Weird Seance summons… Rob Mayhew
Continuing her celebration of all things weird and wonderful Culture Editor Amy Kean speaks to Rob Mayhew, Head of Influence at Fleishman Hillard London and a rising TikTok star, who brilliantly lampoons ad agency life and culture in his videos. They discuss seeing things differently, social media and salad cream.
Rob Mayhew is all of us. But, also, he’s a TikTok star. With 93.3k followers giggling at his daily observations, Rob uses the medium of short-form video to paint a painfully accurate picture of what life is like in agencyland… the predictability of it all, the blandness, and the cultural hypocrisy.
I noticed Rob a few months ago, when a video entitled “not knowing how to behave when you show a mood film in a pitch” popped into my LinkedIn newsfeed. In it, Justice's We Are Your Friends plays (obviously), while Rob (your typical agency guy) awkwardly bobs his head, smiles nervously, points at the screen, mouths the lyrics, and gives the audience a thumbs up.
Rob is setting the ad world on fire by holding a mirror up to our decidedly dumb behaviours.
I got flashbacks of every pitch I’d ever been involved in. Once, a CEO of mine loved the mood film so much that he played it twice in the pitch: once at the beginning and once at the end. The clients tolerated it the first time, and the second time they seemed confused and irritated. I never realised my PTSD could be triggered by a fucking TikTok, but here we are.
Above: Rob Mayhew's TikTok video about not knowing how to behave while showing a mood film to clients.
Rob is setting the ad world on fire by holding a mirror up to our decidedly dumb behaviours. But it’s bigger than videos. He’s shining a light on all the stupid shit we’ve normalised, and the preposterousness of the way we talk to each other. It’s a continuous confirmation that normal - at work - is fucking weird.
One of his most popular videos, on shit agency culture, has been viewed over 500k times, and liked over 42k times. My WhatsApp groups are filled with his funny videos. I’M ADDICTED TO HIS CONTENT. So, I wanted to know where his head’s at. How he thinks, what his creative process is, and if he’s one of us; one of the weirdos.
AK: Hello. I thought it might be a good idea if we all went round the room and say who we are and one wacky thing about us. You start.
RM: I live for this question in meetings. I am always too busy practicing that I stumble over my words unless I write down my name on my pad. I'm Rob Mayhew. Head of Influence at Fleishman Hillard London, and I also do stand up comedy and make sketches about agency life that I post on TikTok and LinkedIn. Fun Fact; I gate crashed Kate Moss's hen do at the Isle of White festival.
I would be an easy hire for a cult or any religion. Just knock on my door.
AK: Any goss?
RM: She is the best. An icon.
AK: That’s not goss. She must have made you sign an NDA. So, to begin with I’m going to ask you the same thing I ask everyone; can you draw me a picture of the inside of your mind? Just a sketch or a doodle or whatever. Give some commentary, too, if you can.
Above: Mayhew's illustration of the inside of his brain.
RM: My picture has a ring light (as it's all you need to make great content), New York (I want to move to NYC), my joke book, and a bottle of salad cream (my dream brand to work with).
AK: Salad cream is the worst of all the condiments, but I can help you out with a couple of intros, if you need. Also, I’m starting a cult - it’s for weird people - do you want to join? As one of the founding members you’d get a free umbrella and some Xanax.
RM: That would be lovely. It’s always nice to be invited to join anything. I would be an easy hire for a cult or any religion. Just knock on my door.
I am always watching and taking notes because the real world is so funny to me, and it's why my sketches are almost always true.
AK: Screening question: would you say you’re weird? Different? Unique?
RM: I would say I am different. I am shy, but I love to make people laugh. My favourite comedian, Jessica Kirson, says “always be silly”, and I live by that rule. I have lots of energy and if I am interested in something I will get obsessed. I am always watching and taking notes because the real world is so funny to me, and it's why my sketches are almost always true.
AK: What stops people being silly, do you think?
RM: I think people think they have to act grown up all the time, and be serious. We forget how great it is to play around and have fun. Being silly can change the energy of a room or an office.
Above: Mayhew's TikTok take on the pitch meeting.
AK: Why do you like TikTok as a platform? Are you addicted to social media?
RM: I almost gave up on social media. I fell out of love with it. It stopped being fun. TikTok has changed everything. I love it. Anyone can make content using the app and its a place of joy and experimentation. Because it is a discovery channel (unlike Instagram and Facebook) every time you post a video it could go viral. I am addicted to making the perfect sketch, and TikTok allows me to do it quickly, without fuss.
