HOW TO GET A JOB AS AN AD AGENCY CREATIVE 001: where to start if you don’t know where to start

Getting a job as an advertising creative is one of the simplest pursuits you will ever go on.

It is very difficult. But, it is very simple.

It usually goes as follows:

-You gain the necessary amount of knowledge to begin putting a portfolio together.

-You take that portfolio to see creatives at advertising agencies. They review and critique it. Then you go away and improve it.

-You do this until you get one or more placements (job trials).

-You then work on those placements until one of them converts into a job.

It is rare that your first placement will turn into a job. Many aspiring creatives find themselves on placement for 6–18 months.

Placements should pay and many agencies now pay the London living wage.

It is a challenging journey.

But that does not mean it has to be an expensive one. With the right knowledge, it is a journey you can make without entering higher education if you so choose.

We cannot promise it will be easier than entering higher education. But it will be cheaper.

A fact of life is that success leaves clues.

What is a fast way to achieve success? Find someone who has already achieved what you want to achieve. Find out what their approach was and copy it.

There are no guarantees in life. But if you model their strategy, behaviour and work ethic, you should experience similar results.

What is an advertising creative?

An advertising creative comes up with ideas for adverts or advertising campaigns. The ideas can be in one or more medium. (A medium is a channel for distributing an idea. Examples include: television, radio, Facebook, Youtube).

Together with their creative director, a creative will create an advertising idea that grabs people’s attention.

The idea must convince them to buy the product or service. Or to buy into a what the brand stands for.

Most creatives work in teams consisting of a copywriter and an art-director. The copywriter focuses on crafting words. For example: headlines, voiceovers and dialogue. Whilst the art-director focuses on crafting visuals. The copywriter and the art-director will work together to create the ‘advertising idea’. The best creative teams lack ego. They are happy to listen to each other’s opinions, regardless of their respective disciplines.

An art director can write a killer headline.

A copywriter can think of an attention grabbing visual.

In time, we will recommend books that will help you to decide if you are a copywriter or an art director.

But for now, Executive Creative Director, Dave Trott recommends asking yourself:

Are you a fusspot? Do you fuss over details and like to make sure everything is perfect?

Or are you a magpie with attention span of a goldfish? Does everything you are working on have to be interesting and exciting? Do you want to move on when things get boring? Do you hate getting bogged down in the details? Are you more concerned with making things progress than making things perfect?

If you’re a fusspot, you’re likely an art director.

If you’re a goldfish, you’re likely a copywriter.

Regardless of where you believe your skill set falls, we recommend that you read:

‘Hey Whipple Squeeze This’


‘The Advertising Concept Book’

…To hone your craft skills.

Another fantastic place you can learn advertising craft is D&AD annuals. These are available in certain libraries. You can also find them for sale online. Annuals are full of award-winning work. They are great places to learn advertising craft from.

What is a creative director?

A Creative Director helps a creative team to think of an advertising idea. They will help the team to make the idea attention grabbing, memorable and convincing.

Creatives Directors generally were once creatives themselves. Sometimes they will work closely with a creative team. Sometimes they will leave the team to get on with it.

Do I have to work in a team?

There are individuals who have worked on their own and have played both copywriter and art-director with great success. But they are the exception, not the rule. They are rare unicorns.

We want your journey into the advertising industry to be as easy as possible.

Generally, advertising agencies do hire creative teams. We encourage you to partner up as soon as possible in your journey.

Being part of a team means you have someone to share things with. The ups, the downs, the highs, the lows and of course, the work. You have someone to motivate you when you’re feeling down and you have someone to compete with on a friendly basis.

Finding the right partner is crucial. Make sure that they share the same work ethic and ambition as you. Let’s say you want to make ads for Nike. But they would be happy making ads for locally brewed beer. At some point, problems will occur.

Work with someone who shares your work/ rest/ sleep pattern. Let us say you are an early bird and you do your best creative work in the morning. Don’t partner with a night owl who produces work of pure genius but not until 2-am.

Work with someone you respect and get along with. You are going to spend upwards of 10-hours a day sitting opposite this person. If you don’t get along, it’s going to affect your happiness, your motivation and your work.

The science has proven it, happiness and relaxation = creativity. So work with someone you can be yourself around.

