My story is I hope an encouragement to all those of you who don’t get your first job in London’s sexiest agency and end up doing things the hard way. I have to say I have had a lot of luck, but I’ve also worked very hard and made some bold decisions which have all worked out well for me.
From the age of about 14 or 15 I wanted to be a creative director in an advertising agency, make TV ads, travel the world and make a shed load of cash. As it turned out it would take me over ten years in all kinds of agencies to achieve it.
I left school at 16 and went to Croydon Art School where I did a two-year foundation course and my A levels. Having failed to get into Manchester uni to do their advertising course (due to my lack of a portfolio with any ads in it!) I then went to Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham where I did a three-year degree in Information Graphics. Before I left college I was offered a job in house in a Swedish designer furniture company called Intercraft. I’ve always believed it is better to look for your perfect job from a job and although this was far short of working at Saatchi of CDP, the job appealed to me because I would work alongside an expat Australian designer called Jim Cook, creating all the company’s communications across a wide spectrum of media. We wrote and art directed the ads, designed and illustrated the brochures and leaflets, designed exhibition stands and presentations and even shot and edited promotional videos. It was to be the perfect introduction to integrated thinking in the days before integration even existed. I worked long hours and spent my spare time working on my portfolio to get myself into an ad agency. To be honest it was no easier then than it is now and to some extent it think big agencies were far more up themselves in those days than they are now.
My next job was designing brochures for a very small agency that specialised in the travel industry, followed by another job designing theatre posters for Mentor advertising, an agency that specialised in the entertainment industry. In both of these agencies the ability to turn your hand to pretty much anything was a bonus and good fun. This ability to switch from one discipline to another has definitely been the theme of my career and informed my thinking when I set up My Agency in 2004.
I’d now been working in design and advertising for small agencies for nearly 4 years and was going to have to take a big drop in salary to start again as a junior art director in a purely above the line agency. I am lucky that I was born in Australia and have dual nationality, so in 1987 I decided to go travelling and see if my London experience would be an advantage in making the jump into above the line advertising in Australia. It was without a doubt the best decision I ever made.
Within a few weeks of doing the rounds I landed a job at Sudler and Hennessey in Sydney working as the Art director to the agency’s American creative director, Bob Lallamant. S&H were at that time the world’s most awarded healthcare agency and did a mix of above and below the line work. In my first year there I made 18 TV ads and won my first national and international awards, I was off to the races in a way I could only imagine stuck in London. After 3 years at S&H, I joined FCB in Sydney where I spent a year purely doing pitches and winning the agency $90 million in new business. Although this was a huge achievement it was not a great year for me, as I didn’t get much actual finished work for my own portfolio. I think most good creative people work for themselves and use the agency as a tool to getting a better portfolio and thus a better job. Having done the pitches did mean I had a good relationship with the agencies top management and I managed to get transferred back to FCB in London where I spent the next 3 years until I got fired by Alan Midgely, (I think for always having an opinion that never matched his).
I freelanced for a couple of months and then got two weeks freelance at McCann Erickson. It turned into a ten year stint where in the space of five years I went from middleweight art director to executive creative director. I had a ball, creating some great advertising for Bacardi, Nescafe, Motorola, Coke and MasterCard. But it was on the ‘Tomcat’ campaign for Bacardi Breezer, that all my past integrated experience came together to point the way to the next leg of my career. It was a brilliant experience where all the pieces in the marketing mix worked together seamlessly and the buzz aspects of the campaign, PR, experiential and sponsorship became more interesting to me than just creating the ads.
In 2004 I left McCann’s to set up My Agency and fulfil a long held ambition to be my own boss and to create an integrated communications and brand creation agency, but that’s another story.
I think today that young creatives trying to break into the industry do so at both a frustrating, but also very exciting time. It’s tough out there, but it has been as long as I’ve been working. I think most of the young teams I see are smart and switched on in a way their predecessors aren’t. Those in the industry still earning large creative salaries with skills that are primarily creating above the line ad campaigns are under threat like never before. The new blood with talent, ambition, open mindedness and a real understanding of ‘new media’ will eventually find themselves a job and get their first foot on the ladder, not just because they are cheaper, but also because they get it. Agencies like mine are ready to give them a go for a start.
Don't be put off if you don't land your dream job straight off. Just get in, get going and start showing the world what you can do.