"...It resulted in our peers around us at the time, and our ECD's being like…wow, these guys are seriously hungry and doing stuff outside of their day job which is really creative work too."
What inspired you to follow this career path?
It was a little bit of a mixture of completely by accident, and because my brother works in something similar (he’s a designer). I always loved things visual and it’s fair to say I was never the most typically ‘academic’ child for your standard school type subjects or careers.
I never really knew what I wanted to do post school though, to tell the truth. Things after College just happened to fall into place for me and I ended up studying something I really enjoyed, and it’s now my career.
What was your experience of getting into the industry?
A grind, it was pretty tough going right at the start! Coming out of university of a class of 60 other creative teams/singles (it was a huge year for some reason the year I graduated), then on top of that all the other university students graduating and all heading to London to try get into creative roles.
Myself and my creative partner at the time spent 14 months on various placements, and it just never happened, money wasn't there to hire or it was just a ‘placement scheme’ so never was intention to hire. We found our friends getting hired all around us, which was difficult to keep motivated seeing that. But we persisted and it paid off after a bit of a long slog!
What were some big opportunities that shaped your career?
A really typical answer, but just really working hard and fighting for briefs and to get work through. We would go again, and again and steal briefs, ask questions and listen to talented people and (now friends) creatives around us.
I think one thing which particularly helped was a side project myself and my creative partner at the time did called 'Meme movie posters', it went mad when social media was just coming into play. It was all over Twitter, made it onto CBS news and then Campaign picked it up and interviewed us about it, it was surreal to be honest! But it resulted in our peers around us at the time, and our ECD's being like…wow, these guys are seriously hungry and doing stuff outside of their day job which is really creative work too.
What challenges did you face?
Fighting against hundreds of other students when graduating, not to mention the creatives already in the industry wanting the same briefs or wanting to move agency etc. You're constantly up against so many others to get either THAT job or to get hold of the best briefs in the agency.
Also time, finding time of the ECD's/CD's/Seniors to see you, feedback on what you can do to be better, ultimately they're the ones giving out placements and jobs, and now knowing how they feel time-wise, it's difficult and they're not just being a** holes by ignoring you, they are missing emails because of all the client and agency stuff they're dealing with on a day to day basis.
Have you ever had to make a difficult career choice?
Quite a few. First was me and my creative partner joining an agency we knew was just not right at the time, but we just thought we would give it a shot. 3 months in and we hated it. Being still relatively young creatives, you have no idea what the process is of leaving. So, we jumped on Google, obvz, and wrote our resignation letter. Our CD at the time came in to review some work and at the end we said..”Ummm, we need to give you something” and handed over a nicely packaged envelope with our resignation inside. We left 2 weeks later!!!
But perhaps my most difficult decision was leaving my creative partner. After spending 7 years with him in London, plus the 3 years at uni together, we're best mates, spending up to 15 hours a day together for 10 years, and weekends..but I wanted to leave London and knew he didn't have the same plan. So telling him I was going and that we wouldn't be working together absolutely sucked, and still does. Some of my best creative years were spent with one of my best pals, having a laugh and making creative work. That’s a dream, right?
Looking back, what opportunities do you wish you had when starting out?
More exposure to agencies, but I can’t be too harsh there because we did well. Some quit pretty quick because they just couldn't get in. And that's a little bit of luck, but also you do have to be hungry…..and good, and that's not me being big headed.
You have to have something as a creative (art director/copy/team) that make you different from the 10000000 others looking for that placement. The more time in front of CD's and ECD's you're inspired by, the better and that's the thing that is most difficult to get.
If you could give one piece of advice to your former self, what would it be?
Don't beat yourself up, you're doing just fine. We can't all be on top of our game every single day, we have good and bad days. But mostly, be thankful for working in an industry and a role that you (mostly) love...or will love if we are talking future tense here. Not many people get that luxury, enjoy it.
Any other insights to add?
Listen, learn, be inspired, ask questions, fill your head with STUFF. Be it films and TV, books, galleries, artwork, walks, be outdoors, be indoors. Our ideas come from the world around us...so use it, explore it, engage with it.
Look up, not at your screen!
Neil Ritson, Senior Creative, Dentsu Creative