A question I was recently asked was ‘when did you first get into marketing and who introduced you to it?’.
It’s an easy question for me to answer; it was in 1984 and I was introduced to it by Peter Woods, who was a senior colleague at The Midland Bank. In fact, it’s fair to say that without Peter first spotting my aptitude for marketing and PR, it is almost certain that I would not have gone on to enjoy such a successful career in commercial management in professional football.
At that time, Peter was working at the Sidcup Area Office of the Midland Bank and he was responsible for business development at the 12 branches that made up the Sidcup group. A new role was created of Business Development Clerk – effectively Peter’s assistant – and this entailed the co-ordination of all the marketing, promotions and PR activities of the 12 branches. I was absolutely delighted when Peter invited me to leave branch banking – something I’d been doing since I left school in 1973 – to take on this exciting new challenge.
One initiative that I first launched in 1984 was a monthly newsletter for the 12 branches in the Sidcup group called ‘The Score Sheet’. The concept of the newsletter, which was written and produced by me, was to engender a sense of team spirit as well as provide information, updates and features on all aspects of work being undertaken across the group.
The newsletter was popular among the staff and I always included a feature article each month which adopted a more tongue-in-cheek tone.
Here’s an article from ‘The Score Sheet’ dated April 1985 which highlights the time when Peter and I tried our hand (unsuccessfully) at being debt collectors……
‘Bloody Hell, look at my shoes!’
Peter Woods and I added debt collecting to our list of duties one dark, wet and windy day last week. We were asked to visit a business customer who ran an estate agency, in connection with a few ‘irregularities’ on his account. I must admit the thought of acting as a debt-collector conjured up all sorts of things in my imagination.
On arriving at the address we had for our customer, our suspicions were aroused when instead of finding a Travel Agency we found a Dental Laboratory!
Attempting and failing miserably to look ‘menacing’, Peter and I got out of the car and strutted into the shop. We were met by a foreign gentleman who, once we had made him understand that we weren’t there to collect a new set of dentures, explained to us that his premises were used by our customer only as a ‘convenience address’.
After having drawn a blank at what we thought was our customer’s place of work, we decided to try and track him down at his home address, which according to our records was out in the wilds of Kent.
Finding the actual house turned out to be harder than we thought it was going to be. By now the rain was belting down and the light was failing. We drove up and down country lanes, reversed in and out of private drives, did a U-turn up a private road and even hit a fence (slightly)!
Eventually, we decided that the best thing we can do is to ask someone.
After being pointed in roughly the right direction by two tough looking characters who we interrupted playing snooker in the Woodlands Golf Club; in desperation we stopped at a caravan site to ask again. This time we had more luck.
We eventually came across the house we were looking for, standing all on its own, in the middle of a clearing in the woods, down a deserted country lane. We parked the car carefully. The atmosphere now, in the pouring rain and half-light was decidedly eerie. Remembering someone’s description of our customer as being a ‘horrid man’ Peter and I were beginning to wish we hadn’t agreed to take on this task.
I stepped out of the car – straight into 6 inches of mud! ‘Bloody Hell, look at my shoes!’ I cried loudly, spoiling any hope that Peter and I might have had in surprising the gentleman we were there to see.
We slowly and somewhat apprehensively squelched our way up the garden path. By now our imaginations, which were quite active before, were working overtime.
The house appeared deserted; it was in a very bad state of repair. Peter knocked on the door. As no one answered we decided to look around the outside of the house. ‘You go around the back, I’ll do the front’ Peter instructed, ‘but you’ll have to let go of my hand first!’
The house had a decidedly evil and mysterious aura, all the curtains were tightly drawn; it was so quiet. I kept having this terrible thought that at any moment a mad axe-man would burst put of the house and do nasty things to Peter and myself, then bury us in the garden, never to be seen again. I must stop watching those 1970’s Peter Cushing Hammer Horror films….!
It became obvious that we weren’t going to get the chance to confront our customer – which to be honest we were both quite relieved about – so we decided to leave a note asking him to call us, which we scribbled on the back of a couple of Sidcup Area Office business cards and posted them through the front and back letter boxes. However, I made a mistake and pushed my friend Sam’s ‘Black Knight Disco for all occasions’ card through instead. Still you never know, the bloke may need a disco one day!
I must admit the sense of relief that Peter and I both felt when we drove away from that awful house and back into civilisation again was extremely welcome.
I think Peter and I will stick to marketing the Midland Bank’s services in future and leave debt collecting to others more suited than we clearly are to the role!
I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Peter and learnt so much during this time too. In the two years we worked together we certainly laughed a lot, but we were also extremely successful.
Peter and I created many notable marketing and PR initiatives. These included sponsoring a high-profile Jazz Festival at the Tram Shed Theatre in Woolwich and Bexley Council’s annual sports day at Erith Stadium for people with disabilities, staging a celebrity 5-a-side football competition at Crook Log Sports Centre to raise funds for Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker’s ‘Headfirst’ Charity and our annual two-day summer promotion at the Bexley Show at Danson Park – something that I re-created again later in my career, when I became Commercial Manager at Charlton Athletic FC.
All these initiatives were delivering results and positive headlines for the Midland Bank’s 12 Sidcup group branches. However, it was our innovative and extremely successful approach to staff training that was subsequently adopted by the Midland Bank’s London South Regional Head Office. This, in fact, led to my promotion, in the summer of 1987, to the position of Regional Sales Training Officer.
Just 6 months later in December 1988, I received a telephone call from Anne Payne, the Club Secretary at Charlton Athletic FC inviting me to meet the Chairman, Roger Alwen and General Manager, Arnie Warren as they wanted to talk to me about becoming the Club’s new Commercial Manager. The rest, as they say, is history.
I certainly do have so much to thank Peter Woods for.
Photo features Steve Sutherland and Peter Woods either side of Midland Bank colleague Bob MacLean