October 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
We all remember that childhood conversation with our parents. The one where you’re told that you can be anything you want to be, just as long as you put your mind to it. I’ve always believed this to be true. After all, as children we are blank canvases, able to collect and create a multitude of experiences and opinions that make us ideal for our own futures. But thinking back to our childhood dreams, you have to wonder how plausible this idea is. Surely, it must be very few people that end up doing what they dreamed they would when asked the pivotal question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I always wanted to be a marine biologist, convinced that this meant playing with dolphins all day rather than the reality of boats, labs and seawater. But if someone offered me the chance to be a marine biologist today, I’d have to turn them down. My sister on the other hand, answered that classic childhood question with similarly classic childish honesty. When she grew up, she wanted to be able “to drink Bacardi Breezers”.
Ask a class of kids today what they want to do when they grow up and you’ll get a lot of the same answers; the lures of pop-stardom and space exploration make for seemingly brilliant career choices. As adults we know the truth. With fame comes hard work, pressure and a near-constant hounding from the press; with space exploration comes isolation, intense physical conditions and an indelible helping of life-threatening danger. Not the best 9-to-5 career choices.
There comes a point in our lives, however, when our ability to do anything and to be anyone comes to pass. It’s difficult to say when that point is, and obviously with every door that we close on possible future careers, we open hundreds more with our commitment to a set route. When I chose to take no science subjects at A-level, I firmly closed the doors on medicine (and my misinformed dreams of marine biology), but opened up a world of opportunities to careers in the arts.
But at the age of 21, just four months after graduating, I already feel like my choices are incredibly narrowed. I’m a creative person and have a passion for advertising, for branding and for communications in general. In my ideal job I’d get to write and be a little bit creative every day. I have varied experience in all sorts of jobs; from writing yoghurt campaigns to tracking down financial criminals, as well as the more standard office and admin work along the way.
You’d think that this wide range of experience would make me an ideal candidate for any of the entry level marketing/design jobs I’ve applied for so far, and yet after several interviews I always hear that I’m a lovely girl, but just too creative for the job. Apparently creativity doesn’t work when you’re supposed to be doing admin day-to-day; I guess nobody wants a spreadsheet with panache. But do companies really need to employ the same old person to file, copy, print, repeat? Maybe employers are under-estimating the passion and commitment that today’s graduates have to break into their desired field, and can bring to any level of a business. We are well aware that we’ll have to start at the bottom, but are committed to making the most out of our opportunities to ultimately get to where we want to be.
All this raises an interesting issue. As a recent graduate, I’ve tried to make myself as employable as possible and am looking for an entry-level position to get into a company and progress. Yes, I have experience as a creative but that’s not all I’ve done, it’s not all I do, and I’m not even sure it’s all I want to do. I still feel very young, know that I have a lot to learn, and just want an opportunity to develop all my skills. What if I want to work as a project manager? A magazine journalist? A book critic? I have an excellent English degree and experience that makes me suitable for all these jobs – does my passion for advertising and my creativity mean I am any less capable of doing them?
So – can you really be anything? The job market today seems to think that you can’t. I’m determined to prove them wrong. Marine biology, here I come.
Just kidding. But arts, media, design, advertising, branding, marketing, PR, magazine and literary world – look out!
As seen on The Guardian Careers website:
August 24, 2011 § 1 Comment
Just read a really interesting article on copywriting by Samuel Palin. A lot of it is filled with fairly anecdotal evidence, not to mention half a column on the brilliant quoting from Don Quixote, but it was the closing ideas that really struck a chord with me. He ends with an idea that questions whether copywriting is an art or a science, or whether as so many people tend to ignore, it is a combination of the two.
It’s an interesting debate.
In my last semester of uni, I (in hindsight, stupidly, as it pulled my whole degree average down) took a module studying the power of language, and how langauge is manipulated in the media, in politics and most interesting for me, in advertising. We were lectured on how to spot linguistic constructs used to position the reader or listener in a certain way, which began to make it seem very much like a science. In fact, I wrote a (fairly decent) essay comparing the differing methods of persuasion in the Oxfam and Race for Life websites, which revolved almost entirely on how they addressed the reader. I collected data, I read and reread raw material, I highlighted like crazy and by the end of the essay, forgot that I was even studying English, I was so overwhelmed by numbers, calculations and graphs.
Language had become a science.
