Tom Holmes talks to Dave Trott, Chairman of The Gate London.

Dave graduated from the Pratt Institute, New York, majoring in Advertising before going to work in Madison Avenue.

Dave has founded several of his own agencies including GGT and Bainsfair Sharkey Trott. If he’s not writing ads he’s blogging, tweeting, and giving talks at industry events.

He is author of Creative Mischief.

Dave Trott

Dave Trott, Chairman of The Gate London, author of Creative Mischief and the brain behind Predatory Thinking.

TH: Dave, can you tell me about your new role at The Gate London?

DT: Nominally, I’m Chairman, but I don’t really think I’m conventional Chairman material.

I think I’ll just be doing what I’ve always done: writing ad campaigns, training youngsters, doing talks about advertising, writing articles, meeting clients I like, being the bridge between the strategic and the creative, that sort of thing. And generally championing the agency on a wider basis.

I won’t suddenly start smoking cigars and falling asleep in meetings.

TH: In what area has The Gate London got a USP?

DT: We’ve put together a broad, mass market consumer agency (CST) with a strong, financial specialist agency (The Gate) to create a really strong consumer-financial agency. We probably have better credentials in this area than any other agency in town.

But it’s also led by ex-clients, so we’ve built up a real commercial mindset which sits nicely with our Predatory Thinking approach. And now we are being chosen for new opportunities in services, utilities, FMCG and technology.

TH: What makes your agency offer different?

DT: Predatory Thinking.

Most agencies think and act as if advertising existed in limbo.

Their approach is “The answer is brand now what’s the question?”

As if every consumer was waiting to hear about them.

Unlike them, our start point is to isolate exactly where the client’s new business is going to come from, and how to make that happen.

The answer may be brand, but it may be something else.

Before we can solve an advertising problem we have to solve a business problem.

TH: How did your ‘predatory thinking’ philosophy come about?

DT: I was trained in New York.

The advertising environment, like everything else, is more competitive.

You have to be able to see a definite reason for everything you do, and to predict a definite result.

London advertising is more hit-and-hope, more decorative by comparison.

In New York, advertising is a business tool not just decoration.

In business, you are Predator or Prey

Predatory Thinking logo

Predatory Thinking starts with a market truth: if you want people to do something, they have to stop doing something else.

Whether it is people’s time, their attention, or their money you want – these are limited resources – you are in a zero sum game. If you want more, someone or something else is going to get less.

Put another way, if you aren’t 100% focused on winning your share, someone else will steal it from you.

In today’s business environment, never has it been truer that you are either predator or prey.

Predatory Thinking delivers clarity.

Predatory Thinking is at the heart of all we do.

Because it works.

Because it helps us look at business problems with incisive clarity.

By identifying who or what will lose out – your prey – and what you have in your armoury to beat them, we unearth the right Predatory Thought for your business: the idea that will drive the change in behaviour that will help you achieve your objective.

Two things distinguish successful Predatory Thinkers. First, they put themselves at an unfair advantage by choosing their own territory and rules of engagement. Second, they align all their tools and talents to focus on their purpose.

In this way they outmanoeuvre and outwit their competition, change behaviour and put their businesses on a clear and visionary path to success.

And when companies, people and brands have a clear purpose that inspires and engages them, then, rather than look backwards, or inwards, they move forward fuelled with passion and energy. They develop exciting, positive and real business momentum.

Most agencies fit into one of two categories: one-dimensional specialising in one media type, or two-dimensional with both above and below the line.

The Gate London has more: we offer all the perspectives needed to solve business problems, from our business strategy consultancy to our strategic and creative communications expertise to our media business.

We use all these talents simultaneously to identify business problems and generate ideas. We look at problems and ideas from all the angles at once. By getting all the disciplines round the table right from the start of a project, we can look at being predatory not just in what you say, but in what you do, how you communicate, and where.

It is this multi-dimensional approach that unleashes Predatory Thinking to create ideas that truly come alive in your communications to drive genuine business success.

Dave Trott

TH: Can you give me some examples of clients who have used The Gate London and what impact did predatory thinking have on their business performance?

DT: National Accident Helpline is a good example.

They are in the direct response business, so you know immediately whether or not the ads are working.

We isolated a sector no one else was targeting, people who were too insecure to claim.

We created a character: the underdog.

We took that right through from TV, to press, to online, to call centres.

The campaign generated 30% YOY growth. Crucially, this growth has come at a lower cost, with cost per enquiry down 8% across the same period. And we’ve tripled brand searches.

NS&I are another good example.

When we started doing their advertising they were £1.5 billion behind target.

12 weeks after our campaign ran they were £1.5 billion ahead of target and had to pull the advertising.

