Creative Insights: Innocean's Laura Parker on creative 101; downtime

By Ruby Derrick | 5 April 2024

Creative Insights is an AdNews series investigating and uncovering the secrets of the creative side of advertising.

Innocean senior copywriter Laura Parker:

How did you fall into the industry? Was it deliberate or a misstep?

From an early age, I knew I could write. My short stories at primary school gave me an abundance of gold stars, and old notebooks are full of silly poems and tall tales about where scotch eggs and woolly jumpers got their names. I realised early on that I had some sort of knack for the written word but I had no idea it could take me anywhere. Let’s be honest, I thought I was going to be headlining with the Spice Girls, not a headline writer.

I landed at university studying what I enjoyed; English and Classics. I still had no idea where it was going to take me. Everyone was pointing me in the direction of becoming a school teacher, but I prayed that wasn’t my fate. I wrote for the uni newspaper and took a handful of unpaid internships. I worked as a writer for a travel company, turning boring prose into compelling reasons to book Alcatraz tours and tickets to the Moulin Rouge. From there I was nearly shipped off to India to continue my writing alongside a part-time gig as a call-centre assistant. It felt like a red flag, and I turned it down.

Staying in England I dabbled in PR, journalism and unemployment. Based in London, free labour landed me in dire financial straits and a friend’s mum took me under her wing. She was a copywriter. And I got lucky. She offered me my first gig as a paid intern. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. Not only of shop-bought lunches but of creative departments brimming with quirky personalities and brilliant brains. They launched a graduate program while I was at the agency; and after passing their copy test (showing my age), the rest, as they say, was history.

What’s your secret sauce for commercial creativity?

It’s not a very saucy secret. In fact, I think it’s more creative 101; downtime. I have never felt less creative than when I’m in a brainstorm being ogled by account managers who expect an impromptu Cannes-Lion-worthy one-liner in 30 minutes. And I’m sure 99% of creatives would agree. Commercial creativity wasn’t born at a desk. So hallelujah flexible working, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to creative departments. It’s the afternoon dog walk, impromptu chat with a barista or toilet brain fart that puts good ideas on a page. But it’s also the Netflix marathons, book binges, endless doom scrolling and TikTokking too. This is the stuff that seeps into our subconscious and gives our imagination fresh fodder and fat to chew. It’s discovering new art direction in a gritty teen drama or an archaic idiom that, with a minor tweak, makes the perfect 21st-century headline. There’s opportunity everywhere, we just have to soak it in. So excuse me while I renew yet another TV subscription service. I have important work to do…

What’s the biggest hurdle now for creatives?

Since becoming a mum, I’ve entered a new race riddled with all sorts of baby-shaped hurdles. So this answer talks to creative parents. Because the juggle between two full-time roles really is a struggle. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this isn’t easy. I’ve been welcomed into a secret society of understanding and sympathy by other parents, but the balancing act still feels taboo. There’s such pressure on parents to make it look easy, and to be frank, it’s just not. So I’m making it my mission to be an honest and unapologetic working parent. It’s a reality that shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy. And the more normalised it becomes, the more the invisible load is lifted off new parents when baby-shaped curve balls are thrown their way.

Do you wear the black t-shirt uniform or are you a nonconformist?

As a new mum, my current wardrobe largely consists of stretchy pants and bolognese-stained tops. So yes, black is my colour. It’s the ultimate baby-proofing tactic as I dodge the barrage of morning porridge splats and raspberry grenades.

Can commercial creativity only take place in a room full of people in black T-shirts?

If they are also mums hiding a multitude of stains on their black t-shirts, then absolutely, yes. If we’re talking the boys’ club uniform of old, then we’re in trouble.

We’re an industry that loves hiring people ‘like us’. We look for ‘good fits’ and ‘cultural matches’, when in fact, we need the opposite. Of course, hire nice people, no one wants to work with an arsehole, but managers go wrong when they look for themselves in their hires. We need diversity to make sure the job we’re doing is right. And a room full of black tees is only ok, if the people wearing them are all different from one another.

What was the latest campaign that you worked on that you really enjoyed?

The Australian Marine Conservation Society landed on Innocean’s shores with a limited budget to help save the world’s oceans. No biggie. It not only helped that they were the nicest clients I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, but that it flicked my moral compass in the right direction as the campaign was for a legitimately important and good cause.

What started as a sea shanty written (and hopelessly sung) by yours truly, ended up as an ARIA-winning song fronted by Aussie icon John Williamson. It was a campaign of many twists and turns. And no one thought by the end of it, we’d have a pointy silver award on the shelf as well as a Penguin children’s book.

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