In a world where people are divided into lubricators and gritters, David Sheilds is proud to be a lubricator.
"The gritters are the ones that move things forward, but if you don't have lubricators, the gritters just won't function. I'm unashamedly a lubricator, I don't relish confrontation," confides Sheilds, group marketing director of one of the UK's largest publishers, the National Magazine Company.
Sheilds has been applying marketing grease to the National Magazine Company for over 11 years, and earlier this month he was acknowledged as a smooth operator by the publishing industry's trade body, the Periodical Publishing Association. He was presented with the Chairman's Award for distinguished service to the UK magazine industry by PPA chairman Neil McRae.
McRae applauds Sheilds' work for the National Readership Survey, the Periodicals Training Council and his role in spearheading a generic advertising campaign for the industry.
But Sheilds was a little wary about receiving the award. "The last few people to get it before me were all about to retire, so I was a bit worried when I heard they were giving it to me. I hope I'm good for a few years yet," he muses, in typical self-depreciating style.
Because he's not one of the industry's loud mouths, you might be forgiven for never having heard of Sheilds. When you think of NatMags, you think of Company magazine and its articles on sex, Cosmopolitan (and its articles on sex), Esquire and She.
But Sheilds is the marketing mastermind behind all of these sexy titles, and was also the driving force behind the launch of NatMags' most recent success story, House Beautiful. He has been described by NatMags managing director Terry Mansfield as "the ultimate and unique secret weapon within National Magazines, the true added value and a support to everyone at all levels within the organisation".
"Secret weapon" sums up Sheilds rather well.
In a company where magazines and their editors usually take the limelight, Sheilds is used to being something of a back-room boy. Despite the fact that he's worked for NatMags for a long time, it's not immediately obvious that Sheilds also has a wide range of experience that spans working in advertising agencies, media departments, time on the client side of the fence, and a spell running his own supermarket on a council estate in Essex.
Sheilds decided to seek his fortune in Tilbury, armed with a knowledge of the regional retail sector and a stint working on the ad account for V-G stores, when his hopes of becoming a copywriter were dashed early on. "I had bought my parents' house from their landlord, and I was very ambitious financially in those days. This was going to be the foundation of the Sheilds fortune," he says, wistfully.
Sheilds describes his time on the Tilbury council estate as "the hardest I've ever worked in my life. We did victualling for the ships coming into the dock, which involved getting up at three to take a side of bacon down for the workers. …