But then on finishing university, I went straight into working as a copywriter for 5 weeks at Euro RSCG. Obviously, this is about being creative, and whilst I’ve always been good at writing and using language, the science side of it threw me off. I could debate the merits of using “your city”, “the city” or “our city” for as long as I liked, but ultimately it would be what sounded best, read best and just seemed to feel right, not where I was positioning the reader.
So the debate continues….
It’s pretty easy, from an academic perspective, to apply a set of linguistic rules to a collection of adverts, and not see it as something emotive or creative, but something based on reader position, pronoun usage and repitition of ideas. Obviously all that science-y stuff does play a part, but having been on both sides of the debate, I’m leaning towards it being an art form.
Like Samuel’s article suggests, it is important to know strategy and have more planning-like insights to frame our ideas, but I would argue that ultimately this “science” is only ever a framework for creativity. And sometimes, that creativity works just as brilliantly outside of the frame…
Do I think that one science-y language module made me a better writer? No.
Did I win a placement at a top London advertising agency after finishing the module? Yes.
Art or science? I guess we’ll never know…
August 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I guess I must have been really busy. What else could excuse neglecting to write for 2 months? Well, at least this time I was actually doing something, rather than sitting around pretending I’m busy as a student.
Before I can talk about what’s going on in life at the moment, I feel the need to catch my little blog up to speed. A hell of a lot has happened in the last few months, and it feels so weird to read over my last post as so much has changed since then. So consider this a catch up on what’s being going on in my life, and I promise to update with more present information soon.
Easiest way to do it will be in chronological order (well, I say chronological but it will be what I remember doing when so pretty much as chronological as it can get without referring to currently non-existant diary…)
First of all, I got on the IPA Creative Summer School. The interviews went really well and despite tripping over my words several times, and one Exec Creative Director telling me I would make an excellent planner rather than a copywriter, I got on the programme. I was placed at Euro RSCG with another girl who also went to Leeds acting as my Art Director partner. More on this later…
Next up, would be finding out my degree results. Despite my earlier pledges of confidence, I did actually end up getting a 2.1. I didn’t do as well as I could have done in the final exams, although I think I revised harder than I ever have in my life so I can only assume the pressure finally got to me. Overall, it averaged out as 67.5 which is exactly one percent of a 1st at Leeds so annoyingly close. After feeling disappointed, stressy and annoyed for a few days and trying to reject anyone and anything that tried to make me celebrate, I eventually stopped being an idiot and decided that a high 2.1 is a great mark and still something brilliant to show for the last 3 years. Besides, it’s not even relevant to the job I want to go into anymore! Of course, this does all mean I’m £250 down and my Uncle had a lucky escape…
Next, was my holiday in Valencia visiting one of my best friends Laura who was on her year abroad out there. Such an amazing city, and had a very welcome break exploring the city, eating too much frozen yoghurt and laying on the beack. It was lovely to see Laura again and cannot wait for her to come back to England!
Immediately after coming back from Spain, it was time to start my placement at Euro RSCG. It’s a pretty big challenge working with someone you don’t know very well as a creative because the whole ideas process needs a lot of trust, team work and respect but I think we figured out how to work together well in the end. We actually got through to the next round of the TBWA Young Bloods as a creative team as well so that should be pretty exciting.
Working at Euros was a great experience, even if I did rarely get enough sleep and worked the occasional Saturday, because it really gave me an insight into what a large advertising agency is like. The office politics, the fierce competition and the obvious hierarchies are all something that I should have, but probably wasn’t expecting. More than an insight into the environment though, the five weeks there just really cemented in my mind that working in creative advertising is exactly what I want to be doing. Getting real hands-on experience on live briefs and new business pitches makes you learn so much faster about what will work and what won’t work than working on your own inventing little briefs for yourself ever will. Working in a high-pressure, tight deadline industry whilst constantly trying to stay creative and innovative is really, really hard but I love it and am definitely up for the massive challenge of pursuing it as a career.
As part of the IPA placement, we’ve also been having evening seminars each week with talks from industry leaders at different London agencies. For example, a few weeks ago we speak to the leader of Technology at Ogilvy who is basically living in this kind of futuristic lab space. Amazing stuff. And we had a talk on social media and digital advertising at Lean Mean Fighting Machine, which was really interesting. During all this, we were also being set weekly creative briefs to present at the next meeting. We did some work to develop a radio ad for a new diet pill, but the biggest thing we did was to present our ideas at the graduation ceremony for how to advertise the IPA Summer School 2012. Me and Annie worked on this idea for about two weeks, and went round and round in circles about which direction to take it in, decided and then undecided on ideas and then finally changed our mind at the very last minute when a great piece of copy mysteriously and magically came to me, as if it had been staring at me in the face the whole time. We finally went with the strategy of challenging people who think advertising is a soft option and that their current career pursuits would be more fulfilling to “Try working in Advertising.” We didn’t win, but some feedback we’ve had since then has told us that the individual ads we did were the best of the night and that there was some contention in the judging as to whether we should win so I kind of feel like we won anyway!
