Newsflash – getting a job in advertising in London is a tough grind. It’s even harder, if not impossible, to do it in a year after graduating even if you’re a genetically engineered creative cyborg child prodigy, which I wasn’t, but a foreigner trying to get a degree whilst navigating the bizarre social conundrum a.k.a the British party etiquette. A year spent on the Cornish cliffs had made me weak, and rabid pigeons and the Shoreditch twats had made me strong and weak again. One way or another, with a couple of placements under my belt and shiny new degree in tow, it was time to suck it up and head home*.
I gave myself a week to sulk and let my friends and family spoil me rotten. As soon as I snapped out of it and readjusted myself to how cheap everything was, there I was, back to normal, except that mum was almost treating me like an adult. As the distance slowly set in and things like Boris bikes and rail replacement service buses started fading from my memory, I started to gain some perspective. London is great, full of quirky little places and all the trendy rage much sought after by the creative folk (I’m still a bit hesitant about calling myself a ‘creative’).
However, in many ways, living in London seemed like a compromise in favour of being called a Londoner and the inexplicable pride that came with the idea of ‘making it’ there. Turns out it is possible to have a garden and a living room without having to sell your organs, driving is an option, and council tax? Pfft. Besides, London not giving a toss about me had made me fiercer, my skin had gotten thicker and the fact that I’d finally stopped caring, apparently, resembled confidence – I’ve pretty much walked into a job within a month after coming back.
For the first few months of my new job I was ecstatic: I devoured the little briefs, put out 100% every single time, went big, didn’t go home till everyone else did, waiting for the big brief, the better brief, the brief to end all briefs. As time went by and my boss learned my name instead of referring to me as ‘that Eastern European Chick’ (placement horror stories aplenty), I stopped pretending like I could function for more than eight hours a day on half a sandwich and sheer enthusiasm. I knew someone from the creative department who managed to get home in time for dinner, and in no time that someone was me.
After London things have been easier, lazier even. There are perks to that, obviously – you get to let your hair down, take longer lunch breaks, get ‘your place’ near the office with ‘the usual’ drink, dammit, but after London it’s easier to once again believe that you’re special, if that’s your kind of a thing, and after London it’s way easier to be wrong about it.
It’s almost been three years now and I’ve seen quite a bit, if not it all – I’ve had my ideas turned down by clients and seen them get made elsewhere in the world; I’ve been told to ‘just copy that [Brand] ad and tweak it a bit’, and I’ve seen people get away with doing that. A start-up ad fest, the event of the year, was attended by just under 400 people. The speakers were okay, but it somehow felt like a charity act, like a kindergarten job fair: a guy from Wieden+Kennedy told us money wasn’t all that important before showing us all the amazing work they’ve done with budgets higher than a cost of an island, everyone tepidly noted the importance of digital, 100% of the speakers were male and a friend got called a feminist killjoy for just mentioning that – even the open wine bar failed to conceal that something was missing.
It might just be the case of grass being greener, but it’s also about what you’re after in your career, your life even. The fact is that there is ad life outside London, and more and more people choose to pursue it, some, like myself, with a little help from the UK immigration law, some out of general unwillingness to pay a fiver for a pint. If you have a soft spot for flash banners and fancy yourself a slightly poorer Donna Draper, smoking at meetings (yeah we actually do that) and struggling with casual sexism (ugh), then I might even have your dream job.
I’m sure there is an average pond somewhere, a pond where clients have some money to spend AND you don’t have to sacrifice an intern to get a good brief, where you can go home till it’s pitch dark AND don’t feel like you’ve travelled back 40 years when you look at billboards, the advertising Shangri-La where the creatives and the accounts feed together in peace, but I’m yet to find it. If I was to start afresh right now, having the guts to toss aside the comforts of a warm stable job, I’d probably choose London with its foxes and tourists and the dog-eat-dog job market, although it’s been quite a while since the last time I was drenched with the communal sweat-cloud of the Northern Line, so I might be somewhat partial.
* Home being Georgia – a country with a population eclipsing that of Manchester, sandwiched between Russia and Turkey. To give you a further sense of what it’s like, I’ll just tell you that most international companies don’t even bother suing us for copyright infringement, we’re officially deemed as ‘not worth it bro, just drop it’. Two more fun facts: 1) We don’t have a Starbucks; 2) Our two biggest exports are Katie Melua and Joseph Stalin.
Ana is a Falmouth Uni grad and now Copywriter at McCann Tbilisi.