Creative Focus: Creatively upping the ante

By Candide McDonald | 16 November 2015
Alec Brownstein landed himself a job the creative way.

This article first appeared in AdNews in print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine to get it first.

Advertising creatives get Pencils, Lions, trophies, Cubes and huge salary packages for getting brave ideas out into the world. But do those same brave ideas get them jobs? Candide McDonald asks the ECDs.

In 2010, Alec Brownstein wanted a creative job in a top agency. He figured that if you’re the creative director of an ad agency, you’re going to Google your own name every now and again.

So, he bought a set of Google ads. When David Droga, Tony Granger, Gerry Graf, Ian Reichenthal and Scott Vitrone Googled themselves, the message right at the top was from Alec, asking to be hired.

He won interviews with Droga, Graf, Reichenthal and Vitrone. And ultimately, a job at Y&R New York. A few weeks ago, a young would-be copywriter created an alter ego, The Dolphinator, a website called Feed My Jobsession, and a demand note: “It’s dinner time. Let me know when’s the perfect moment. Suit up and don’t be late please.”

Not all of the 15 skills and attributes the would-be copywriter claims to possess were demonstrated in his effort. But grit, guts and gumption were. So was effort.

Brownstein’s creative job application succeeded. The Dolphinator’s didn’t. What do creative hirers
(and firers) want? If you want to work in the agency whose mantra is, brutal simplicity of thought, the guidelines are brutally simple.

Bart Pawlak
Executive creative director

‘Here’s a link to my work.’ This is still, by far, my favourite part of a job application. It’s become a bit of an advertising cliché, but I’m a sucker for the work speaking for itself. It’s an approach that may not make it into advertising folklore. But, I for one don’t need to hear another story about the lengths someone went to, to land his or her first gig. It feels like these stories are celebrated by a part of the business that, above all, loves gazing at itself in the mirror.

I’m more interested in how people apply their creativity to solve real business problems in unexpected ways that instantly portray their intelligence and a bona fide talent for art or copy, or both.  For me, proof of creativity within constraints is far more attractive and, ultimately, far more employable. It’ll not only get you in the door, but keep you there.

It shouldn’t matter if you’ve never worked in an agency, either. If you’re approaching an advertising creative department, it stands to reason that you’ve practised applying your creativity to, as the name suggests, advertising. Don’t get me wrong, charcoal etchings or the odd soliloquy are cool too, but only as garnish.

Proof that you don’t spend all of your free time leafing through annuals or commenting on industry blogs, for me, is always a huge relief. Use humility with reckless abandon, though. These days, it’s rarer than talent.

Rob Potts
Executive creative director
Saatchi & Saatchi London

You’re a young advertising student with a book. A great book. An amazing book. Let’s not be coy: you’re The Advertising Student with The Book and you cannot rest until advertising’s greatest creative minds see it.

We’ve all been there and faced two choices when trying to get Don Draper to see our work. Either beg a PA for an audience sometime within the next six months, or get creative. Personally, I prefer to let a book do the talking. A good book stands out and ECDs get to be ECDs because they can spot them. No gimmick required.

But, if creative, creative job applications are your thing, then here’s what I think works. And sucks. Based on personal experience: Be helpful. Hire a limo, drive to Cannes, wear a white uniform and offer ECDs a lift from the airport in return for a book crit. Be funny. Lovingly design a map, call it ‘Advertising Land’ and send ECDs weekly updates of your atest adventures in it showcasing your work. Be clever. Ben Wheatley bought the domain name for and posted his films up on it. We saw it and gave him Pot Noodle as his first ad to direct.

And, in no particular order: Do not send ECDs food in the post. Food goes off. Do not send ECDs a ‘box of weird’ that’s full of weird stuff because it’s just weird. Do not send ECDs tombstones with “Advertising hasn’t died,” etched into them because ECDs know advertising hasn’t died. We read AdNews.”

Simon Langley
Executive creative director
J. Walter Thompson

The sad truth is I can’t remember the last ‘creative’ job application I received. I mean truly creative. I’m amazed at how little effort aspiring creatives put in. Most of the applications I receive are rambling emails talking about how creative they are, with a link to their portfolio at the bottom. Sorry, but that’s unlikely to get my attention or make me want to buy.

Now, I don’t know what other ECDs are like with their emails, but I’m a shocker. I currently have 10,896 items in my inbox, and 2,535 unread, and they are all from people I don’t know. That’s tough competition for a creative shopping their book and CV. I was there once, so I honestly try to respond to as many as humanly possible, but the reality is, it needs to cut through the craziness of the day, and make me want to carve out some time to meet up.

You’re looking for a job as an ideas person, so here’s a thought - spend some time coming up with a great idea for your application! It’s not rocket science, and if it shows original thinking, and your book does too, chances are the ECD will make time to meet you. It is, after all, what you’ll be asked to do all day, every day for the rest of your career.

I remember seeing that job application from Alec Brownstein when it was doing the rounds on email. I thought it was brilliant. It was one of those smart, simple, original ideas that you would have felt obliged to respond to. And some of the top creative people in the world did.

Lyndon Hale
Executive creative director

I’m an advocate of the creative job application. Surprisingly for our industry, I see very few ‘creative’ applications coming through, and even rarer are examples as creative as Brownstein’s, which I think is a shame. I wish more people did them.

I suppose fear is the great inhibitor. Fear of being judged on that one creative expression alone, fear of appearing overeager, or perhaps just the standard fear of rejection, which if we are honest, we are highly likely to experience at some point anyway.

I myself have fallen foul of this fear many times. In what feels to be an ever-shrinking industry, the job opportunities are slimming out, increasing the pressure on candidates to get their introduction right.

Rather than risk a potentially alienating creative approach, we plonk for a simple and straightforward CV. We hope just to get through to the point of personal interview where we can go into overdrive spruiking our creative prowess. But, this flies in the face of the very same advice we give to our clients who are in tight markets themselves.

When it’s not us, we seem more than willing to vigorously push our clients towards bravery for the sake of cut-through. Shouldn’t we apply the same logic to ourselves, and the way we approach our career path?

At Orchard, we have recently taken on a head of art, Darren Seddon, who prefaced his CV with an idea. This, without doubt, set the tone of our working relationship and elevated the importance of ideas in everything we do.

Andrew Crocker
Executive creative director

I’m all for creative job applications. Something out of the norm differentiates one person from the next. Good ideas are good ideas. And sometimes a junior trying to get into an agency with a portfolio of spec work needs to do something out of the usual to get noticed.

As a creative moves up the food chain, creative job applications probably aren’t ideal. Hopefully his or her work speaks for itself. Given our size, we tend to just get emails with a link to a portfolio. Not necessarily creative, though some emails are quite witty, and some portfolios have a sweet UX.

Then, it’s all down to the work in the portfolio. I do try to look at them all and the ones I like I’ll get in contact with. If you’re going to put together a creative job application, you’d better make sure it gets noticed for the right reasons. Knowing that big time creative directors Google their name on a regular basis and targeting them when they do is great. Holding someone to ransom, not so much.

Ben Welsh
Creative chairman Asia
M&C Saatchi

Show your hunger and talent.
And don’t be an arsehole.


Candide McDonald also heads creative news site

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