Interview with David Ponce de Leon by Siobhan Fitzgerald.
When I released the Booze issue of Gabberish last week, David got in touch with me. He told me we had missed an opportunity to talk seriously about a real problem that affects our industry.
David had done what many of us contemplate but don’t dare, giving up booze altogether nine years ago. In the conversation that followed his initial email, he told me that he was happy to share his story to help bring a better understanding to the issue of booze and the problems it can present to us individually, in the workplace, and as a society.
SF: Tell me about your start in advertising, and what the social culture was like.
DPL: I started my career a bit longer than 20 years ago in a graphic reproduction house. This led to jobs at advertising agencies in Melbourne, some of the biggest ones. I caught the last wave of the long-long lunch era and of course, copious amounts of alcohol were consumed.
Friday pub lunches followed by Friday evening drinks. Parties. Late nights. Sounds pretty normal, but I definitely feel it was more extreme back then.
Incidentally, I’ve always found that workplaces with a heavy drinking culture tend to be more male-dominated and those engaged in excessive drinking were in most cases, men. Which encourages an even stronger case for diversity, but that’s the topic of a different conversation.
SF: Binge drinking in Australia often starts as early as school, and if not then at university. For many of us it’s a familiar past-time before we hit the advertising industry. Does our industry just reflect the society we live in, or is there more to it than that?
DPL: Our industry is a reflection of our society. Definitely. But it has, of course, its own dynamics.
Alcohol is so strongly associated with ‘having a good time’ in Australian culture that to choose not to drink is quasi-sacrilegious. Un-Australian, almost.
Peer pressure plays a big part. I only realized this after I stopped drinking. When you stop drinking, people start asking why and when you share with them you believe you might have had a problem, they get really confronted. Some get defensive. Some start denying it for you. But what they are really thinking is “If I drink more than you, and you believe you have a problem, where does that leave me?” It’s quite a trip. But, at the end, you need to do what’s right for you.