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“Most work done by ad agencies is total s**t”: Paul Mellor on shaking up adland, banned ads and the new series of Boiling Point

Paul Mellor

As advertising agencies jostle to stand-out in adland, brand and advertising agency Mellor&Smith is making a name for itself.

From banned ads for underdog brands to stirring the pot behind the scenes of Stephen Graham’s acclaimed feature film Boiling Point, the agency’s co-founder and managing director Paul Mellor has a “shtick for being a pain in the arse”.

Mellor became an executive producer on Boiling Point back in 2020, a riveting pressure cooker of a film that perfectly captures the pressures of the hospitality industry. He’s back in his dad’s hometown of Manchester, as filming for the BBC’s new five-part drama series based on the film gears into action at West Gorton’s Space Studios.

As herbs and onions are undoubtedly set to be flung around a restaurant kitchen before he heads on set, Mellor sat down for a brew with Prolific North to tell us how, as an agency owner, he ventured into the film and TV world.

“When I set up Mellor&Smith 14 years ago, I always wanted to make things other than just ads, so the creative intent to make something is indelibly right down in the core DNA of the business,” he said.

“The vast majority of agencies, all they want to do is just the same old, same old. Our whole pitch is the complete opposite to everybody else. This is just one part of that.”

Working with freelancers on a regular basis, he found they were “always moonlighting” by either working on a book or film script. Over the years, he’s looked at many of them, whether they were fully developed or just a synopsis. 

“A lot of them are not very good, I have to say,” he joked. “I would always give my opinion based on my take, not with any background in making a film. I felt I was maybe misplaced but I was quite a good judge of what makes a good script and film.”

Angus Henderson, one of his friends and a producer on the film, sent him the Boiling Point script in its early stages to see if he was interested.

“I read the first paragraph, not even the first page and I was like this is f*****g great. I’d said yes by time I’d even got that far down the page. It just jumped out.”

He became executive producer halfway through the pre-production process, with the film being co-produced by Stephen Graham’s own company Matriarch Productions along with Ascendant Fox and Made Up Productions. 

“This is where the types of projects that I want to get involved in started to become quite narrow. As an agency, we’re very unlikely to work with a really premium, high luxury value brand. We work with salt of the earth, real proper people type brands,” he asserts.

“I’m interested in real stories about real people, not celebrity or the out-of-reach type stories, so that jumped out from the script, that was one of the things that really drew me to it.”

Although he remains tight-lipped about what fans of the film might see in the new series, the majority of the show will be filmed in and around Manchester over the next three months.

Vinette Robinson (Carly) and Stephen Graham (Andy)
Vinette Robinson (Carly) and Stephen Graham (Andy) in Boiling Point

“We as a collective of people were really lucky that the film attracted some really top talent. Everyone was really good so you don’t feel like you have to get involved, you can sort of ride the wave as it were, just by being associated with it and being involved in parts of the project.”

Although his role on set will mainly involve loitering in the background and “causing a bit of trouble” it has “improved how we go about making advertising with clients”.

“The vast majority of work done for clients by agencies is total s**t”

It’s not the only project in the works. Mellor&Smith launched its own event series called “Take f*****g risks” for creatives, with a mission to shake-up what he sees as mediocrity being pumped out of the advertising industry.

“We’ve got a few other projects now that are of the same vein. Whether it’s either making feature films, looking to commission art or getting involved in life, all these different things in my mind are different creative expressions,” he explained. 

“There are so many ad agencies doing exactly the same stuff. I think that that’s one of the reasons why the vast majority of work that is done on behalf of clients by agencies is total s**t.

“It just couldn’t be more bland, meaningless and lacks any kind of distinction, which we try to do in our work. We got banned in September for writing the word c**t  on a billboard as big as we possibly could.”

Fat Lad at the Back ad campaign. Credit: Mellor&Smith

The tongue-in-cheek wordplay ad campaign for cycling wear brand Fat Lad at the Back, which was designed to empower plus size cyclists, caused a bit of a stir. It was partly inspired by abuse directed at the brand on social media.

Although it was eventually banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, that didn’t faze the agency. He recognises it isn’t a form of advertising for everyone but believes it’s necessary for smaller brands to compete.

“If you have an insatiable thirst, which a creative does to make things to tinker and experiment, then you have to rally against conformity.

“We make it very clear that we’re not for everybody and that we’re for underdog brands. In order for them to compete with the Goliath, the top dog in their category, they have to do things that other brands just won’t do.”

The agency works closely with brands that might be overshadowed in a specific category by making a statement bigger brands “won’t or can’t do” by being “daring or bold”.

Although he’s now settled in France and he isn’t as involved in the day-to-day operations of the agency as he used to be, he had to work “incredibly hard to get the business off the ground” for the first few years.

“That’s a benefit from these types of projects, when you’ve got a reputation and a core business that allows you to then experiment,” he said.

“One of the things I see quite a lot with creative businesses as a whole is they try and do way too many different things really early on. They should just concentrate on becoming really world class at one thing and then you can look to expand. That’s certainly how we go about things.”

With a small team of 10 based in London, he has “no intention of being big” or setting up shop elsewhere.

“We’ve got clients all over the UK and all over Europe. Location is really not that important anymore. Time zones are probably the biggest challenge with clients in the US or Singapore. Now you can work with anybody, right? That’s the beauty of Covid.”

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