April 29, 2016 - Comments Off on A love letter to my Creative Partner

I was in a dark place two years ago, when I met Sandrine Gautheret. For starters, I had a rather mediocre book that was getting me no traction in the industry. Previous book crits were ambivalent at best, and embarrassing at worst. But that was the least of my worries. I had recently been treated for a mental illness, after leaving 14 months of a creatively unfulfilling retail job. And I’d never studied advertising, nor had any contacts, formal experience, or any real understanding of what a creative does. So for me – as I assume might be true for a few of you – it was a now or never moment. Find a new partner and make a success of it, or resign myself to a life of something else.

There are moments that change your world forever, moments that make you who you are. Life swings and pivots like a pendulum, normally staying fairly upright and stable, but occasionally veering in a new direction. Meeting a creative partner will be one of those moments that define you as much as meeting your future spouse. And the comparison is apt, because it is a marriage of sorts. It won’t all be bright and breezy; there will be times when you seriously consider giving up, throwing in the towel. Fresh-faced and with a spanking new ‘Cargo Collective’ online portfolio, I used a Direct Mail campaign to blag us book crits at some top agencies around London. Yet none led to any placement offers, and I began to fear that we just weren’t good enough. After a grueling schedule going from book crit to book crit we developed our own routine. It was just like rehearsing the same scene in a play again and again, hoping that the audience might be especially receptive this time around. Weeks passed. And we still weren’t breaking in.

If that sounds traumatic, then my best advice would be to develop an appetite for punishment. Those initial months were a bumpy ride, but eventually we got offered our first placement together at Wimbledon-based agency Haygarth. The commute from lofty North London took the best part of 2 hours, one way. We didn’t sleep. I lost weight. But we were high on the best drug ever – advertising – the sense that we might, just might, crack an industry that so many people aspire towards. Then we got fired. Then we got another job at a top digital agency… and got fired again. It’s not a textbook success story. And that’s because this business is a fucking shit show. In order to make it work, you need someone you can rely on, someone who’s there in the trenches with you. Every late night and every pitch deck 3am last minute panic. When I met Sandrine, I knew she was that person, showing a quiet yet fierce determination that has taken us from London to New York and Copenhagen. She had the drive to make it work. That’s a quality you’ll want to look for.

David & SandrineOne of the best pieces of advice I got given was “Anyone can teach themselves to use Photoshop. But developing real creative talent is much more rare.” A common mistake to make as a junior is valuing style over substance; being impressed by the flashiest book or the cleverest puns. But spend long enough in the industry and you find that brilliant designers and smart copywriters are everywhere. What will really make you stand out is stand out creative. But to take the point a little further – where does brilliant creative come from? I’m a big believer in the partner system, one that we practice in America – although not as formulaically (or one might argue as rigidly) as in the UK. Generally speaking, in America as elsewhere in Europe, agencies hire the best individuals and them pair them up in-house – often with new teams forming for new projects depending on who’s available. Whereas in the UK, you’re expected to come fully formed and showcasing a portfolio that reflects your creative collaboration. It’s a very different beast, and with very strange expectations that you don’t find anywhere else. Is it better or worse, for individuals and for the industry? That’s a matter up for debate. Anecdotally, last year the UK took home more Cannes Lions that any other country apart from the USA. Not bad for a small wet island slightly smaller than Oregon.

I’d argue that the very best creative concepts come from a Copywriter and an Art Director working together, bringing their unique perspectives and left brain/ right brain thinking to a problem. I’m also a huge fan of boy/girl teams too as then you’re in a position to offer both a male and female perspective. That might not work for you. The important thing is to find out what does. Every marriage is different.

Ultimately, when you sit down in that Single Mingle room you’ll be distracted by the person with the biggest mouth and the loudest voice. That floppy-haired kid who won a D&AD New Blood Pencil last week and won’t shut the fuck up about it. Yet advertising isn’t just about being loud and flash. Nor is it all about being bright and brilliant – although of course that plays a big role. If you want to make a success of your future advertising career, find someone who you can love. I mean it. Find someone who makes you want to get up in the morning because you believe you’re going to create great things together. Because love – real creative love – holds a team together, and keeps you coming back for more.

There’s a wonderful speech at the end of the film Serenity where Captain Mal says, “You know what the first rule of flying is? Love. You can learn all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds.” The advertising industry is a bit like that. Most people get shaken off. But when you have love, you can keep holding on. This industry is fucking tough. Yet you’re going to be different. You’ve got something else no one has. You’ve got each other.

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David Felton is a Copywriter at PI&C Copenhagen.

Published by: admin in Opinion Pieces

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