Little did Phil Affleck imagine when he was spinning discs in the early 1980s (these being the days when vinyl was still king) that one day he would be dancing to a different tune, listening to others voicing their views.
Many may remember Phil from his days at Metro FM where he would regularly front the station’s roadshows and take to the air in their “eye in the sky”, Starburst One, piloted by Pete Barnes (who tragically died in January when his Agusta Westland hit a crane and crashed in central London), filing rush-hour traffic reports.
Now the 50-year-old has left his radio and DJ days behind and is hitting the high notes with his field marketing company, Ponteland-based Promovere.
The company, which employs five full-time and 50 contract staff, has been enjoying particular success north of the Border where it has worked on a number of high-profile Scottish Government-backed health promotions and environmental initiatives.
Around 60% of Promovere’s business in the past three years has been generated in Scotland – although the firm, which works in both the private and public sectors, regularly takes on marketing challenges in other parts of the UK.
Now Phil is hoping to see his company’s turnover increase by at least an extra £100,000 a year and up to 12 full and part-time jobs created with the prospect of more Scottish Government work coming Promovere’s way.
If everything goes to plan Promovere could also soon be adding an Edinburgh office to one already established in Glasgow.
The tactile marketing firm which was re-launched in 2010 is proving that allegations of Scottish bias against English companies – especially as the independence debate heats up – are way off the mark.
Phil claims it is old-fashioned “legwork” rather than gimmicks which is reaping rewards – an irony not lost on the father of three who has in the past dressed employees up as giant Brussels sprouts to publicise a new Cardiff-Belgium air service and as Beefeaters handing out miniature bottles of gin to launch Eastern Airways’ now defunct Newcastle-London City Airport route.
“Currently 60% of our work is coming from north of the Border and we have high hopes that will soon rise to 70%. We’re getting that business by doing the legwork and getting out there and speaking to people.
“We’ve never had a problem in Scotland. On the contrary, we have always found the doors gratifyingly open. Promovere specialises in face-to-face marketing and it is that same direct approach which is reaping rewards for us.
“I firmly believe there is no substitute for meeting people directly – which goes for both getting business in and winning over the public when it comes to the campaigns we work on.”
It’s in stark contrast to Phil’s job flying solo behind the microphone. Born and bred in Newcastle, his first proper employment was at the Child Benefit office in Washington. “I had initially stayed on at school to do A-Levels in maths and economics,” he recalls. “But I had no money and all my friends who had left school and were working did, so I decided I didn’t much like that and left to get a job.”
Instead he studied for his A-Levels at Newcastle College on day release.
But Phil’s first love had always been music and he set up his own company supplying DJs and equipment for club nights. He later joined Metro where in his early days he held the position of roadshow manager and especially loved the early morning flights and promotional campaigns in Starburst One.
“It was fantastic being up in the sky. I used to treat is as my own personal helicopter. I couldn’t go wrong.”
Later he was elevated to the Tyne Tees sponsorship and promotions manager for Metro Radio Group then took on the role at a regional level for EMAP Radio Group covering the area from Newcastle to Liverpool.
One of the most memorable stunts he worked on was a Guinness promotion when a 35-tonne ice pyramid entombing cans of the Irish brew was parked outside Metro FM’s Swalwell offices. Listeners had to guess when the ice would melt and the cans fall out.
“We had people camping out waiting for the ice to thaw,” Phil recalls with a laugh.
It is here that Phil cut his marketing teeth. He is not ashamed to admit he is self-taught and on-paper describes himself as “totally unemployable. But I have picked up all the skills I need”.
Various other promotions and communications roles followed over the years until he took over Promovere in 2002, re-launching the business three years ago as a purely field marketing-led venture.
Phil cannily saw a gap in the market. “We were one of the first companies to get involved in health campaigns using face-to-face marketing. In the early days in 2003 we worked for the Learning Skills Council doing that type of campaign at a time when that kind of approach was almost unheard of.
“But we developed it because we knew it worked and it was sort of an extension of what I had been doing in radio.
“There are a lot more people doing it now, but they aren’t necessarily doing it in an engaging way. We get results. Indeed, our results speak for themselves – they aren’t just enquiries, our results are totally tangible – and we get great feedback.
“We say we talk to your customers, and they talk back.”
High-profile field marketing campaigns Promovere has worked on in Scotland in the past few years include publicising the country’s national smoking cessation helpline, Smokeline, from the Shetland Islands down to the Borders; the Know Your Limits alcohol awareness programme; and the Go Green Together promotion aimed at making both householders and industry more environmentally aware.
In March this year the company teamed up with the NHS Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group on a face-to-face marketing campaign to cut unnecessary wastage, estimated to cost £1.7m a year in that area alone in unused medicines.
They have worked with the Essex Cancer Network, DFDS Seaways and Newcastle City Council on its carbon neutral initiative. Campaigns are usually fun, upbeat and encourage the public to become actively involved through quizzes, competitions, games and giveaways.
And usually there is an eye-catchingly decorated VW camper van involved. The iconic vehicles are a passion of Phil’s and to date he has owned nine, each of which has had a name and a personality.
He uses them to help transport both staff and campaign messages across the UK. Currently he is the proud owner of Helmut, a former Hamburg Fire Brigade vehicle dating from 1971, and Jelly Bean, a 1978 camper van used for the stop smoking promotion.
It has now been conspicuously rebranded and will be heading off to Olympia Grand in London on June 26-27 for the Marketing Week Live event where Promovere is hoping to make further inroads into the private sector.
“We are seen as public sector experts,” Phil explains. “But we do want to go more down the private route. We are going to take what we have learnt in a risk adverse environment and bring it to the private sector, so we can be the best and most switched on promotions company.
“We feel what we can offer and what we have learnt in delivering public sector campaigns are highly relevant for the private sector.”
Then Phil wants to concentrate on getting the Edinburgh office up and running to take advantage of the opportunities coming Promovere’s way north of the Border.
It is a project close to his heart. The Affleck family roots are in Auchinleck in East Ayrshire and there is an Affleck Castle – formerly Auchinleck Castle – that is confusingly nine miles north east of Dundee on the other side of the country!
“I have always felt a close affiliation to Scotland and when I researched my family tree recently it is where I discovered our family are from.
“So it is very fitting that Promovere is a trusted company there and that we are doing so much work north of the Border for the likes of the Scottish Government and public bodies.
“I hope it is an auspicious sign of how things are going to continue in the future.”
What car do you drive?
BMW 740 and a Mitsubishi Shogun LWB.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Rialto in Ponteland. It has a relaxed atmosphere with good food.
Who or what makes you laugh?
1970s and 1980s sitcoms like Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army.
What was the last album you bought?
Bobby Womack, Across 110th Street.
What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
Lead singer in a trendy boy band.
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
That sounds like a great campaign Mr A….where do I sign?
What’s your greatest fear?
Not wanting to sound too confident, but I don’t really fear anything.
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Just go for it.
And the worst?
Just go for it.
What’s your poison?
What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
Just The Journal.
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
£1 a morning delivering milk.
How do you keep fit?
Trying to keep up with my three children!
What’s your most irritating habit?
Not sure. You best ask the other people in the Promovere office.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Cars and campervans.
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with or admire?
Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
Tony Benn, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross and Dean Friedman (oh, I have had dinner with Dean).
How would you like to be remembered?
Kind, generous and loving