I was once fired from a job for not being posh enough.
Of course, they dressed it up a bit.
I was sat down for an uncomfortably chummy chat with the MD who told me,
“You have a great brand. You’re very popular – the staff think you’re great. But your brand’s not really in alignment with our brand.”
I found my own replacement – a man from a certain public school well known in the corridors of power. Last time I looked, he was still there.
It smarted for years.
I was 27 and livid that I was booted out of their club because I hadn’t been to the ‘right’ school. I couldn’t understand why my middle of the road accent wasn’t cutting the mustard, despite doing a perfectly competent job.
It took me years to realise they were absolutely correct. They had every right to run their business the way they chose. And what they chose was to hire mavericks (within reason) in the creative department and have a much more ‘proper’ face for their marketing function.
They wanted the spokesperson to have the ‘right’ face, the ‘right’ accent and the ‘right’ connections. And they got him.
I’ve had cosy chats with aristocrats and swapped anecdotes with vagrants. A grammar school education and years in London rubbed the edges off my Margate vowels, bunged up my glottal stops, broadened my horizons but didn’t budge the values.
But there are still people who are going to judge us all. For some, we’re always going to be too posh or not posh enough, too stupid or too intellectual, too female, too southern, too loud, too funny, too everything.
And the same people will try to exclude us with their jargon. They spout dodgy statistics, facts without foundation and adopt the pose of ‘if I say it with enough authority, it must be true’.
You know the type. Bad salesmen, insecure bosses and marketers trying to justify their own existence. Anyone who tries to put you down, shut you out or wind you up.
I’ve always been naively positive about everyone but I’m enjoying the fact that age is sharpening my bullshit detector. Sometimes I choose to live with it, sometimes I don’t.
We all meet people with years of valuable experience, people who are highly qualified and people who are smart cookies. The good ones stretch and support us, keen to share their insights.
Despite their expertise, they’re not the ones who make us feel stupid. It’s the bad ones who conjure up smoke and mirrors, creating a terrifying public face while behind the curtain there’s just a small man pedalling away like the wizard of Oz.
They’re the ones who suck their teeth when you drive your car into their garage – then they tell you the head grease nipple is disavowing and you’ll need a whole new chamber. They’re the ones who jot down incomprehensible rows of figures, make gloomy proclamations about the economy and tell you your kids are going to starve if you don’t buy their product. And they’re the ones who churn out lowbrow TV they’d never watch, crap jewellery they wouldn’t buy and biased newspapers they wouldn’t read.
But the internet is democracy in action. You can build up a wall of jargon but your customer can just google your words, check your facts – and find a better deal.
You can put on a sharp suit and hang a certificate on your wall but your potential clients are going to ask their Facebook friends for an accountant they can trust.
You can run a restaurant in a heritage town and rely on tourist churn for a while but look out there – your Trip Advisor ratings are showing.
My friends and I have started our own business. We were propelled into it by redundancy (nothing like it for a swift incentive up the backside) but now we’re there, we’re going to do things our way.
We hope you’ll come with us as we do good work while shaping our own model.
This much we know: We want to do business in the digital age. We don’t want to run a great big flabby business – we prefer to work lean, teaming up on projects with freelancers and agencies we respect and like.
We want to avoid little men creating big scenes. We want to do work we can be proud of, for customers who’ll be enriched by it. We definitely don’t have the ambition to one day tan our fat bellies on a super-yacht while our former staff face a future where they’re forced to choose between heating and eating.
We want to work with people who laugh in meetings – and move heaven and earth to do the best possible job. We want to work with grown ups, philosophers, artisans, mavericks, free-thinkers, creatives, challengers, rebels and punks. New businesses, businesses with heritage and businesses with heart.
Businesses that say never mind the buzzwords, here’s the future.