British businessman David Ogilvy (1911-1999) was one of the fathers of modern advertising and the inspiration for the television drama series Mad Men.
For anyone who has seen the show, it might seem strange to choose his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, which is drawn from the world of 1960s Manhattan advertising, as a major influence on my museum practice. But hear me out – there’s a lot we can learn about selling ideas from people who sell cars, soap and shirts.
As someone who writes for a living, I find Ogilvy’s work inspiring. He was known for his long-form copy that kept audiences reading and, crucially, buying. That kind of engagement and ability to influence is the stuff of dreams for anyone writing museum text.
He pioneered the use of audience research and was ahead of his time in using that information to create better ads. That’s something we take for granted these days, but we can trace its roots back to Ogilvy and his work at the Gallup Research Institute.
Perhaps most inspiring is the story of Ogilvy himself. Aged 38 he walked into a London agency having “been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer” and having never written a piece of copy in his life. Three years later he was the most famous adman in the world.
In a sector where a master of arts postgraduate degree is often a prerequisite for even junior roles, it just goes to show that you don’t always need conventional qualifications to be a success.
Jamie Taylor is a curator, copywriter and creative producer