What I learned… on a year-long intercontinental bus ride, with Jim Hawker of Threepipe

Talent in the marketing industry comes from every corner of the globe and every discipline you can imagine. In our new series What I Learned… we explore the surprising origin stories of some of agencyland’s biggest characters and brightest stars.

Jim Hawker is a co-founder of brand performance agency Threepipe, part of the Reply network. One thing you won’t see on his LinkedIn profile is that, twenty years ago, he quit his job in London to spend a year doing PR for a bus trip through the Americas – while on that bus trip. We asked him what a year on a bus is like, and how it’s affected his onward journey.

Hi Jim! Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.

I am one of the co-founders of Threepipe. I head up business development at the agency, which is made up of experts across paid media, search, creative, digital PR and analytics.

I’ve heard you spent a pretty interesting year away from agencyland?

When I was 26, I quit my job at a PR agency to join something called The Big Bus Ride. We shipped a 1956 London Routemaster bus to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then spent 12 months driving it across North America and through Central and South America to Tierra del Fuego, raising money and awareness for the amazing charity War Child.

There were 12 of us and we made a 20-part TV documentary that followed our journey with all its ups and downs. We ran a competition to find the people to go on the bus and we had an eclectic mix of people, including a model, a stuntperson, a forester and a journalist.

We stripped all the seats from the top deck and put in beds. That was our home for 12 months, but it didn’t unfortunately come with any running water or a toilet. Truck stops and lots of McDonald’s toilets were used.

You were still doing PR of a sort, right?

Yes, I was heading up PR and looking after our sponsors, which included Tommy Hilfiger. I had a mobile phone and I had to nip into internet cafes and find numbers for all the media in the next city we were visiting.

They were wild times, but we ended up doing some amazing media interviews and meetings, including appearing on Good Morning America and visiting the British ambassador in Washington, DC.

We had a few celebrity patrons visit us along the journey, including Neil Morrisey. One of my favorite memories is being on the beach with Neil on Christmas Day when he was number one in the UK with his Bob the Builder single Can We Fix It?

What, so to speak, did you bring back from the bus? How did that time change you?

The bus set me up for life, giving me belief in myself. With no resources and in very tough conditions, I found a way of creating amazing opportunities. That helped me become more of a self-starter, which helped me start my own business.

I became a spokesperson for the trip and must have carried out over 100 live media interviews. Up until then I had always been the person prepping other people for interviews.

I had life-changing experiences, including getting lost for 24 hours, being arrested twice and getting very sick. And there was a lot of conflict on the bus between very large personalities. I learned that I could be calm, a peacemaker, which until then I didn’t think was something I was particularly good at.

Despite all the challenging times, I also had great fun and built great friendships.

Sounds like the bus is still with you somewhere…

It certainly puts everything into context. It made me calmer about issues coming my way – some things are not worth worrying about. Getting the chance to work with War Child was very humbling and put everything into perspective.

It put me in a position where I had to work within myself to deliver everything and find the motivation to do so – even when things were going south. That armed me well, not just in work but in life more generally.

So if a young friend had the opportunity to go on a bus for a year, would you encourage them to go?

Absolutely. I took what everyone thought was a real risk and wasn’t a real job. I thought it offered the best of both worlds – the chance to travel as well as put into action everything I had learnt the previous four years.

Risk-taking is key to pushing yourself and giving you different experiences that make life more interesting, and make yourself more interesting too.

Article first appeared in The Drum.