I like advertising with definite, measurable results.

TH: What brands, in your opinion, could do with a strategic overhaul and an injection of predatory thinking?

DT: Many marketing people unthinkingly follow consumer insights.

A consumer insight into your market will usually be an insight into the whole sector.

So any advertising using this will often grow the whole sector.

Naturally, the one who benefits most will be the market leader.

And there’s only one market leader in any market.

So everyone else, by doing that sort of advertising, is growing the market for the market leader, rather than taking market share for themselves.

Clients like that ought to behave like challenger brands, they need a dose of predatory thinking.

Dave Trott, The Gate London with Tom Holmes, creativebrief

Tom Holmes talks to Dave Trott about his book “Creative Mischief.”

TH: Around the world, which creative heads do you really rate?

DT: My two main heroes are both dead.

Bill Bernbach invented good advertising in New York in the 1960s.

Before him advertising was like the TV series Mad Men: patronising, monotonous, repetitive, boring.

I learned a lot, studying Bernbach when I was in New York.

Then, when I came back to the UK, I learned from studying John Webster at BMP.

His taught me advertising that caught on with the public and got repeated in the streets.

I learned that the best advertising creates its own word of mouth.

And that’s all free media.

Bill Bernbach and John Webster

Bill Bernbach and John Webster

TH: How do you think the UK ad industry stacks up now globally?

DT: I think everyone looks for a way to avoid thinking and consequently responsibility.

Most marketers just want a formula they believe will take all the risk out of advertising.

So most of them just use the same methods.

All this does is ensure that everyone comes up with the same answers, and all advertising looks the same.

So most of it doesn’t work.

The demise of UK advertising is directly linked to the demise of UK entrepreneurial spirit.

Lisa Bailey, Head of Marketing Strategy and Dave Trott, Chairman, The Gate London.

TH: When choosing an agency what are the most important things a client should consider?

DT: Start with the business problem to be solved, then work out what part advertising can play in that.

What’s the role for advertising?

The tighter the definition, the better the solution.

Then look for the best solution, don’t be seduced by the glamour of the ad agency.

But most clients don’t do that, they pick the glamorous agency rather than the best solution.

That’s like going shopping and choosing the best shop instead of buying the best product.

After you walk out of the door, you’re stuck with it.

TH: What do you think of pitching, is there a more efficient way to select an agency?

DT: To paraphrase Winston Churchill “Pitching is the worst way to pick an agency except for all of the other ways which have been tried.”

TH: Have you any advice on presenting work at pitches?

DT: If you love the work it shows, it just presents itself and you’re proud to be part of it.

If I don’t love the work I don’t present it, because it shows.

TH: What did you enjoy most about writing Creative Mischief?

DT: I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit down and write a 300 page book, so I wrote it as a series of blogs, 2 pages a day.

That way I had feedback every day, on what was good and bad, what worked and what didn’t.

I ended up with 600 pages and just picked the best 300.

And in the process, I learned how to write.

Creative Mischief by Dave Trott

TH:  What other industry related books would you recommend?

DT: The books I always recommend to students are ‘Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind’ by Ries and Trout, and ‘The Art of Advertising’ by George Lois.

Both books are over 20 years old, but no one’s written anything as clear and simple and powerful yet.

Plus I have a new book out on May 23rd: Predatory Thinking.

TH: What do you love most about the marketing communications industry today?

DT: It’s like the last line of the movie ‘The Wild Bunch’.

One of the Wild Bunch tries to persuade an old member of the gang, who’s since joined a posse, to rejoin the gang.

He says “It’s not as good as it was, but it’ll do.”

Dave Trott and some of his famous work

Dave Trott and some of his famous work.

TH: What do you hate most about the marketing communications industry today?

DT: When I was 16 I left school and got a job as an apprentice in a factory.

What I learned was the worst day in advertising beats the best day in a factory.

TH: Looking back over 2012 what were your creative high points?

DT: Both my children had really good ads running at the same time.

My son, who’s a copywriter at Grey, had a really good online ad for Brother printers.

My daughter, who’s an art director at BMB, had a really good TV campaign for Dairylea.

I didn’t have to pretend to like them, they were actually both good.

I feel like I did my job, as a creative director and a parent.

TH Looking forward to 2013, have you any industry predictions?

DT: The new media gurus will again predict that whatever the new thing is, it’ll mean the death of traditional advertising.

Then in 2014, when it’s failed, they’ll take it all back again and say that wasn’t what they really meant.

It's time to Think Predatory

TH: Have you any speaking gigs coming up?

DT: I spoke to St Martins students last week, and every year I do several sessions at Watford, which is consistently the best purely advertising course.

