There are a few ways you can get into advertising.
You know someone.
You know someone who knows someone.
You do the advertising course, internship, internship, patch together a portfolio and interview everywhere until you get a job.
Or you don’t do any of that and you have a bunch of transferable skills and enough flair and talent to develop into a copywriter.
I did French and Japanese in college. I said to myself I could figuratively and literally get any job in the world doing languages. Why specialise in something at 18 and then realise 10 years down the line it is not as impressive as it sounded? You could end up resenting every day in your cubicle where the most fun you have is colour coding your excel spreadsheet. No thank you, sir.
After I graduated I’d planned to live the idyllic Mediterranean life. I’d spent some of my year abroad in Marseille where the pace of life is ruled by the mantra ‘In the morning, slowly. In the afternoon, not too quickly’. It resonated, loudly. I got my place teaching English as a foreign language in a tiny village on the coast of the south of France. I saw myself moving from place to place throughout Europe and living a thousand lives. But it was right at these crossroads that I fell in love for the first time with someone on Twitter. The heart overruled the head, and with that, I moved across the water from England. Fresh off the boat I got my first job here as a cheesemonger. I’m here to convince you that anyone and everyone can do advertising, but if you ever see a poster for a job at a cheesemongers, don’t even hesitate to take the job. I’d care for over 100 types of cheese and charcuterie like they were my children. Unwrapping them each morning, bragging about which ones were the shining stars of the moment, then tucking them into bed every night. I’d curate cheese and meat platters, pair them with wines, meals, and dinner parties. This was the life, constantly tasting the finest, most expensive artisan goods throughout the seasons from around the world. If you wanted my cheeseboard, you’d get Taleggio Rosso, Ossau Iraty, Epoisses, Aged Dutch Goat Gouda, Persillé de Rambouillet. The notions of it all. But there is only so much cheese you can eat, and finally the gods said, ‘You’ve had enough,’ and I became lactose intolerant (not that it would ever stop me).
“Enough playing around!” I said. I wanted to do something more ‘creative’ with my brain. Something challenging. And I wanted a salary. So, at the ripe old age of 24 I applied to be an intern at an innovation agency. This place was like the marines. There I was, the extroverted introvert try hard, baptised in corporate fire. In the war room we learned how to do everything: brand strategy, planning and positioning, debriefs, presentations, client workshops. Out on the front lines we’d host immersions, quant and qual research around the world trying to understand the real reason people bought anything, learning the invaluable street smarts of being a marketeer. No one could buy what I learned there, and I’m all the better for it. Truly the most valuable thing I learned was understanding human insight. The real reason why people buy things. And when it comes to creating ideas in advertising, basing it off a real human want or a need is the most powerful way to get someone to buy your product.
Wanting to write more, I ended up becoming the resident trends forecaster. I took a monthly prescription of the red pill and plugged myself into the mainframe, researching microtrends that would push and pull culture to novel places and in turn craft stories about a future world that exists only on the horizon. Sure there’d be days where I’d feel like Cassandra, fated to utter true prophecies but never to be believed, intimidated by the upper echelons who understand how big business works. But never underestimate the value that understanding the zeitgeist brings. Youth is a currency that anyone worth their salt would crash an entire economy to get their hands on. Your point of view is important.
The role saw me travelling to conventions across Europe to find out the latest and greatest new products that would help our clients create the next big thing in our pièce de resistance service offering – the innovation workshop.
We generated concepts for new products that brands could sell. Who knew one day I’d be on holiday with a group of people I didn’t know and be told they’d heard of me – the guy that had brought the deep fried cheese filled mouth explosion jalapeño popper to Ireland. Technically all I’d done was encourage a company to start distributing them to chippers, but the story is more true than real so that’s how it stays told. However, devising concepts was only a small part of the job, and my 90 wpm fingers wanted to write scripts, jokes, sketches, wordplay, puns, synonyms.
I’d been told by a mentor that you should only consider leaving a job once you’ve learned everything you can. And while it’s pays well to remember you’ll never truly stop learning, my gut told me I was about to plateau and needed to base jump off a new creative cliff.
Enter stage left, my improv comedy life. You get up on stage and make up comedy sketches based on a single word suggestion for half an hour. Simple. Terrifying. Thrilling.
When improv comedy is good, all you’re doing is holding up a mirror to the audience. They see themselves in what you’re performing, and it’s most entertaining when it is true to life. It only became apparent after the fact that good advertising follows the same rule.
What’s more, we can all hold court with those classic stories we’ve recounted endless times, knowing every beat, every pause for laughter. But who knew just how much improv would help me in the real, working world? Giving presentations in front of senior board members is now the least taxing part of the job.
It goes beyond giving a good presentation. It offers real life lessons too. It teaches you to fail hard, listen better and be present. You learn that everyone can bring something to the table. You learn to leave your ego at the door because you don’t know better than anyone else. You’re able to generate entirely new ideas by making connections you’d have never thought of before. You don’t take yourself seriously. And most importantly, you learn to commit to the bit.
That’s when I decided I could give copywriting a shot. I had the experience with clients and welcoming people to my Ted Talk. I could generate concepts and ideas, but I wanted them to live outside a PowerPoint document. I wanted to write ream after ream after ream. But having been poisoned by the luxury chalice as a foodie cheesemonger, I couldn’t be the starving artist of a comedy writer, as much as I’d have fit the aesthetic.
So I took part in Upstarts, an incredible and intensive programme run by ICAD. You win a place by completing a challenging brief, and from there you’re assigned a mentor who helps you push your work on the 6 weekly briefs assigned by 6 different agencies. I was 28 at the time, one of the oldest by a century, completing all the assignments in the 5-9 and at the weekend. This all culminated in a portfolio exhibition, where the creative directors from Irish agencies go and beartrap the next generation of talent, perfectly poachable and served on sourdough with a side of creative prestige. I was finally equipped to get into advertising. I’d worked so hard. I was so close. The match was sparked to light the cigar.
And then it happened. I found a job opening here at Javelin. Throughout the whole experience up to this point, every creative I’d spoken to tells you to stand out. How is your point of view different from everyone else vying for the job? Aesthetic taste is one thing but these folks will immediately clock that you’ve no knickers on underneath the fur coat. It’s imperative that you can show the substance of your thinking. You can create the most beautiful ad campaign for lemons, but if you’re selling oranges what good is that?
Something to note – be creative with everything except the email headline, otherwise it looks like you’re spamming a life coaching pyramid scheme (and my first email went into the junk folder because of it).
My portfolio didn’t have any high end IMAX 4D surround sound cinematic ads – that’s impossible. It just needed to show that I had good ideas and could think sharp. But mainly, and most importantly, I had spent the last 10 years with my fingers in every single pie I could get them into. Upskilling yourself in as many things as you can makes you more capable than any degree you did 10 years ago, and infinitely more interesting than a single focused job funnel you chose when you thought you knew best. Just because you didn’t go through the ‘traditional’ agency route, doesn’t mean you can’t get a job in advertising. Everything is transferrable.
Maybe you’ve taken a non-traditional route too and you want to get into advertising. There are barriers. There’s rejection. But if you understand the real reason why people behave the way they do, any work you create will resonate with people. In the end, we all just want to be entertained. And it might feel like a slog to be able to make that career change from what you’re doing now to this. But I’m a cold hard living truth that it’s possible. And if you want to chat about anything, want to see how you can get into the same game, even get a job here, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m more than happy to wax lyrical with you.
Ben Razey, Copywriter, Javelin