Interview | John Dias

Staying Powe

Issue 26

Longevity in business is something to be admired. In a new series of features, we are celebrating some of the most accomplished professionals from across the North East business community. Aimed at major players with 20+ years' experience in their respective sectors, we provide a fascinating insight into what makes them tick and what we can learn from them.

Did you always envisage a career in the industry? Absolutely not! Like so many of my generation, I left University with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. I’d been accepted for a Masters in Soviet Studies at Glasgow and needed funds so went up to Aberdeen and gained work on the rigs, supposedly temporarily but stepped off an old semisubmersible as Senior Driller in Vietnam some 15 years later after drilling for oil around the world. With two young children, it was time, I thought, to get a proper job! I’d written for several trade magazines on downhole tools and other wonders of drilling technology and freelanced for a local agency which I joined, becoming PR Director before leaving to start Silver Bullet in 1999.

What is your favourite aspect of the job? I’m so lucky in that I work with great people in an atmosphere where creativity is encouraged. There’s no such thing as a typical day in an integrated marketing agency as every day has its own challenges dependent on client campaigns. In-house marketing doesn’t give you the same buzz or variety of opportunities to really think outside the box and try different ideas and techniques.

What has been your career defining moment? Meeting Gemma Waller, our Creative Director, and later Victoria Borrowdale, another fantastic designer who gave us inhouse design. The decision to mortgage our home to buy our own offices in the Ouseburn certainly focused my attention but we’ve never regretted it – we were one of the first agencies to settle here, refurbishing a redundant workshop, and I’m proud of the part we played in its revival.

The decision to mortgage our home to buy our own offices in the Ouseburn certainly focused my attention but we've never regretted it - we were one of the first agencies to settle here, refurbishing a redundant workshop, and I'm proud of the part we played in its revival.

John Dias

How do you measure success? Usually by the feedback from clients. We don’t produce work for its own sake to win industry competitions – we produce campaigns to exceed our clients’ wildest expectations and when they do – and they don’t always – and you know you have been partly responsible for that client’s success, it’s a great feeling.

What has been the biggest changes in the industry since you started? The digital revolution – without a doubt. I was lucky (or old!).jpg enough to start in the industry before digital technology – whilst not exactly Mad Men’ days, it was the last pre-digital days of posted press releases with photographic prints, massive studios of artists, designers and artworkers, old colour separated film technology, chromalins and newspaper reps constantly waiting for advert film in the reception area of the agency. Macs were being introduced but some designers actually didn’t like them, the Internet was in its infancy whilst e-mail communications, web sites, social media and many other of the everyday techniques we take for granted now were yet to come. But this experience in the pre-digital era was absolutely invaluable as many modern marketers rely far too much on just technology – good design, for example, doesn’t come packaged with the latest version of InDesign software, but rather from years of training and experience whilst the value of good copywriting is timeless whether it be for social media content or corporate brochures.

How has your skill set developed accordingly? We have to assimilate so many technical advances in everything from digital technology to social media that the pace of change within the industry is mind-boggling. Fortunately my colleagues, particularly Victoria, are far better at this and keep me up-to-date on a need to know basis!

Are you a risk taker by nature or are you more conservative? I think everyone in the creative industry is a risk taker. Gemma and I gave a fairly radical rebrand presentation to a board of around a dozen people with increasingly shocked expressions and no feedback at all. After the 20 minute presentation to silence one of the Directors asked us to step outside whilst they discussed it and on being recalled, we came into a sea of smiling faces because we were the only company who had dared to push the boundaries and present something completely different – It doesn’t always work, but it’s great when it does!

To what would you attribute your success? Keeping an open mind to new ideas Harold Wilson once said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”

It’s so true in our industry, you have to be flexible and embrace change. In addition, a healthy dose of stubborn self belief and bloody-mindness hasn’t gone amiss!

What is your biggest weakness and how have you managed this? Impatience – I haven’t.

How do you remain motivated? I love what I do. Would you prefer to be like or respected? Everyone wants to be liked whether they admit it or not – respect is earned and that’s up to other people to judge. I’ll retire when… I feel I’m no longer contributing anything to the company.

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