Also I just did the keynote speech to 2,000 people at the SEO conference.

And I’m due to do the keynote speech next month at the CMA conference.

Then I’m doing a talk on creativity at Google HQ in London.

Then in January I’m doing a speech in New York for the One Club, who are posthumously inducting John Webster into their Hall of Fame.

Then in March, another talk to young planners at the Account Planning Group.

The One club logo

The One Club NYC exists to champion and promote excellence in advertising and design in all its forms. It is the world’s foremost non-profit organization devoted to elevating creative work in the industry. It seeks to celebrate the legacy of creative advertising and to use that legacy to inspire future generations. The One Club is the ‘keeper of the flame’ for advertising creatives.


The Gate London's showcase on The Gate London


From Dave Trott’s blog, posted on 24 September 2012

Two of the most perceptive things I heard on pitching came from John Hegarty.

No surprise there then.

John was talking about opening up BBH in New York.

He said they started by doing their pitching the traditional English way.

A brief introduction about who BBH were and who their clients were.

Then straight into the pitch.

The analysis of the client’s problem.

The synthesis of the insight and the brief.

Finally the actual work itself.

Just the same way everyone always does it.

John said he noticed that they were losing the client’s attention fairly early on in the process.

Being American, they didn’t know who BBH were or why they should listen to them.

Especially as what they were saying was different to the other agencies.

John knew they needed to find a way to make clients sit up and pay attention.

To make sure that the BBH name and brand carried some weight.

That way their recommendations would, too.

And John remembered something he’d heard about the film ‘Ghandi’.

Richard Attenborough knew that most Americans didn’t know who Ghandi was, or why they should care.

And they weren’t going to sit through a three hour film waiting to find out.

Attenborough knew he needed to give them a reason to pay attention.

So he moved the funeral scene from the end of the movie to the front.

So the first thing the audience sees is a million people.

An entire city jam-packed with people weeping and wailing at this great man’s funeral.

That tells the audience right upfront that this was a fantastically important person.

And everything that follows is therefore worth paying attention to.

John thought he’d do the same thing for BBH.

He’d put the reason to pay attention right up front.

And so, before the pitch started, John would say to the clients “You probably don’t know a lot about us, so we’d just like to show you a short reel of some of the work we’ve done.

Then they’d play a ten minute reel of amazingly famous, stunning, award-winning work.

And the client’s reaction to each commercial was “You did that? I love that, that’s amazing.

Then, after the reel was finished, and they had the client’s full attention, they could begin the actual pitch.

Just like Ghandi’s funeral. More



This man of mischief is in a different class.

Proud of his blue-collar roots, Dave Trott has made some of Britain's most popular ads.

He talks philosophy to Ian Burrell 04 JANUARY 2010

'Most of it's fake, this is fake, it's all fake..." says Dave Trott, gesturing to a painting on the wall, part of what must be one of the finest modern art collections you'll find in a British living room.

Among the best-known names in creative advertising, Trott is responsible for some of the most memorable endlines from a golden era of television commercials. He kicked off his career with Pepsi's "Lipsmackin' thirst-quenchin'..." campaign, introduced pub singers Chas & Dave to the nation in the Courage Bitter ads "Gertcha", and persuaded rock singer Ian Dury (the subject of an imminent film biopic) to voiceover "'ello Tosh, gotta Toshiba?" for an ad promoting televisions.

Trott's portfolio is unashamedly "blue collar", reflecting his Cockney roots, and brash, a by-product of an art school education in New York City, where he had his first job in adland. More


About the Editor

 Lisa Bailey and Tom Holmes

Lisa Bailey, Head of Marketing Strategy and Tom Holmes at The Gate London, Devon House, 58 St Katharine's Way, London E1W 1LB

As Founder & Chairman, Tom launched creativebrief in 2002 with the intention of revolutionising agency search and selection. For many companies, marketing success depends largely on the quality of agencies and media partners a brand engages.

However, finding the right ones can prove difficult and time consuming, as the marketplace is complex and constantly changing. is now the leading provider of agency intelligence to senior marketers and makes the marketing landscape more accessible, transparent and navigable, providing brands with the critical intelligence required to make accurate and informed decisions.

Tom’s role now focuses on evangelising about creativebrief and raising the profile of the business across all our core audiences of leading brands, senior agency executives and government. A major part of this sees Tom drive our Market Leader Interview initiative which puts the spotlight on what it means to be a leader in marketing today.

Prior to creativebrief, Tom spent over 20 years working with some of the world’s leading agencies and brands in UK and internationally, including Account Management roles at WCRS and Saatchi & Saatchi, Board Director of The Lowe Group and Executive Vice President of Grey Worldwide. 

Tom’s Linkedin profile

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