HOW TO GET A JOB AS AN AD AGENCY CREATIVE 003: how to tackle a brief like a pro and pick the right agency for you

In the communications industry, creative ideas are supposed to solve business problems. But how do you ensure that your idea does so?

What’s the point?

Before you sit down to start writing ideas. It is always important to remind yourself, what the whole point of advertising is in the first place.

So what is the purpose of advertising? Why do clients pay us to do what we do?

The purpose of advertising is to sell. Sell a product, service or brand.

Never forget. Every product we sell for our client is a product we unsell for their competitor.

Advertising is a zero sum game. Meaning that for your client to win, somebody has to lose.

This is the purpose of advertising. Whether it is a poster or a six-part documentary. It is supposed to help your client win and take a sale from their competitor. To get someone to buy your client’s product instead of their competitor’s.

Some clients do this by spending more than their competitors on their adverts. They spend millions making adverts and millions running them. This is the behaviour of a big, lazy brand, a company who would rather outspend their competition than outsmart them.

But the best advertising, advertising that sells products, empties shelves and makes history. It is always based in outsmarting a competitor.

If advertising is all about outsmarting the competition, then it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do, do it.

That might be an advert. But it could be the packaging, or the in-store experience. It might not be advertising at all.

Approach the brief with enthusiasm. Approach it with an open mind. Unexpected solutions will be much more likely.

As Worldwide Chief Creative Officer of DDB, Amir Kassaei says:

“The purpose of our job, our industry, is not to create “ads”, it’s to create relevance, to make clients relevant with people. If your idea doesn’t make the client relevant, it won’t work for long.”

The biggest reason companies die is that they fail to adapt.

Shouldn’t Blockbuster have created Netflix? Or HMV have thought of iTunes?

“People aren’t renting our DVD’s as much as they used to. Ok, we’ll lower our prices, or put on 2 for 1 offers.”

“People aren’t coming in store to buy music as much as they used to. Ok, we’ll put on more sales.”

Where these companies should have stopped is at the end of the first statement. “People aren’t X as much as they used to”.At this point, they should have asked‘why aren’t they?’.

Instead, they already had an answer before they had asked the right question.

They lacked insight. Because they looked at every problem the same way, through the same lens.

It does not matter how goods your advertising is. If the context of the market that the advertising is entering is wrong, the adverts will not work in the long term.

In fact, if the product is bad, a good advert can even reduce sales.

As advertising legend Bill Bernbach once said:

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

If people are not renting DVDs because with Netflix they can get them from the comfort of their own sofa. Or because they can stay at home, rather than drive all the way to a store and back twice. Or because they can do this without incurring late fees…

Then no amount of discount or advertising is going to change this behaviour. Laziness will prevail. Netflix will win.

Netflix will win because they have fundamentally shifted the context of the market.

In this context, not only did Blockbuster’s advertising need work. Blockbuster needed work.

As the saying goes, ‘when all you’ve got is a hammer, every product looks like a nail’.

There is nothing stopping you from making suggestions about the client’s business. Or the way they run it. Professionally done, it can be very helpful. It can reflect well on you and your agency.

A classic example is the launch between Apple and TBWA/ Chiat/Day of the Apple iPod.

Legend has it, that at some point in the process, someone pointed out that every other MP3 player at that time used black headphones.

If they gave the Apple iPod white headphones, then everyone that owned the iPod was a walking advert for the iPod. Just from their headphones.

Anyone who didn’t own an iPod but did happen to use white headphones, would also be a walking advert for the iPod.

So they made the decision: white headphones.

What happened next?

The brand launched its iconic silhouette campaign. It featured black silhouettes dancing on coloured backgrounds. It featured the latest, most popular tracks. Front and centre stage was, you guessed it, a bright white iPod with bright white headphones.

The rest is history.

A genius advertising idea born out of a product idea.

What if the team had looked at that brief and immediately decided that the answer was a billboard? Who knows if the iPod would have been as successful?

The only media that doesn’t change is people

The way we interact with the world is always changing, all the time. Most recently, at light-speed. It is important for the ways brands communicatewith people to keep up.

But that does not mean that the things brands communicate should change.

When the world changes, the way we do things changes. But often the things we do and our motives for doing them don’t.

Take Bill Bernbach’s quote on un-changing man:

“Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t even change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man — what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.”

The same reason you log on to Facebook- to share, to connect, to express yourself, to put a piece of yourself out into the world, to make friends, or to make more than friends.

These are exactly the same social reasons cavemen used to gather round a fire every night.

