud of. Clients, quite rightly, don’t stick with agencies for that long unless they are convinced they’re receiving something pretty special.

And in return, I have received just as many gifts from them. Not least, an education.

After all, to write well about something, you have to truly understand it. And our clients have provided me with some great teachers. Scientists who have patiently explained to this D-grade biology student, the mysteries of mitochondria, myelin and macular degeneration. Military veterans whose stories of service and suffering have expanded my understanding of the human condition. Farmers, doctors, nurses and patients. Mothers and fathers. Teachers and street kids. Priests and protestors. All the extraordinary ordinary people who, by telling me about their worlds, have immensely broadened my own.

To hear their stories has been a privilege. To share them, an honour. I only hope that in the telling, we have treated each and every one of them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Different Kettle has been central to my life for so long now that I can’t yet quite imagine my future without it. But I do know that Different Kettle has a great future in prospect without me. Because I am leaving my life’s work in the very best of hands.

Since her arrival five years ago, Nicola has given DK a stronger all-round strategic vision while bringing a firm but sensitive management style. Her account team are the best I’ve ever worked with. Anywhere. And I know my beloved creative product is safe in the trusty hands of my long time compadres Rob and Mark, supported (and, I hope, pushed and stretched) by a red-hot young creative team.

Sad as I am to be leaving, I’m excited about my own next chapters too.

Come the spring I hope to disappear into the wilderness of the Knoydart peninsular in search of marsh harriers, otters and a pub with no wi-fi. And, if I don’t freeze to death in a boffy or drown in a lonely loch, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally write that book. But whatever happens, I’ll never forget the pages I wrote in the book of Different Kettle. And I’ll continue to follow its future chapters with pride.

I’ve put together a few of my favourite bits of work produced by the Different Kettle team over the last 23 years. If you’re interested, you can take a look here.