On Wednesday afternoon, I skipped along to IPC’s offices just behind Tate Modern, to hear a talk by my old mate, the commercials director Mark Denton. As you may or may not know, Mark is one of Adland’s brightest and most enduring talents, or as he puts it, “just about getting the hang of this advertising lark after 30 years playing around at it”.

That’s my Coy… the face that launched a thousand ads

Although Mark has been perfecting his highly entertaining spiel at various ad agencies in London and New York over the past months, this was the first time he’s been let loose on a non-advertising audience, and he was moderately nervous at the prospect. Never knowingly understated, Mark cut his typical dash in a tailored navy suit, fairground bling rings, and finely tweaked moustache. Following a loose structure, he spoke without notes for 90 minutes, charming, amusing and (yes) inspiring a packed auditorium with his anecdotes and observations. I was already very familiar with Mark’s bulging portfolio, so I won’t list his greatest hits here, but rather recall six pearls of wisdom he served up. Bear in mind that these are just the pointers that I came away with, and they were by no means delivered in such regimented style. 1 Advertise yourself. Though steeped in advertising, many creative teams are surprisingly lax about getting themselves noticed. Mark has developed a series of ploys and strategems to help him stand apart… if he’s visiting a client he often wears a bespoke track suit with  ‘Denton’ in fairground type emblazoned across the back, so everyone knows who he is. When his commercials company Coy has news, he sends out a bill poster, tied to a rubber brick with a ribbon.
2 Do your own thing. Mark can’t resist a personal project. He’s brought out a range of tweed jeans, two magazines, several exhibitions, and a book on Mexican wrestling. Though he never skimps, generally he hasn’t lost money… they’ve either been picked up, fed into paid work, or developed an unexpected life of their own. Like the portraits of ‘Edwardian footballer’ Nobby Bottomshuffle (Mark dressed up), which ended up in the National Football Museum in Preston.
3 Let your love shine through. As a child, Mark was obsessed with telly adverts, comics, and his John Bull printing set, and these have continued to inform and inspire his work. His style often has a kitschy, overblown quality to it — always combined with a knowing wink. He describes his natural aesthetic as “schoolboy jokes with a high-end finish”. Actually, this look is very prevalent at the moment, but Mark’s almost painful attention to detail sets his work apart.
4 Don’t be afraid to ask. Mark rather disingenuously claimed that he had no particular talent, but knows a lot of people he can rope in as necessary. Creative people will jump at the chance to be creative — ask them to contribute to an exciting project (even for free), and the chances are they’ll say yes. When he was putting together a magazine, Mark not only sold all the ad space, but persuaded some of London’s top teams to create one-off ads.
5 Always return a favour. In the creative community, you need the breaks to make your mark, whether that’s a recommendation, or a job, or an introduction. Mark’s talk was full of people popping up when you least expected them… like the recently graduated photographer Mark commissioned, who many years later asked him to become a partner in his commercials company.
6 One thing leads to another. Mark’s career has been full of wonderful happenstance, curious connections and seeming to be at the right place at the right time. It’s like a spider’s web of opportunity, magically spinning out from the centre. But there’s a reason for this… Mark doesn’t just talk about doing things, he actually does them. Once they are out there, they take on a life of their own, propelled by the force of his personality. As announced at the talk, I’ll be writing a book on Mark’s work later this year. He said so, which means it’s definitely going to happen. Can’t wait.  Mark Denton is a founder and director at Coy Communications. 

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