There’s a great book called ‘Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief’ by former Creative Director Dave Birss. There is a fantastic quote from it:

“I’m increasingly using a very simple yardstick — that of the bridge — when evaluating ideas. Great communication ideas act as a bridge. A bridge between what people are interested in and care about and what you make/ sell. A bridge between your world and theirs.”

Whatever you create, in whatever medium. Remember. All you are trying to do is build a bridge between the product/ brand and a timeless human need. Between the product and a desire of your target audience that the product/ brand fulfils.

An execution is not necessarily a solution

Here is a classic example of a context in which an advert can only do so much. It is the Prison Pet Partnership in America.

Approximately 670,000 shelter dogs in America get put down every single year.

Using the flawed logic that an advert can do everything, the answer is simple:

“We need to do adverts telling people this”. Or “we need to do adverts encouraging more people to adopt”.

However, that immediately falls down when people get to the rescue shelter to adopt a dog.

The problem is not that people don’t want to adopt the dogs.

The problem is that the dogs are not adoptable.

They are not adoptable because they are not safe to be around.

They are not safe to be around because they have been so neglected and abused. All they know is pain and suffering. They don’t trust anyone.

They are like this because there are not enough people to re-habilitate them.

There are not enough people to rehabilitate them because it is a voluntary job.

So the brief is crystal clear. Who has plenty of time on their hands and would welcome the opportunity to spend time with a dog, dangerous or not?

As with all great briefs, the answer was quickly found.


American prisoners spend up to 18-hours a day in their cell.

Four concrete walls, a floor, a bed, a toilet, a sink and some books.

They are bored out of their minds.

Not only that, but with prison being such a hostile environment, they can never let their guard down. They cannot open up, or show love to anyone or anything. Not even their cellmate.

Prisoners would jump at the chance to have a dog in their cell. It is something they can let in, open up to and show love to…

And so the Prison Pet Partnership was born.

Prisoners who have track record of good behaviour are allowed a dog in their cell.

By re-habilitating the dog, they not only get to develop an emotional connection with something. But they get time off of their sentence.

The dogs get rehabilitated. Which means they are more likely to get adopted and less likely to get put down.

The dogs are also provided a temporary home until they are ready to adopt. Which means overcrowding at dog shelters goes down. Which means even less dogs get put down.

Everybody wins.

All by knowing that an execution might not mean a solution.

All by finding the real problem. By interrogating the context.

Watch enough case studies from great agencies like Droga 5 and Colenso BBDO and you will see a theme appearing.

You cannot help but nod along. Because in every campaign, everybody wins.

Change the way they feel, the way they buy or the thing they buy

As Rory Sutherland points out in his fantastic book ‘The Wiki Man’ all great advertising does 1 or more of 3 things to sell a product.

“You can either change the people or the circumstances so the existing product sells more, or you change the product so people want it more.”

So here we have 3 very different ways you can increase sales of a product.

1. You can change the way people feel about the product through advertising. Regardless of which medium you use, you can tell people why they should buy your product.

2. You can change the way they buy the product. You can make it easier or more convenient to buy. For example, if Blockbuster had been an early adopter of a Netflix like platform, it may have saved their business.

Sutherland uses restaurants as a great example.

He asks the following question:

“Think of the best restaurant you have ever been to.

Now, ask yourself how many times you’ve been there?

Now, compare this number with that of your favourite fast-food restaurant.

Chances are, despite the food quality being worse, you have likely eaten there many more times.”

This is because people do not always choose the best thing, they choose the easiest thing. Sutherland calls these two mind-sets ‘maximising’and ‘satisficing’.

If you are proposing to your partner, you are going to want to maximise. Therefore you are likely to take them to the best restaurant you can find.

But the majority of the time, you satisfice. When it is late. When you have had a long day. When you feel tired. When there is no food in the fridge. In these situations, you are likely to satisfice.

In this situation, a restaurant that offers you the most convenience will prosper because of how easy they make things for you. They deliver. They offer eat in and take out. You can order on the phone. You can order online. They have a drive through, or parking. They are open late. There is one on every street corner. You know the menu, it doesn’t change much and neither does the quality — it is predictable. You are not going to feel disappointed.

This image below is a beautiful summation of route number 2.

The owner of this store could have had a promising career in advertising.

Why? Let’s break down his genius.

1. He likely isn’t the only person pressing suits in town.

2. There will be a marginal difference between the quality of his work and that of his competitor. So the quality of his work is not a unique selling point for him.

3. If he undercuts his competitor and offers a lower price, he loses profit and his competior may soon meet him at this new, low price.