AK: Which of your sketches would you say is the most perfect?
RM: I love my meeting room series. And also the madness around the pitching process. My favourite is probably the mood film sketch as I love awkward moments and anyone who has been involved with showing these mood films will relate to these situations.
I am addicted to making the perfect sketch, and TikTok allows me to do it quickly, without fuss.
AK: You seem to be smashing it on LinkedIn, too. What the fuck is happening on LinkedIn? Why does everyone seem to be talking about death all of a sudden?
RM: I have fallen in love with Linkedin the past year. I love networking and meeting new people, and since I have started to post my sketches on there I have met some amazing people. People do talk about death don’t they. I think people are obsessed with turning everything into a think piece that shows why they are a great manager and death seems like a good segue to better people management skills, or something.
Above: Mayhew takes on the agency culture in this video.
AK: Let’s talk about the industry that you’re sending up with your videos. Why do you think everyone acts, talks and creates the same in the ad industry? What’s our problem?
RM: My sketches are a love letter to the industry. We have all got so used to certain ways of doing things that must just seem weird to anyone outside of the industry. The way we name our meeting rooms, the bobbing your head as you play a mood film in a pitch. It's funny because it's true.
AK: At my last agency each of the meeting rooms was named after music festivals. It was the most uncool thing to happen that’s ever happened. But if we’re all aware of all this stuff - because you’ve definitely hit a raw nerve - why don’t we change it? Are we doomed?
RM: It's so easy to fall into the usual way of doing things whenever you start at a new agency. Maybe the next generation will just ignore our ways and do their own. Or we will all be WFH, so everything will change anyways.
I do think any agency with oil and gas should take a long, hard look at themselves.
AK: What’s the weirdest or most controversial content you’ve put out there?
I have a few sketches referencing some of the unethical clients some of the bigger agencies have. One sketch was about a big London agency who announced they are changing to wooden cutlery in their canteen, yet have a big oil and gas client that has a whole floor of its own in their office. I do think any agency with oil and gas should take a long, hard look at themselves.
AK: You do sketches about brainstorms, and how everyone just blurts out the same things - a big object floating down the Thames, a projection on the houses of parliament; in your view what’s the best way to actually get decent, original thoughts out of people?
RM: I think it's to invite different types of people to the brainstorm. People with different lives and experiences, and to give them the confidence to speak.
Above: Brainstorming; from Box Park pop-ups to Houses of Parliament projections.
AK: You said you’re shy. Has that ever worked against you in agencies that tend to celebrate extroversion and irrational confidence?
RM: I think I am shy, but as I have got older and more experienced I have grown in confidence. It’s nice for every team to have a balance of characters.
Having a Thursday bar in the office is one thing, but taking care of your staff and empowering them is more important.
AK: Do you think agencies ever really let people be themselves? You do lots of funny and painful videos about agency culture but what are your thoughts on how agencies present themselves?
RM: I think this is getting much better. Where I work now is amazing for letting us be ourselves. It's a kind and creative place to work, and I hope that other agencies are getting better. Having a Thursday bar in the office is one thing, but taking care of your staff and empowering them is more important.
AK: What’s the worst place you’ve ever worked?
RM: I have been very lucky, I haven’t really worked anywhere terrible. I have had jobs I wasn’t right for, and worked at places with toxic bosses. But I never hung around long. I truly believe you should enjoy your job. If you have a boss who is a bully, get out of there and tell their boss everything, as it’s likely they won’t get better until they get called out.
Above: an after-hours meeting; everyone goes home after the pizza.
AK: And what’s your creative process? How do you come up with your ideas?
RM: Twenty years’ experience and the notes app on my phone. I am constantly scribbling down ideas and, every Friday (I work four days a week), I will wake up and write the scripts for the 10 best ideas that week, and film about 10 sketches in four hours. It's super-easy to film in TikTok direct. The fun part is using the effects and music to tell a story.
I’m working on a 30 minute spoof pitch I can perform at agency parties and award shows.
AK: Sounds like you’re pretty relentless. I love that you find humour everywhere. What do you think about humour in culture today, is it experimental enough? Weird enough? Do people laugh less than they used to?
AK: And what’s next for Rob Mayhew? Will you ever run out of agency observations?
RM: Never. I’m just getting started. I’m working on a 30 minute spoof pitch I can perform at agency parties and award shows. So, if you want me to come and entertain your work summer parties, slide into my LinkedIn DMs.