Advertising student Tom Lee on what it takes to get through creative placements.
I’ve never been a fan of offices. Everything’s had its colour muted, dwelling on the white to grey scale. The office mugs are the only concession. I always opted for the gaudiest mug. I needed a splodge of lurid green, pink or purple less than two feet away at all times. I would jitter along the white to grey scale at varying degrees of caffeination.
Then I quit to become an ad student. Now I have thumbtacks and walls where my screen used to be. My Excel sheets were banished forever by fountains of crumpled paper and throwaway ideas. My instant coffee jitters gave way to Sharpie vapour head spins. Now my desk is in Costa.
But something else changed. Now that I’ve emerged from my secluded office corner everything I do passes under the dogged gaze of other people. For me as a yet-to-be-made spinster looking for my first bit of permanent desk space, every day is a pitch and I’m the product.
In my tour of self-promotion I’ve traipsed self-consciously with my packed lunch through every size of agency, blagged my way into boardrooms, agonised over live briefs and had my book dissected by creative directors.
And I’ve seen that the bogeymen of advertising are living, breathing realities.
The hours are famously long. I’ve worked harder this year than in my other 24 combined. Most days I’ll peel myself out of bed at six thirty and collapse into the same position around midnight. Ad dreams are also definitely a thing.
Criticism, though purposeful, is ubiquitous and persistent. There’s no place for the precious or the fragile. It’s easy to be excessively self-critical. You could treat every piece of advice as gospel. You could think an idea to death and yourself to exhaustion based on advice you don’t fully understand. But then someone else will come and say something completely different and you’ll be forced to think again. You will be simultaneously criticised and praised by two people who share a desk. This can happen more than once in a day.
Schedules are shambolic, deadlines change. Creatives’ work is at the disposal of creative directors, account people, planners and clients. One project is the convergence of dozens of people’s expectations. You’ll be tricked into thinking you have the luxury of time only to have a message pop up saying the deadline’s now in forty minutes. The usual workplace mind set of turn up on time, answer your emails, fill your quotas, leave doesn’t apply in adland.
But at no point has any of this resembled office life. And for that I couldn’t be happier.
Every agency comes with an inbuilt sense of fun. If being a creative wasn’t inherently fun it would be much easier to be employed as one.
There’s always a bar and a foosball table, photographs lining walls of pets and errant childhood moments, a deep house playlist and large scale prints of meerkats or Sylvester Stallone delivering bread.
You’re here to regress back to kindergarten, when right and wrong were vague concepts and everyone doodled on paper. But only the hardiest, most lateral, strategic kindergarteners get given jobs. It calls for equilibrium between the discipline of other jobs with the expression of your earliest finger paintings.
Fun is mandatory. If the process isn’t fun your ideas will have the imaginative depth of a refried bean wrap from the Costa you’ve spent the last four hours in.
Fun leads to good ideas. Good ideas take hard work. If you get the fun bit right the work bit will follow. And the bogeymen will become spirits that guide you adeptly, albeit forcefully, through each day.
Keep smiling as idea after idea is relegated to the bin never to be seen again. Take risks and say ‘yes’ to everything with confident stupidity. Laugh maniacally if you have to. Fun’s the only thing there ever really is to lose.
Tom Lee is studying advertising at West Hers College, Watford. Check out some of his work here.