David Levin started his career as an intern at MTV, making tea for legends such as Shaggy, So Solid Crew and Atomic Kitten. After that, he went off to play drums for Artful Dodger for a bit before doing a re-e-wind (sorry) back to MTV where he got a job as a junior news writer. He was there for a few years before going freelance to write for various brands and “terrible magazines” (his words).
In 2012, David set up a spoof Twitter account for a popular east London pub (@the_dolphin_pub). It went viral and he was subsequently asked to tweet for brands such as adidas and Beats Headphones, TV shows such as The Voice and The Apprentice and some celebs he’s not allowed to name.
After becoming “the UK’s first professional tweeter” (as hailed by The Evening Standard), David met another David, David Schneider, and they decided to have a bash at setting up a social media agency despite not knowing how the hell you do that. Four years later, their agency, That Lot, has 81 employees and clients such as Channel 4, Jamie Oliver and HSBC. They were recently acquired by the world’s second biggest PR agency, Weber Shandwick, and won Agency of The Year at the Social Media Communications Awards. David specialises in social media content and brand tone of voice. He’s also a regular speaker at Marketing and PR events and now writes for “less terrible” publications such as The Guardian, Time Out and Metro.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
Mixed-race metrosexual from Leeds.
How did you get into PR?
Technically, I work in social not in PR – but those worlds are intertwining. I freelanced for various PR agencies on social campaigns before setting up our agency, and now we’re part of a massive PR agency, so I suppose yes I do work in PR.
What do you love about your job?
My job is essentially to mess around on social media for big brands, broadcasters and famous people, which is a fun thing to do. When we post something that’s massively popular, that’s usually pretty exciting.
What are you most proud of?
Great question. I went on Radio 4 recently to talk about Donald Trump’s tweets (obviously) and my mum was listening. She said I sounded “quite funny and clever” which I felt pretty proud of because she normally doesn’t have a clue what the hell I do for a living. (and I loved that she added the “quite” so I didn’t get too big-headed about it)
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
This is getting deep now. I need some water. [insert pause] Okay, I’m back. I think the hardest thing to learn is your niche. You’ll probably need to do quite a lot of things you’re not great at before you find it. But you’ll find it. And when you do, you should do that thing over and over until you get properly brilliant at it. Then you should do it more. Then you should keep doing it until you’re one of the best at it. Then you’re on to something.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
I tell you who’s bloody brilliant and bloody lovely? Preena Gadher. #teampreenagadher
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
As we enter 2019, every PR needs to properly get social. They need to understand the role for each platform and how to land stories in those places.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I currently spend most time on Instagram playing around Instagram Stories. But my true love is Twitter – that’s the network that changed my life. If you love writing (like me), it’s hard not to love Twitter.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Lara Whyte. “Wait… as in the Lara Whyte you’ve just married, Dave?” Yes, that one. But I’m not saying her because she’s my wife, mate, I’m saying her because she fights fearlessly against injustice and she’s a properly brilliant journalist. Okay? Okay great.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t go chasing waterfalls. That’s pretty good advice. But if you’re looking for something a little more relevant, my first boss told me to write good emails. She called it “one of the most underrated forms of self-promotion”. That really stuck with me. And I 100% agree. #teamemails
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2018?
Difficult for me to answer this one because I only work on the outskirts of PR. I thought the Greggs stunt (turning their shop name round so they were reflected in Fenwick’s window) was ridiculously clever, but I imagine that’s an obvious answer so sorry about that. And I’m not too sure about a big PR fail. Was that awful Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad this year? Let’s just go with that. Even if it was last year, it was so bad that it’s still worth mentioning.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
If I’m completely honest… I don’t know. But I intend to find out. Diversity is a real issue in our agency and in our industry and as someone that’s only a bit less white than most of the folks I’m surrounded by, it really troubles me. So let’s bloody do this.
David is one of 18 mentors for the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme 2019.