Zenith Media is 30 years old today. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, our industry has changed in so many ways but nevertheless, that agency shaped many of my thoughts and approaches and I am grateful for those early years.
I was first encouraged to apply to agencies by my brother who was a sales exec at Autoexpress who said that ‘I would be good on agency side’ and he told me to write to Andy Tilley the MD of Zenith at the time. So I wrote, I faxed, multiple times and eventually got an interview with Tim Greatrex. I got the job.
What was Zenith like back then? What was Media like? Well let’s start with the shed at Paddington, no, not the Paddington you know today, the high rises, the fancy station, the river with its restaurants and cafes, no this was derelict land in the middle of council estates and drab, redundant looking office buildings, a place where people looked unhappy at all times, except when you walked into the one pub, straight opposite the building, The Dudley. The Dudley was a place we spent a lot of time, well most lunches and evenings to be exact, it was ‘our local’ it was home from home and so much fun was had there. People were ejected, fought, laughed, competed, celebrated, commiserated, met the loves of their life or of the night, you name it. The Dudley could solve most ills. The king of the Dudley was of course John Lynch although everyone went from CEO to graduate, each with their side of the pub, even press and TV had subtle areas of dominance.
The office atmosphere as a graduate was exactly what you might have imagined, full of testosterone, a buying floor, TV in particular, it was full of smoke as we smoked all day long and although a male environment, many strong women flourished. I worked for two strong female leaders in Yvonne Scullion and Tracey Stern, I hope that set me up for the rest of my career to appreciate female leaders as the equal of anyone, but there were many more future leaders with Anna Campbell, Cyanne Bonnell, Rachel Forde, Marie Carey, Natalie Cummins amongst many others. It was a time where we learned to be accountable to clients, if something went wrong then we had to ring up our clients and explain, not hide behind email, we had to fight for our media plans, it was a time where your TV schedule was everything and I had sleepless nights if I was not securing what I had personally committed to, somehow the platform buys and AI and Algos of today blunt that or at least give you excuses. No, I had to fight with Mark Finnegan who invariably stole my centre break of coronation street on Friday for his newspaper accounts, to me it was everything.
By today’s standard no doubt it was a non PC environment and would not live up to the standards we ask of people today, but the class of ’96 onwards created a strong bond that to today is still probably some of the closest ties we have in media. I know we all root for each other and our careers and the media world actually revolves around the silent axis of ex Zenith employees. Just like publisher side revolves around Microsoft.
We were taught to work hard, play hard, and we have all learned that that approach needs tempering with the advent of always on technology, but the fundamentals still hold true. Enjoy working, and you won’t mind going the extra mile, have a great team and atmosphere around you and everything seems possible. In those days we could switch off and head home, difficult today, in those days, working from home was unheard of, mainly as we lacked technology to connect us, but the heart and soul of Zenith and what it taught me to expect from work remain about giving a shit about your colleagues and your work.
A testament to Zenith that there are many still there to this day, at least in the group and many returning in recent weeks, perhaps we are all destined to return to the place we loved the most? So many behaviours are now being realised to not be acceptable anymore but it was not all bad, there was a lot to look back on and celebrate and every time I walk in Zenith reception anywhere in the world there is always that reminder. What we all long deep down is to receive a farewell card of the ilk we used to get back then – we wish limping phone repair man well.