Try to work with someone who is not like you. Someone who has different hobbies, interests and passions. If you are a woman, work with a man. If you are English, work with someone who is Dutch. If you listen to Slayer, work with someone who listens to Bach. An appreciation of quality creative work should unite you. Be it art, fashion or furniture design.

Expand your creative world. Work with someone unlike you. You will find it much easier to come up with interesting ideas.

The easiest place to find a partner in the UK is Single Creatives.

What is an advertising campaign?

An advertising campaign is a body of work for a product, service or brand. A common thought or idea unites it.

In 2016, Curry’s PC world ran a very successful Christmas advertising campaign. It featured Jeff Goldblum. The common idea was:

‘Spare the act this Christmas’.

Don’t pretend you are happy with the beans puzzle your husband has given you. Tell him the item you want from Curry’s PC World.

A campaign will usually sit under a bigger, broader thought known as the ‘brand strategy’.

A strategy is away of saying ‘what your brand stands for’ or ‘what your brand means to people’. In this example, Curry’s PC World has an brand strategy of ‘We start with you’.

This conveys a clear benefit to customers.

It says, “We don’t sell you things you don’t need, to make a profit. Instead, we start with what you need.”

What is a brand?

There are many complicated and poetic definitions of brand. But let’s keep things simple.

“Brand” originates from times when a farmer would brand their livestock. A hot branding iron would create an identifying mark on the cattle. This would show that it belonged to a particular farmer.

Nowadays, brand means ‘what people think when they hear your name’.

Associated thoughts, perceptions and images all form a brand.

You must manage a brand well. When you do, it will tie together your advertising and marketing communications.

Branding extends far beyond advertising and marketing.

For example, take ‘Nicki Minaj’ and ‘Adele’. Both are very successful musicians with a similar target audience. But they are very different brands.

What is a target audience?

A target audience is a group of people you are trying to communicate with.

You must know your target audience. It is crucial in effective advertising communication.

You must know whom you are talking to.

You must know ‘what they want’. What motivates and drives them in life. How you can use these motivations. How you can fit your product, service or brand into their life.

Find out as much as you can about your target audience before trying to think of an advertising idea.

Keep things simple. When you know the target audience, try to think of someone you know in that audience.

If you are working on baby food, think of friend, acquaintance or family member you know who has recently had a baby.

What is a book/ portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of advertising ideas or campaigns. An aspiring creative uses it to show their potential to a prospective employer. It can be a physical portfolio, usually in an A4 binder or you can show it on a laptop.

Most aspiring creatives build potfolio websites on Squarespace or Cargo.

This is an easy way to show your work and is something you can send over email if an agency creative cannot meet you in person.

A portfolio usually consists of around 6–8 ‘campaigns’ and several ‘ideas’.

In your portfolio, show that you can produce work on a broad range of products, services and brands. From fizzy drinks to financial services and from budget holidays to banks.

To understand of the make-up of student book, Before They Were Famous offers you a ‘peek inside the first portfolios of the world’s most successful creatives’.

What is a book crit?

A book crit is a meeting with an advertising industry creative or creative director. In this meeting, they will look through your work and give you help and advice to improve your work. You must continue this process until you are ready for an advertising placement.

What is a placement?

A placement is a job trial at an advertising agency. They can range from one month in length all the way to 6-months or even a year.

You will continue a placement until you eventually get a job or you hear that you are not ready for a job yet.

If your placement does not turn into a job, do not take it personally. There can be all sorts of reasons why an agency does not hire you. Many of them are out of your control.

What you can control is your energy, work ethic and ideas.

Where and how do I find agencies?

There are hundreds of agencies in London. But a good place to start looking is Campaign’s School Report.

In another post, we will cover picking the right agencies for you.

How do I contact creatives and creative directors?

Find out where you want to work. Then start trying to get time with Creatives and Creative Directors for a book crit.

Most agencies email addresses follow the format of: (sometimes .com)

Or (sometimes .com)

Email addresses can also be in the format of name_surname or firstinitialsurname. For example:

If you’re resilient, you’ll find out what it is eventually.

If, for example, you want a book crit at AMVBBDO. Find an ad you really respect that AMVBBDO has recently created. Then Google:

‘[insert advert name] copywriter’.

Or ‘[insert advert name] art director’.

