I'm usually fascinated by that lofty literary tradition whereby a budding writer or just a curious mind requests for career advice from a more experienced one. The result of this, at least from those I've read, is usually a spirited piece of work that becomes not only a worthy piece of advice to the intended but a primer for others in search of a way forward.
Considered in-depth, the tradition offers the respondent a chance to advise a version of his younger self, and this sometimes takes a tone of regret about the knowledge he wished he had earlier on his journey to the top.
I've been visited with some of these requests on few occasions by young(er) creatives or graduates who crave a good footing about their career path in advertising. Without being modest, I think it bothers on the ridiculous for anyone to hold me in such estimation. I don't think highly of myself as such & I'm not sure I have a record of "achievements" to prove them right.
I mostly ignore them or recommend websites where they may get tips or borrow them some books from my library. Last year, I bought and gave out 3 copies of Simon Veksner's How to make it as an Advertising Creative. A good book but I must admit that I feel the pangs of guilt when I shared the copies without adding a caveat that some of the lessons aren't universally applicable, especially in regions where the creative business is not only in its infancy but where mediocrity & a disregard for creative leadership obtain.
A young friend has emailed me requesting for tips to make it in advertising. At first, I wonder what makes them find the profession worth careering in. Are those bland works on TV, Print, Radio or whatever enough to make a creatively attuned mind find the profession worth pursuing or do they deem the bar too low and feel they can easily come and make a change? PS: I speak about this region. Or they don’t realize that the profession is somewhat a subservient one where agency creatives are mostly at the mercy of business and agency owners who just want to make more money. Or I exaggerate.
Again, I'm confronted with the dreaded question. This time I don't want to make Veksner richer. Sharing Internet websites also seems like a lazy step and unfairly dismissive.
I figured the best tips are pretty instructive to any creative pursuit so my response isn't limited to advertising alone. (And here's where I wonder how much advertising matters in the grand scheme of things, beside being the language of capitalism and propaganda for political interest). Even die-hard creatives like myself can get jaded once in awhile.
First, dear friend, you have to be sure of yourself as a creative. *insert talent*. Everything else, even training, derives from here. It may be either obvious or latent, but with time, it will become clear to you that you're a creative. With this realization, you can then explore how best to hone your skill, improve yourself and enjoy the stereotype the world throws at creatives (alcohol anyone?).
You have to want to change things. It’s healthy for your craft to be dissatisfied with something. This seems pretty obvious but not many creatives know that the act of changing things in the creative sense is what pushes humanity forward. Look at the best creative work you know, from painting, music, technology, fashion, advertising, writing, even memes, you’ll notice that beside their success, they became the benchmark for their industry and they make the world better. The more the next creative guy tries to better them, the better for the world.
Be a sponge. You’re as good as your influences. Get exposed to different experiences. It’s cliché but it’s true that the best creative steals from different sources. Picasso’s stole influences from African arts. Steal with tact, not literally (except you want to add Plagiarist to your career portfolio). Read, travel, watch foreign movies, visit the museum, watch kids interact, listen to radio programmes below your IQ level, look for ridiculous shit, flip through past winning-works etc. The more you soak in, the more you build your reservoir to tap ideas from.
Be your own worst critic. Your work will seem done and your hormones will be on speed roll telling you that you've created the next Cannes-Booker-Nobel-winning work. Take some time to ask yourself if this is the best anyone could have done. Or ask if you need to share the work with a trusted voice to see how the work can be improved. Really, on the creative path, you’ll be part creator and part critic of yourself.
Find a network. This might seem counter-intuitive to the creative mind that is supposed to be somewhat detached from the distracting crowd. A network of like and appreciative minds will help push your art forward. Therein are your marketing recommendations, job opportunities, creative collaborations etc. Invest in expanding your network.
Connect. The days of the bohemian or closest genius may be gone. The world needs you, not only your work, to interact with it. And it’s easier now with all the communication platforms around us. It helps your social equity to connect with people and prospective clients/fans/critics/colleagues/enemies. And hey, Rushdie is on Twitter, who are you?
The biggest battle is against mediocrity. You’ll be tempted to do shitty things. There’ll be extremely questionable client servicing in favour of mediocre work, the distractions from office politics, shallow excuses not to do brilliant work, jealous colleagues demoralizing you with annoying comments, and even most disturbing – the lack of a standard manual to back your argument. So you’re on your own against darkness. You only need to have the guts to stomach it.
About guts, you've got to be able to conjure up bold ideas. Don’t play safe. Let ideas take you to hell or, at least, the devil’s gate. In this trade, the play-safers are the poison. So swallow some gut pills and push boundaries. Challenge things. Flip things. Dismantle things.
Believe in your intuition. When logic fails, intuition will keep you going. Here’s the cool part: you don’t need to understand intuition. It’s just a visceral feeling of conviction without intellectual proof. It’s the reason you tell your boss that something will work without a PowerPoint slide to back your case. Your ability to follow your intuition is in relation to your ability to cope with fear. So stare down on fear and Just Do It.
Sell your ideas well. If you’re not blessed with charm or public speaking skills, you've got to compensate with something else. You may find a trustworthy team player that can sell ice to an Eskimo or package your ideas in ways that they can speak for themselves.
Dear friend, I’m exhausted.
More than anything, I’d say open your mind; do what you have to do and don’t let the world change your soul.
There it is. I have no illusions that I can offer creative advice, and this piece doesn't rank favourably in the same list as Hitchens’ Letters to a Contrarian or Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, both of them epic pieces in the advising tradition, but these words can be your guide in making the world a more creative place.
So best regards in your creative endeavours.