This was one of the executions (2 page magazine ad) of the idea:
So my next step (although all the work we did at Euros working on live briefs makes it feel like a bit of a step back) is developing my portfolio of work, finding a partner to work with and start asking people to look at my book and find a job. Feel like I’ve got a long way to go and a hell of a lot of hard work ahead of me, but am so, so excited about what the next few months are going to bring.
If anyone knows of people looking to work as an Art Director who is currently partner-less send me a message. Otherwise expect to see me hanging about at various single creative speed dating events soon…
I’ll try and keep you posted!
June 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In an attempt to prepare for my upcoming interview this Tuesday I have been scribbling down ad ideas whenever I get a chance. Annoyingly, the ideas come to me when I’m in the shower, sat in the cinema or just as I’m about to fall asleep, and for some reason never seem as good when I come to write them out a few hours later. In fact, every idea always seem so much better when it’s in my head but I’m sure that’s the curse for all creatives, even when you’ve been in the industry for a while.
This got me thinking about how good branding, slogans and advertising could be inside the creative’s head that never actually get fully realised, or if an excellent producer will be able to capture these original thoughts from the badly organised, scrappy bit of scribbled paper and create the same original masterpiece. As I looked through the D&AD Student Awards results last night, two responses in particular caught my eye (although I suppose as an aspiring copywriter I’m a tad biased): the copywriting entry brief.
First of all, the winning entry which sells the D&AD Copy Book with its simple, but oh-so-clever title: “Great Copy in it. Not so great copy selling it.” In other words, it expresses the idea that any title or cover for the book will not be able to do justice to the brilliance of the copy inside it, and doesn’t even want to try. Combine this excellent basic premise with a uncomplicated and universally loved black text on white background and you’ve got yourself a winner. Ironically, by winning the copywriting brief, it seems that the “not so great copy” is great after all.
The other entry that caught my eye was the idea that “It takes work to make it work” with universally, well-known slogans such as McDonald’s’ “I’m Lovin’ It” changed to “I am currently experiencing a strong positive emotion of affection.” It’s witty, it’s clever and it somehow encompasses the nightmare of writing copy without having to explicitly say it, even as it mocks the very process. When I originally saw the copywriting brief however many months ago, this idea of the amount of work that goes into every piece of copy we see was at the top of my list as an insight and premise and it seems it paid off for these students. Congrats to all the winners – I’m definitely going to work on the awards next years when I’m not bogged down with so much uni work!
Right now, I’m working on revising the VUE cinema advertising for their £1 teenage Friday and Saturday night offer. Every time I go to the cinema (which is becoming more and more frequent in my post-exam state) I see this ad and it makes me cringe every time. Obviously, their target market is teenagers and they know it very well, but they seem to have gone no further than identifying them rather than actually aiming it at them. Even if the offer was aimed at everyone, no self-respecting adult would find this advert appealing, amusing or experience any other positive emotion towards it. It’s plain cringey. And since when did cringey, patronising advertising have a positive response in a teenage market either? As if teenagers are excited by a cheesy voice-over, magic and an overly-excited male model…
So I’m reworking it. Just for fun. And for the interview on Tuesday. It seems to me that a lot of advertising makes the mistake these days of getting too caught up in knowing their market. It’s not just about knowing it, it’s about understanding it. And there’s a big difference. Instead of focusing on the cheap price and magic of all things, I’m trying to emphasise the social side of a cinema trip with mates. Really, the cheap weekend tickets are hiding a social agenda to get teenagers away from under-age drinking and hanging out on the streets, but in order to effectively do this the cheap cinema deal needs to be competing on a comparable level. That means being able to spend time with friends and have a laugh; instead of Admit One for a £1, teenagers should be able to “buy a round” for their mates, all for less than a fiver. Objectively, I think anyone would agree (hopefully interviewers and creative directors included) that this is a much better idea, which taps into and more importantly understands the target market.
Starting to get simultaneously scared and excited about the interview on Tuesday. Wish me luck!
