The Sharp End: The word on the street

With just a fistful of flyers, can Dave Waller turn City drones into golf addicts?

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Looks like I've finally landed that City job. But instead of raking in the paper, I've been given the less appealing task of handing it out - distributing flyers to the commuters making their daily advance over London Bridge.

I fear I know the commuter routine too well, having been part of that throng on many a morning. After steering past a team assaulting you with freesheet papers, you come face-to-face with the charity mugger (or chugger), who performs a crazy dance designed to charm you into revealing your bank details, in a bid to end world poverty. At 8am. After that onslaught, I assume, most will be too battle-weary to care about a poxy flyer.

My client is City Golf, a healthclub offering a free trial on its golf simulators. That's where I meet Michael Buck, boss of promotion company Alivestock, who explains that it's best to go easy with the sales pitch: just be bold and clear and hand the flyers to those interested. This is a relief. I once did a stint as a chugger for homeless charity Shelter, and was fired after three weeks. When people expressed reluctance to divulge their bank details, I'd respond by saying 'Fair enough, I wouldn't either'.

We head for the bridge. Michael lays a golf bag down as a prop. I sit a seven-iron on my shoulder and position myself in the centre of the pavement, a rock in the racing tide of business suits.

I start by shouting 'free trial', then 'City Golf'. I try switching it round, but words come out wrong. Baffled passers-by see a man waving a golf club, ranting about Sandy Lyle-free golf.

It'll take more to get a positive reaction from these troopers. Some passers-by employ impenetrable defences, iPods, sunglasses and the like; others gaze sternly into the middle distance. It's disheartening, yet the anonymity is liberating - I find myself strangely at ease standing in the street, shouting.

Most are empathetic, even if they don't give a stuff about City Golf. They give their head the slightest shake, raise the eyebrows and mouth 'no thanks'. Some responses are Pavlovian. I push out a flyer, prompting an immediate grab from a woman who has clearly never been to a gym nor, I guess, ever held a golf stick. I then make eye contact with a toned youth striding along in suit and trainers, and he doesn't bat an eyelid.

I experiment with technique. Shouting like a market-stall Cockney - 'Get-cha free golf 'ere, free for a paaaand' - works well, but I resist the urge to start jumping around like an idiot.

Michael is standing stock-still, arm out, talking constantly. Which is very restrained for an actor. A drama school graduate, he started out flyering for companies who kept asking if he could round up more actor mates to help. He decided to get paid for the legwork, building Alivestock around a pool of 50 regulars.

The worst person he ever employed was taken on a recommendation. On her first day, she told her colleague she wasn't used to such hard work. 'I usually just go out, dump the flyers and then go to the cinema,' she said. She didn't last long.

Most thesps are more reliable. Earning £10 an hour beats the Withnail and I approach to waiting for the big break - downing lighter fluid and driving around drunk. Michael tells me he's just had an audition for a Staples ad. For now, though, he's happy putting stardom on the back burner while he builds his company.

By 10am, the stream of suits has become a trickle of tourists. It's time to peddle our flyers door-to-door round the offices of Farringdon. Michael buzzes an office intercom and politely explains what we're doing. We enter and ask to leave a few flyers. Then we trudge up and down the stairs to the other companies. People are happy to see new faces, Michael reasons. One bloke appears browbeaten: 'I hate golf,' he says. Michael tells him there's a bar too. 'I hate drinking.'

From Merrill Lynch to Starbucks, from design firms to the local pub, I caddy with the flyers while Michael leads. He's very thorough. He hands a few to a young woman stacking smoothies in M&S. 'Can you pass these on to your boss?' he asks.

By 12.30 we're done and go to dump the stuff back at City Golf. As holes at the Sharp End go, that's a par 4. Hardly the most challenging. After a quick orange juice at the 19th, I descend into Bank Tube station, and see a fat man in a leotard, standing on a box twirling a fake barbell above his head. A girl thrusts a flyer for Gymbox at me. 'From the people who brought you chav boxing,' it says. Straight in the bin, I'm afraid.

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