Or ‘[insert advert name] creative’

Armed with that name, the rest is easy.

There are several websites and web browser extensions that can help. Like Rocket Reach.

Which allows you to find someone’s email address using his or her LinkedIn profile. To Email Checker.

Which allows you to see if there is a valid email inbox attached to an email address.

Use these tools. They make getting in touch with a creative simply a matter doing some ‘online stalking’.

How do I have ideas?

An old English idiom is ‘you reap what you sew’. Which means ‘you get out what you put in’.

When it comes to creative work. The statement has never been truer.

We will recommend several books that will help you to have creative ideas.

But a note from us is that if you want to do better creative work, you need to have better creative stimulus.

Your creative output is linked to your creative input.

Rubbish in = rubbish out.

Quality in = quality out.

You must completely immerse yourself in quality creative work. This must be in a broad range of unexpected mediums.

Go to art galleries. (Two of our favourites are the Saatchi gallery and the Tate Modern).

Devour books, movies and magazines.

Remember it is the quality, not the quantity.

If you watch Netflix, try watching Mubi.

If you are watching ‘Two and a Half Men’, try watching ‘Fawlty Towers’.

If you read gossip magazines, read The Economist.

Make them things you would not usually consume. On topics that would not usually interest you.

Watch Ted Talks, foreign films and inspiring youtube videos from sources like Vsauce2.

Some great online resources include:

Stumble Upon

Unplug The TV


Make it a part of your daily life. Don’t come home and put on Hollyoaks. Watch a critically acclaimed film or an eye-opening documentary.

Seek not just to be entertained, but also to be educated and inspired.

The more diverse a world you consume, the more diverse a world you will create.

How do I spot a good idea?

With ideas, there is safety in numbers.

It is simple math.

The more ideas you have, the more likely it is that one of them will be good.

Don’t spend hours tearing the skin off of your forearms trying to have the ‘perfect idea’.

Say the idea. It does not matter if it is good, bad, stupid, ludicrous or sacrilegious. Write it down and move onto trying to have another one.

At creative idea ‘manufacturing’ stage, the importance is volume.

If you are trying to come up with a great idea, you are far more likely to do it if you have 100 ideas to choose from.

Forget the idea of a eureka moment. Or an Einstein like creative breakthrough. Sweat your way through hundreds of ideas. Think “prolifically”as founding partner of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, Alex Bogusky puts it.

During your creative work. Regular breaks are important. We recommend using a version of the ‘Pomodoro Technique’. Work for 30–45 minutes followed by a 10-minute break. Use this break to stretch your legs and get a drink.

Repeat this process until you feel truly brain dead. (On more than one occasion you have sat for 30–45 minutes and had only a handful of ideas.) Now it is time to stop.

The important thing now is to rest and come back to the project with a fresh head and a critical eye.

If you have 100 ideas or more, there is less pressure to be, or feel ‘talented’.

If you have 100 ideas to choose from, you only need a strike rate of 1% to have a great one.

How do I have insights?

Almost every great ad is born from a great insight.

But how do you have them?

Insight is like creativity. The more of life you that you get out and experience the more insights you will gather. These will be about life, the world and people in it.

There is a big difference between going to a gig or a festival and watching one on television. Or going to the theatre or the cinema and watching something on Netflix. More real world experience = more insights you can put into your work.

But life does sometimes get in the way. So what are some great sources of insights you can access from a computer?

One great source is stand-up comedy. Comedians are the kings of insights. Every joke they make is an insight.

Post Secret is a fantastic website where you can learn the grittier insights about people. Whilst they may not always translate into an advertising idea, reading Post Secret will give you a well-rounded understanding of why people do what they do, say what they say and want what they want.

Another great source of insights is Reddit Shower Thoughts.

As it says in the name, these are Reddit-user generated insights supposedly thought of in the shower. Many are silly. But the odd one or two are very insightful and provide the foundations for a great idea.

How should I present my ideas?

Two great resources for learning how to present your ideas are Scamp School and Bot Ad School.

Scamp School has dozens of videos that teach you how to use programs like Photoshop and Adobe Premier to create visuals and videos to present your work.

Whilst Bot Ad School is exceptionally helpful in showing you how to present your work as a collective in a portfolio or on a personal website.

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