Monday, 24 May 2010

Star Stories: Luke White

Next up on the Star Stories carousel is Luke White, founder and creative partner at My Agency. We're in the process of developing even more material for young creatives so stay tuned.

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.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Off to School...

You won't be writing with crayons, that's for certain.

One of the things we often get asked in AdGrads is what people should do if they want to learn about advertising - should they do an advertising degree, or go to Watford or Falmouth? Or should they go and do a conventional degree?

There's never been one catch all answer - the danger with doing a course which is just dedicated to advertising may mean you lose out on a wider, broader experience, and only be able to 'do' conventional advertising. Also, as the communications world is changing so quickly, it's very hard to suggest a course which is always cutting edge.

By doing a straightforward University degree, it might mean you can think more laterally, and have a broader sense of learning, but isn't that practical when you first start in adland/the workplace.

All of that said - last week, I met a man called Marc Lewis, who is Dean of the School of Communication Arts. The school has been resurrected, and offers an innovative, cutting edge approach to getting people into advertising. It's based on a wiki platform, and is taught by real practioneers in the communications business.

It aims to overcome the barriers to those who'd like a career in the ad business, but find the economic or geographic barriers too high to overcome (after all - not all of us live in the South East, or have wealthy parents who can help out in the first year of trying).

For those of you already in industry who would like to help out - there's also the option to join the school as a Mentor. Follow these links. I'm signing up.

I'll let Marc explain:

How would you design the perfect advertising school?

When the late, great John Gillard established School of Communication Arts in the 1980s, his vision was to provide the antithesis to a university education. (He used to call one such university ‘The Royal College of Hobbies’)

School of Communication Arts reopens this September and is inviting aspiring creatives to apply for the course. The school is unique for several reasons, not least for the fact that it puts such a focus on its students’ careers. The curriculum feels more like an apprenticeship than formal education. Work placements are promised for every student, so long as they pass all units of the curriculum leading up to the work placement. There is even a unit in the curriculum called ‘Getting your first promotion’.

The curriculum is unique because it has been written by the advertising industry, not by academics. This approach guarantees that the next generation of creative talent learn and master the skills that are needed by employers. The school’s principal, Richard Adams, curates the curriculum online using a wiki platform so that anyone connected to the industry can suggest content. The result is a qualification supported by the industry and accredited by University of the Arts London Awarding Body.

Those industry professionals that have helped build the curriculum then go on to deliver it by spending time at the school in the capacity as ‘mentors’. School of Communication Arts has recruited an impressive network of hundreds of mentors, hailing from advertising, film, fashion, music, technology and gaming industries. Up to six mentors hang out in the school every day, so that they can provide advice and support to learners.

There are no classrooms at the school. In fact School of Communication Arts looks more like an advertising agency than a place of study. “People learn better when they apply newly acquired skills and theories to real and relevant problems,” says its Dean, Marc Lewis. “That’s one of the reasons why we get our cohort working on real briefs and winning real pitches in an environment that simulates adlands finest creative departments.”

Predictably, the school prepares its students for creative careers in advertising, either as copywriters or art directors. Quite unpredictably, the school offers a third career choice – ideapreneur. Learners following the ideapreneur pathway receive investment to help start a business whilst at the school and support to help grow it. Advertising agencies stump up the cash, hoping to own a small stake in the next YouTube or Facebook.

If you are looking to kick-start your creative career then apply now to join the school this September.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Star Stories: Tony Malcolm

The next in our line of Star Stories features Tony Malcolm, a CD at Leo Burnett in the UK.

I’d like to give some sort of philosophical answer like Leo Burnett himself saying ‘I didn’t get into the business, the business got into me’. But I’m sure nobody will quote me on saying it was by accident.

I was thrown out of the Hounslow Manor School after only excelling at English, Art, Sport and smoking. My mum encouraged me to do a Graphic Arts course at the local college, which at the time was Hounslow Borough College. I took a portfolio of the still life drawings I’d done to pass my O level and they saw enough potential to give me the last remaining place on the course. On the three year course, I managed to scrape through with a diploma thanks mainly to an inspired alphabet I designed made of illustrated hands. I did however manage a more respectable higher diploma for my advertising work. Thankfully, in the second year of the course, advertising was added to the curriculum.

It introduced us to the D&AD Students Course where we would go out on a Thursday evening and meet some of the top creatives in advertising, setting us briefs, reviewing our work and showing us their swanky offices. They’d even give us free beer and crisps and that for me was the clincher. Back in the eighties Collett, Dickenson Pearce was at the height of its powers, producing stunning campaigns for Hamlet, Fiat, Parker Pens, Heineken, Clark’s Shoes, Barclaycard, Cinzano, Stella Artois, B&H, Hovis and Wall’s.

I admired the wit and the cleverness of what they were doing.

I started putting effort into what I was doing, studying D&AD Annuals, listening to the wisdom of those who were Copywriters and Art Directors for a living. I teamed up with my first art director. We’d been to one D&AD Students evening at a new agency called Gold Greenlees Trott. Dave Trott was a legend amongst the student fraternity for his no nonsense approach to advertising. We plucked up the courage to ring him and take our work in to show him.

He took our call, but said ‘if you want to come and see me, do thirty campaigns in two weeks’. He encouraged us to look for bad ads for good products in press publications and said we would find the brief buried in the copy points. So we scanned dozens of magazines, tearing out ad after ad. We did the required amount of ads in the specified time and were duly granted an audience with the great man. Trotty looked through all 90 ads pulling out the ones he liked and throwing out the ones he didn’t and at the end of the process, told us to photocopy all those that had made the grade, put them In a pack and mail them to the following people at the following agencies saying he recommended us. We wrote a letter saying what we had done and stapled it to the little booklet of A4 ads.

It certainly worked for us. We got very excited when we received a call from Saatchi and Saatchi.We went in the following day to see John Bacon and after verifying our story with Trotty he offered us a job. Just like that. I phoned my mum and dad. They had heard of Saatchi and Saatchi from the famous Conservative campaign and like me, were delighted. Especially my dad who thought the word ‘Labour’ could have been permanently replaced with ‘Tony’ in the ‘Labour isn’t Working’ poster.

Since those days I have worked at many of the best advertising agencies in London, including being Creative Director of CDP, Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson, TBWA, and running my own agency Malcolm Moore Deakin Blazye.

Nearing my third decade in the business, I’m still working as hard as I did in those early days to ensure the quality of work at Leo Burnett lives up to the high standards engrained in me back then. As with Leo himself, the business got into me, and what started as an accident turned out to be a very happy one.