Behind the Headlines with Telegraph Hill’s Barry Pilling

Barry Pilling, founder and creative director at Telegraph Hill, on why he was once known as ‘Lightning’, having to dress up for a pitch and why the new way of doing things may not fit with traditional PR.

Before I reach the office in the morning, I’ve already…
Listened to a podcast. I am obsessed with people, their experiences and the things that make them tick. We’re all so complex and individual, yet we have this common set of human emotions – fear, joy, love, etc. My job is to tap into those audience emotions every day, so I find podcasts are the best way to absorb that full spectrum of understanding.

You’ll mostly find emails about…in my inbox.

My inbox is split – on the one hand it’s all about creative ideas and how we can make the audience’s jaws drop with every project. On the other hand it’s about being a company founder – investment, business plans and oh-so-glamorous tax discussions! It’s quite a dichotomy, but it stops me being one of those self-obsessed creative wankers that no-one can stand.

I know I’ve had a good day if…

Clients are selling our work for us. By that I mean they’re shouting about our work within their organisation, either to get sign off for a great idea or to get attention for compelling results. If the work speaks for itself the clients will be proud to get behind it vocally.

My first job was…

I worked in ASDA in Bolton and I’ve worked in plenty of pubs. But my first media job was on Tower FM, the town’s local radio station. They nicknamed me ‘Lightning’ because I was so slow…I’ve sharpened up a bit since then.

I can tell a campaign is succeeding when…
We’re building a true partnership with a client. The spirit of productive partnership (as opposed to a destructive blame culture) is incredibly important. It must go beyond a single project client / supplier relationship if you really want to break new ground, especially in something as fundamentally changeable as marketing is right now.

There needs to be time to experiment, to change processes and to set a new vision for what teams are trying to create. It’s true that the client / agency relationship is like a marriage. Trust, honesty and respect are the fundamentals, then there needs to be a will to analyse and improve to get through the ups and downs if it’s going to work long-term. When we do that with clients we get incredible results and everybody wins.

I eat… when nobody is watching.
Pasties are my weakness. And pudding, chips and gravy. It’s a northern thing.

The first time I pitched to a journalist…
I love pitching, but my first big pitch was when I worked in television. We’d developed a show about celebrities becoming boy Scouts for BBC 1, and the development producer made us all dress up for the pitch. It’s always hard being rejected, but being rejected whilst wearing shorts and a woggle is truly humiliating.

The worst thing anyone has said to me is…
That I was creative, so therefore I couldn’t be strategic. I laughed. Many traditional agencies keep their ‘creatives’ in a bubble far away from actual business results. Those agencies don’t get the kind of results we do.

The last book I read was…
Holy Island, a detective novel set on Lindisfarne. You show me a flawed cop who’s addicted to the job and lives by nobody’s rules but his own and I am putty in your hands.

I’ve never really understood why…
People who work for brands don’t see themselves as the target audience. It’s as though audiences are some ‘other’ kind of person. It’s dangerous for brands, because it ends up with the audience being treated as dumb, requiring over-simplification and repetition. And modern audiences hate it, turning to ad blocking as a result. It’s time for a new way of doing things, and that requires a new kind of agency that may not fit in the traditional creative / PR / media agency box.

If I could go back and talk to my 10-year-old self, I’d say…
I know you don’t believe this right now, but one day you’ll live in London. Yes, proper London. The one off Danger Mouse. Also, nice guys finish first, so keep it up.

This time next year, I’ll be…
Trying to work out how to fit more staff in our expanding office… and find a London chippy that serves gravy.

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