Art is always a story. Not all stories are art.
Of course this is subjective, one man’s train station potboiler is another’s James Salter.
Art can be applied to painting, sculpture, photography, literature, music, food, anything involving human expression beyond the basic need to be watered and fed.
It can also be applied to PR. Public Relations, an art in itself, one which, at its worst, is politely described as lazy and at its best allows stories to come to the fore with clarity and passion. I know some wonderful people working in PR. I also know some others, well, anyway, yes, erm.
In fact, deep, locked away in the bowels of Jenkins’ HQ sits a PR list. Not long, just accurate. A list of those I would allow to represent me and my business interests. Occasionally, I share it with others. Mostly it runs through my head, as it did last week walking down Mount Street.
Normally I stop halfway up to take an espresso and watch the world go by on a bench outside Mount Street Deli - that was until the lease ran out last week.. This time I kicked on another 100 yards, up to the corner to take my morning espresso at George with one of the principal members of my list James Massey of The Massey Partnership.
Sat on the terrace, we discussed life and had a quick go at predicting the future before taking in the air round Mayfair, checking out all the local hotspots.
When I think about the people featured on this site, whilst each is an individual, what unites them is that each is operating at the top of their game, in the rarefied atmosphere which only comes through many hours, months and years of hard graft mixed with innate talent.
The complete opposite of the world we now live in, where anyone can call themselves an expert and well, if they say they are, they are. But they aren’t really, although these people all actually are.
On the train home I’m re-reading Martin Gayford’s masterful ‘Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters’. A history of post war painting and art in our capital city, before during and after its journey from wartime austerity, cultural revolution and well you know the rest.
Gayford’s skill in all of his books is the clarity with which he shares hard won knowledge, mixed with love, and passion for his subjects. All of which sounds awfully like the description I gave before for good PR.
But its one of the book’s subjects and one of my favourite painters Howard Hodgkin who I think is a closer match. Hodgkin’s genius, apart from making overtly beautiful things, was making extraordinarily complicated and technically skilful work seem easy. To tell his tales and stories, and express his deep felt messages through uncompromising works. Visions of colour, honed craft and ability. Works which I have stood in front of and been told by some around me that they could do that. But they couldn’t.
Yes they’re colourful, but colour used properly can be wonderfully subtle and good communication is damned tricky.
Now, you’ll no doubt be staring at a screen and commenting that PR is commercial, and you’re right. There are two ways to do commerce: piled high and priced cheap; or artistically, fairly priced, and adequately stocked.
The first is short term: move onto the next idea, repeat and then move on again. The second takes time and patience and a dash of good PR.
Good PR, like good anything, is subtle and to the point.
It’s easy to be flash, brash, expensive and crap. It’s far harder to be quiet, considered and confident in your personal ability, and confident in the strength and depth of your network. Both are vital to carry out work of quality which adds value to brands and products rather than burns cash.
The need for actual confidence rather than misplaced ego is interesting, because in many respects it is nigh on impossible to quantify the success of a campaign. Yes there are statistics with their spikes, but, spikes can’t tell you if, when or even why something a consumer sees today will affect their purchasing decisions in 6 months’ time.
The simple answer is to be lazy, send out some product and let people with ‘followings’ rather than points of view create ‘content’. Funnily enough often this content is pony and naive.
Smart brands understand that this is a long game. That the product will in the end win out. Smart brands also know that the art of good business - regardless of your model of sales - is to use the right people at the right time: people who make the difficult things look easy, people who connect people in a positive way, a thoughtful way.
As ever, I asked James to answer some set questions, I believe the answers he gave are a fairly decent reflection of the man.
The Massey partnership is in some respects an old school agency, avoiding fads, preferring to be a steady and thorough pair of hands in rather uncertain times. They are also an agency very much in the model of James: urbane, thoughtful, charming and sophisticated. Filled with intellectual curiosity and exceedingly quick on emails (hallelujah).
Telling the stories and tales of products without tricks.
Which is why established international brands as well as London icons, invariably are Massey clients.
James is someone it’s easy to spend time with and there isn’t some grand gimmick, nor public broadcasting satire worthy shtick, I find him refreshingly normal.
Filled with well placed passion and talking about things rather than simply reciting lines learned at home.
Over coffee I was amused but not surprised by the sheer number of people who stopped to say hello. We also started chatting with the two gentlemen sat behind us. When James went inside to pick up his bag, one of them turned to me and asked who James was and what he did. I explained, to which I received the response of “a lovely man, old fashioned English manners, don’t see that much anymore”.
James’ answers below do a far better job of explaining the man than I can, but, I thought his pick of four British things was particularly interesting, they are four things that we sometimes take for granted and perhaps need a little bit more of.
Why do you do what you do?
I always have loved men’s clothes, watches and accessories. I have done since I was a young boy when I used to watch my Father pack for business trips and help him choose shirt (Turnbull & Asser) and tie (Hermes) combinations.
I remember getting my first pair of (2nd hand) Air Jordans when I was 16 and convincing my parents to buy me a single pair of Chipie chinos, which I rolled up of course, Ralph Lauren button downs (which my Father used to buy in New York for me) and Champion and Russell Athletic sweats. I lived in those Chipies.
I then went to Ibiza for my GAP year and worked as the pool boy at Pikes Hotel and saw all these guys looking super sharp in Pacha, much more sophisticated than I had seen in the clubs in London. So, I paid attention.
My Dad was a PR man, albeit it in the travel sector, so I always saw him pouring over newspapers every weekend as a young man and travelling the world. It inevitably rubbed off on me – but Marketing was my original career choice. After I graduated I managed to scrape into Nestle, then moved to LVMH where I spent 7 years working for a brilliant man called Jean-Marc Lacave, who taught me a huge amount about business – and style. I then spent a couple of wonderful years working for Charles Finch, still the most charming man I know. Then I suppose it all dovetailed and I followed my Father and made the leap in May 2010.
We have incredible clients and I believe I have an unrivalled team, who I consider friends as much as colleagues. I feel genuinely lucky to be able to work with world class brands and teams – and hopefully make some small contribution towards their success, in some way shape or form. What’s more, we are very fortunate to work within a media landscape that is full of incredibly engaged, knowledgeable and charismatic people. I genuinely love going to work.
We have an apartment in Ladbroke Grove where I stay during the week. Real home is a farm in Gloucestershire where my wife, George Taylor the artist, and two little boys are.
What do you collect?
Star Wars Lego
Walter Payton, running back for the Chicago Bears (NFL) in the early 1980s. I idolised him growing up and still watch his old games and documentaries.
My Father too. I am very grateful for the opportunities he gave me. I took him out for dinner earlier this year as it occurred to me that I had never really thanked him. It was long overdue.
It has to actually be rib eye steak cooked on an open fire at home. And the MC Chocolate Mousse at the Marbella Club.
Soho Fitness Lab off Wardour Street. Brett Durney is a total training master and makes getting through the working week that much easier.
I am not sure if it is underrated – but the joy of picking up my children up from school never seems to diminish.
A hand-written note. It takes more time and thought than an email. But therein likes the point.
The other thing is kindness, which often strikes me as hugely underrated.
In my business, it sounds obvious but I think we are all going to have to work hard and harder to stand still. Not just in terms of workload but in terms of how much you have to think, which has to be constantly lateral and across platforms. I get up at 4.45am every morning not just to find time to work - but also time to think.
Four items which sum up the UK….
Fortnum & Mason