May 26, 2011 § 3 Comments
So that’s it – the end of my degree and 16 years of education! For my final ever exam, it was a little anti-climatic because it seemed so unlike every other exam I’ve taken in the past 5 years or so; I even used a calculator! A part of me was wishing that I’d finished last Friday like most of the other English Lit. 3rd years but after having one of the best days yesterday, I’m officially glad that I didn’t. After all, what better way to end your degree than a lovely lunch, bottle of wine and slightly drunken but successful shoe shopping AND then come home to find an invitation to interview sitting in your inbox!
That’s right, folks – I got through to the 1st interview stage of the IPA Summer School to get a 5 week creative placement at a top London ad agency. I am so excited!! To be honest, it felt like I emailed over my application aaaages ago what with how much I’ve fit into the last 6 weeks, so I’d kind of given up hope on it and was awaiting the generic rejection email to find its way to me. In fact, when I saw the message in my email, I was so convinced that it would be another rejection that I completely overlooked the massive “Congratulations!” of the 1st line in my attempt to scan through and read the oh-so-familiar words of “Unfortunately, this time….”
So I’m pretty happy right now! I guess this just officially cements even more that copywriting – and more generally, the creative side of advertising – is what I’m supposed to be doing. My interviewers at DDB last October seemed to think Iwould fit more in the creative side because the majority of my marketing experience is creative-based. I just love coming up with ideas and concepts and that feeling of massive success when you discover (although, “discover” makes it sound easy) the idea that just fits. The ideas that are so simple they’re brilliant are the most rewarding to figure out.
Just have to wait a few days to hear exact timings and format of the interview, but I’m already planning a shopping trip to buy some more clothes. I figure, I can wear whatever I buy for this to graduation as well so can afford (or in my case, justify) to splurge out.
At the moment, I’m trying not to think about what could happen if I actually get it, because it would just be a dream come true. Besides, if I overthink it, I will probably blow it by not being myself at the interview. For now, I’m content to second-guess what the format will be like (I’m thinking a chat and a Copy Test, as well as some group tasks maybe… but who knows) and while away all this end-of-being-a-student time with excessive amounts of internet shopping.
*Fingers crossed* that I have more days coming up that will be as good as yesterday!
May 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Two days before my exam and I am predictably procrastinating my evening away. To be fair, I have been revising from 10 til 6 and my head is so jumbled I probably needed some down-time. Besides, it’s probably the best form of procrastination around; certainly the most productive and creative. I’ve just applyed to – yep, you guessed it – another job: this time an advert for a new copywriter at Poke, which is a digital advertising agency.
The campaign for the new copywriter is inspired in itself. “Obama Stole Our Writer” tells the tale of how their newest copywriter has been snapped up by the clutches of President Obama, so they have a position to fill. Check it out here. The application involves various challenges, in which the aspiring copywriter (that’s me!) has to write in a variety of styles, tones and across imaginary media; ranging from a witty, slightly tongue-in-cheek email of apology to Poke from Mr Obama himself to a three-word slogan to let him know Poke isn’t angry about it. It’s a fresh and engaging way of ensuring copywriters can truly write to task.
I think that this last bit is particularly important these days. Back in the “golden days” of traditional advertising, anyone could go into an advertising agency and ask to take a Copy Test, which would test their thinking abilities as well as their ability to write to brief. Now, copywriters are generally expected to come in a pair with an art director with a portfolio of ready-made ideas. It’s great if these ideas have been set comercially, but completely acceptable for them to be random sketches of concepts and ideas as and when they come to you. This is great, of course, and demonstrates the passion and creativity needed in advertising but does it really engage with the commercial side and reality of advertising which works around client briefs?
Ultimately, whilst every ad (wo)man would love to get to pick and choose their briefs, working with what was new and exciting and challenging, this is hardly ever the case. It’s a rare thing to see a brand or product and be able to think “Huh, their advertising is all wrong. I can do it so much better.” and then actually get to. It’s the advertising student’s prerogative and the advertising creative’s dream. In reality, copywriters will be expected to come up with copy for all sorts of things but always to a set brief. A portfolio in which you can imagine the briefs and write accordingly can never pin down or replicate this setting so exactly.
Working on the Poke application has allowed me to get back to what I really love about advertising (similarly to the Creative application to the IPA Summer School) which is problem solving at its most brilliant. I feel like I’m really starting to pin down what it is exactly about advertising that I enjoy. I must remember to file it away for future job interview questions in which they will predicatably ask me “So… why advertising?”
Anyway back to problem solving of another kind. Just what exactly is postmodernism anyway….?