I remember it like it was yesterday. My school headmaster passed across the desk a prospectus on company secretaryship and said, ‘here, do this instead’. I was in his office getting advice on my ambition to work in broadcasting. He told me a career in the media would be too competitive and suggested a course in company secretaryship instead. To this day, I have no idea why he suggested this route. It was very much a ‘WTF’ moment.
Of course I ignored him and six months later was presenting the gig guide on BBC Essex, soon graduating to co-presenting the Saturday evening youth show ‘Revolver’ interviewing people I admired like Billy Bragg and dedicating Smiths tracks to my school mates. Most kids who left my school either went into finance or to study a traditional subject at university; I left for my mash-up year mixing a photography class with shifts at the radio station, working at a specialist music distributor and spending a summer selling records at folk festivals. I was the misfit ...and it felt good.
After a degree at Leeds University mixing Public Media with Communication & Cultural Studies I joined TV production company Holmes Associates where I ticked off another teenage ambition, working on Channel 4’s live music show Friday At The Dome. I was then invited to join Sol Entertainment, a live music start-up supported by Sol beer where I was responsible for promoting the Radio 1 American Music Festival.
In 1993 I joined Unique Broadcasting, then Europe’s largest producer of radio programming. Having started as a studio co-ordinator I rose through the ranks to become Managing Director of Unique Facilities and a member of the management team that helped grow the business before its floatation as a plc. On my way up, I touched every part of the business from working with Noel Edmonds on a live event, co-ordinating the BBC’s first Music Live event and managing a production of Salad Days for Radio Two/ EMI at Abbey Road studios. I quickly earned a reputation looking after misfit projects and was appointed ‘Special Projects Manager’ working with brands like Pepsi and McDonald’s, managing Financial Times Radio - a joint venture with Pearson and ABC Radio Network -, and managing broadcast operations at a series of MTV Europe Music Awards and The Prince’s Trust Party In The Park. In 2000 Unique floated as UBC Media Group plc and I took the leap to go independent. Juggling a mix of media and marketing projects, I was digital consultant for Noel Edmond’s business, advisor to creative agency startup Bluw and interim marketing director at Epoch Innovation’s tech start-up Brightstar. I founded a side-business Ignission that created websites for parliamentarians and was a founding member of Open Top Music, a music management start-up.
Spotting a commercial opportunity with a brand, I pivoted my business to provide marketing services launching OHM London - a virtual/ lean marketing agency - working for Benetton, Classic FM and MTV Studios.
One thing I had learnt in my career was that I didn’t want to be restricted by a single label and enjoyed staying agile, reinventing my offering along the way.
In 2009 I stripped my business back to a one-man b(r)and and added a side project - writing: capturing my business experience into what would become a series of four books and writing for CBS Interactive’s website BNET. Following a random encounter with a Chicago documentary maker on Twitter, I was invited to co-host ‘Is the Planned Life Even Worth Living’ at South By South West Interactive in 2009 and was back in Austin, Texas twelve months later to launch ‘Unplan Your Business’: arguing that in an age of uncertainty it’s time to ditch the business plan. My career has never had a plan and I returned from Texas with a fresh long-term assignment helping marketing agencies tell their story.
Another driver in my career has been curiosity. In 2012 I started to write for the Financial Times’ Business Life pages and contributing to Monocle magazine’s radio station, giving me a licence to be curious.
What’s next in the Ian Sanders story? Who knows? I’ll continue ploughing my own furrow, making it up as I go along. And that’s how I like it.