Interview with Steve Barton

CEO, & Partner, Barton Consulting

Tell us about yourself. How did you end up in your current role?

A business failure.

I spent most of my career in agencies - - big WW ones like Ogilvy (NYC & London) as well as smaller London based agencies where I was a Founder, e.g. Jones Mason Barton Antenen. Around 2010, I started investing (time & money) in marketing services start-ups. I did it as a bit of a “side bet” because I was interested in other things and because there are few retirement parties from agencies.

One such start-up was a video production company focused on delivering content for the web, quickly and cost efficiently.  I thought this would be the equivalent of selling shovels in San Francisco in 1849. It failed. But during its life, I got to know a retained client: Valerie Nesbitt of

The business had fallen behind digitally and was in desperate need of a turn around.  I dived in, originally part time and more recently full-time, to lead that change.  

If you could look back at your career and remake one of your biggest decisions, what would it be?

Buy those Microsoft shares.

My first job was with a publisher of IT magazines. A top sales guy that we all resented made the rounds to let everyone in the office know that Microsoft was going public and we should scrape together any money we could find to buy shares.  I dismissed the advice because the guy was such a wanker.  More fool me.  Even a small investment back then would have fundamentally reshaped my life. And thus my career.

In a more direct answer to your question, I don’t believe in this sort of question. You make the best decision you can in the moment and then dedicate yourself to that decision.  It is very hard and not very productive to judge a decision out of context. Except not buying those shares.

Who or what influences you? Which living person do you most admire?

I am too easily influenced by what others think. I am sure that my ex wife would disagree with this. She felt I was bull headed and did not listen. I am constantly seeking out information from my colleagues and from reading posts, white papers and the occasional book. Can’t get enough. And I don’t collect this info for the sake of it. I am always challenging and re-evaluating assertions in my mind. 

Most admire? This is tough. Most of the people that I most admire are dead. They can’t disappoint!  And standing in admiration is not an important thing for me… 

It’ll have to be Miles Young, former WW CEO of Ogilvy and current Warden at New College, Oxford.  I first worked with Miles back in 1990 when he came from O&M Advertising to head up the direct marketing division of Ogilvy/London. He is decisive with a politician’s knack for thinking through each move. Miles gravitates toward difficult decisions rather than away.  He has a vast intellect, focused on marketing, history, and cultures from around the globe.  And he has amazing stores of energy. He is a leader. He is also a marmite character. People who make difficult, leadership decisions often leave some controversy in their wake. 

I’d also like to give Michael Jordan a shout out. It’s not a business context, but what an extraordinary individual.  A rare mix of physical gifts, intelligence, drive, commitment and competitive drive.

What brands are you most impressed by at the moment? Any campaigns which have particularly caught your eye?

I am very impressed with Google. They keep evolving and growing. They always seem to be one step ahead of what the business and consumer world need.  In that vein, I also am impressed with Amazon.  I also like both of these brands because at their heart they are direct marketing businesses. 

The food delivery service ads have caught my eye. Their messages seem to pop up at the very moment that a take-away consideration is skipping across my consciousness. And I am particularly impressed with the consumer insights on display in the TV.  I’m thinking of Deliveroo where there is a sort of celebration with the food arriving.  Makes me want to order.  And that’s what good advertising does.  This ad has also run foul of the ASA.  So, it must be doing something right.

What do you think makes a good debater? Why do you think your team will win?

Clear, concise argument with special attention to debunking your opponent’s arguments before they make them.  Then, careful listening and response - - with a surgeon’s precision.

If we win, it’ll be because we generated empathy with the audience while making our argument.


Steve will be taking part in The Badger Debate event at this year's Amplify Virtual Festival 

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