Rebels, Misfits and Innovators:50over50 – Phil Jones

We think it’s time to recognise and celebrate the true talent in our industry, the creatives, technologists, founders and leaders that are really driving our industry and shaping society, who just happen to be over 50. 50over50 is a series of interviews, shortly to become a podcast, with our most influential and inspiring industry leaders aged 50 and over.  

Phil Jones is a true industry legend. Founder of the renowned series of Podge invite-only all-day lunch events, he’s one of the most connected people in the UK. He thrives on connection and community and has served as a founder, CEO, advisor and chairman to innumerable agencies over the last few decades.  

What one thing are you proudest of in your career?

On the personal front I would say that being able to share the last 45 years with the girl I met when I was 22 and she was 20 and having kids I can be proud of and grandkids is the best feeling ever. On the work front, it’s harder to pick one thing but getting some of the leaders in the design world together for the first Podge lunch in 1994 in the days of fax and phone and seeing it reach its 25th anniversary  on May 17th makes me feel pretty chuffed.

The original lunch was meant to get rivals talking to each other after a pretty nasty recession and sharing help and tips. 25 years on it is exactly the same format but at a much larger scale and I don’t need to send out each invite by fax these days.

What creative heights are you now capable of that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve at the early or mid-point of your career?

The mid-point of my career was all about typography and typesetting. My clients were designers, typographers and ad agencies and I was chairman of The Typographic Circle for 5 years. I organised 5-a-side football tournaments for the creative industries which became quite big events back in the day. We were also staging women’s matches throughout the 80s so were maybe ahead of our time there.

Who knew then that the second part of my career would be in a world of digital and being appointed to the Digital Hall of Fame. From a background in hot metal type that is about as far away as you could get from digital.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your role today?

While I have had so many happy moments over several decades since moving to London from Manchester in 1973, I think I get more satisfaction and enjoyment today than at any time in my career. As a mentor and advisor to a range of agencies the pleasure it gives me is hard to explain. The owners of each of these businesses love having a bit of grey hair in the room and the connections and wisdom that comes with it and I get to only work with people whose company I enjoy.

It has kept me feeling young myself and allowed me the time to run the Podge events side by side. And several of the companies I have worked with have sold and the owners have become young millionaires and that gives me a nice warm feeling.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?

That people who haven’t seen the film Pay it Forward should do so and maybe live their lives in that way. Most of the good things that have happened to me in my older years can be directly traced back to something that happened many years before that at the time seemed innocuous. 

What advice would you give your 25-year old self?

Ha ha, at 25 I hadn’t given up on the idea of being a songwriter and I had just been given a break by getting my first role in what then was the newest technology, an AKI keyboard (that looked like a spaceship) and a photon pacesetter. This was a huge leap from hot metal and I had to learn from scratch and prove my worth.

I am not sure that I have any new advice for my 25 year old self that I didn’t do at the time, knuckling down, working hard, not moaning, learning about the new technology and being a person that others trust and want to work alongside. The business I ended up building throughout my 30s was with two business partners who I met when I was 25 and it changed my life forever.

What is the biggest mistake companies – brands or the industry – are making in their attitude to age today?

I do think that a lot of very talented people are turned down on age and they can make a huge difference to companies if they are given the chance. Some of the people I have worked with over the years have been so talented and reliable but instead of being busy they are finding it tough.

Not sure what advice I can offer on this point other than to take more of a personal role in the hiring process. Some of my best ever hires were made in the Toucan Bar or other watering holes where you see how people act in the real world.

 What are you most excited about in your industry over the next 10 years?

It’s interesting watching many of the bigger agency groups all trying to become more flexible and nimble  these days rather than focusing on scale. I think this will continue and as a result a lot of entrepreneurs will be able to set up and run businesses in a different way that doesn’t necessarily involve expensive workspace and lots of staff you have to keep feeding.

Watching the way my son runs his digital agency has made me realise how much easier it can be these days than it was when I first got into digital.

What is your biggest regret about the industry today? 

I don’t have any particular regrets about the industry, I meet lots of amazing people in the course of a normal week and they make up our industry, long may it thrive.