Ben Priest has handed in his notice, both to Adam&Eve/DDB and the industry as a whole. But, don't expect the creative force behind some of John Lewis' best ads to re-emerge as a consultant or creative philanthropist; Priest is resolute in exiting ad land for good.
The timing of Priest’s departure is almost providential. It’s been just over 10 years since the original agency (minus the DDB) was formed and just two days until the creative shop turns 50 – two big milestones he found hard to ignore. Yet unsurprisingly, leaving the industry he has worked in for 29 years, and the shop he laboured to build, wasn’t a shotgun decision.
Priest explained that saying goodbye to the client meetings, the briefs, the shoots and the late-night pitches was something he’s wanted to do for a while. And although he expressed his enduring love for his agency and job, he said he's found himself feeling like he’s at a party where “you’re wanting to stay for another half an hour but knowing it’s best to go home”.
“I wanted to finish absolutely at our best and that’s where we are,” he told The Drum. “I’ve had a great time. But there are other things to do and other priorities.”
These priorities lie principally with his family – his children, stepchildren and wife –who he admits have occasionally fallen in second place behind advertising at times throughout his career. Priest’s decision isn’t the result of a midlife crisis, middle-class guilt or a burgeoning bitterness towards the capitalist system that advertising feeds. It’s simply – as he put it – “time for me to go home”.
“I’d like to … turn up for hockey matches on a Wednesday afternoon and do all the things fulltime parents probably think are really boring, but for me are really exciting,” he said. “I don’t think it’s time for me ‘to give something back’, but it’s time for me to put my family ahead of advertising.”
Priest predicted that the extraction process – the final stage of which will come in June – will be painless. Never one for late nights at The Ivy or weekends hanging out at “Soho Farmhouse with a big gang of jolly hockey sticks people from the business”, he understands himself to be “an all or nothing person” who has kept their free time, well, free from advertising.
The extent of his post-departure industry schmoozing, he imagines, will extend to a curry with co-founder James Murphy and David Golding at Christmas.
There won’t be a ‘successor’ to Priest as such (he’s positively elated at the job chief creative officer Richard Brim’s been doing running the creative department), and he’s not worried that his own creative spirit will be left without an official outlet either.
As for what he will miss?
“David Golding eats yogurt in almost every meeting we have together,” he said. “I’ve endured plenty of that.”