4. Making his process faster is likely not possible without compromising quality.

Here’s the clever bit: by allowing his customers to play golf while they wait, they won’t feel like they’re waiting. He also has a USP against his competitor and in fact may be able to charge his customers more for the privelege of playing golf while they wait.

In fact, if he really wanted, he could charge more, take longer and do a worse job and he’d still steal customers because he identified a great insight; people don’t like to be bored.

By the time his competitor has a similar gimmick our owner has earned customer loyalty and is unlikely to lose it.

And all it cost him was some golf clubs, balls and some pipe.

3. You can improve the product itself. The better a product is the more people will want to buy it.

This can be a small improvement, like McDonald’s improving the quality of their burger buns.

(This may seem silly. But across the millions of customers they serve every day this can add up. It can mean a huge improvement in quality perception and a large increase in sales.)

All the way to Netflix creating their own shows.

When you get a brief, always be willing to look at it through each of these three lenses.

Marketing is war

If advertising is the battle for people’s minds.

Marketing is a war for their hearts.

Like battle, or war, advertising is a zero-sum game.

For your client to win, someone has to lose.

If someone acts on your advert and buys a tin of Branston beans in their next grocery shop, then they do not buy a tin of Heinz.

If someone falls in love with Nike. They do not fall in love with Adidas.

The power of a brand can be quite mind-blowing.

There have been studies showing that the brains of Apple users when shown the iconic Apple logo react the same way as the brains of devout Christians when shown an image of a cross.

Nike, for a long time, has won the war in the fitness apparel industry. Nike adverts rarely need to tell you the features and benefits of their products.

So many people love the Nike brand, that if Nike announces a new product, people will buy it. People will buy it because they buy into the Nike brand and what it stands for.

Watch below clip from the film ‘Troy’. It is a perfect metaphor for brilliant advertising and marketing.

First, Achilles must fight a much bigger, stronger opponent.

Think of this as a small challenger brand (like Irn Bru) trying to take on the market leader (like Coca Cola).

Do not try to take them head on. Instead, outsmart your opponent with an unexpected, lateral attack.

In the war of marketing, this example is one battle. One advert. One choice for the consumer. This product or that product.

Achilles is smart. He knows that if he strikes from a distance, it doesn’t matter that his opponent is bigger and stronger. From a distance, Achilles has the advantage; he is faster and more accurate.

Achilles chooses to target his attack at his opponent’s left collarbone. This attack will pierce the ‘left subclavian’ artery upon entry. It will severe many more as his spear moves through his opponent’s body. It may severe his opponent’s spinal cord and maybe even his heart and lungs. A guaranteed kill, all from the safe distance of several feet away.

This is a battle in which Achilles (and by default the army of Troy) win by outsmarting their opponents.

Should they continue to do this at each successive battle, they will win the war.

Advertising is no different.

You must know your client’s objectives.

You must know your client’s enemies.

You must know their strengths and their weaknesses…

And you must know the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies.

With this information, you can outsmart their enemies. You can attack laterally at each battle.

If each battle is successful, eventually the war will be won.

But without it, the advertising you create for your client may play their bigger, better competitor at its own game.

If Irn Bru advertising imitates Coca Cola and plays them at their own game, they will ultimately lose. Because Coca Cola is the Market leader. It is front of mind. Meaning it is the most easily remembered fizzy drink brand.

This means that your ad for Irn Bru will likely be remembred as a Coca Cola ad and if effective, will likely result in a Coca Cola sale.

If you know Irn Bru’s strengths and Coke’s weaknesses, you can create something that is inherently Irn Bru and gives people a valid reason to choose Irn Bru over Coca Cola.

For example, Coca Cola is a giant, global company. Meaning it will likely be quite risk adverse and any decision will have to go through many layers of approval. This will be reflected in their advertising. It doesn’t mean the advertising won’t be good. But it will often be a safe, watered down version of a much better idea.

Irn Bru, however, is much smaller, has far fewer layers of approval and because it is a challenger, cannot afford to be risk averse or middle of the road in its advertising.

Therefore, Coca Cola’s weakness can be Irn Bru’s strength.

Remember ‘Compare The Meerkat’?

Well if you think about it. They did exactly the same thing.

When they started out, they were Achilles and was their giant opponent.

How did they take them on?

They didn’t.

They didn’t need to.

All an advert for an insurance comparison site has to do is to get remembered.

Everybody uses comparison sites because everybody wants to save money. So you do not need to convince anyone to use a comparison site. You just have to get them to remember you.

So that when they next renew their insurance, it is your name they put into Google.

They had a huge enemy in front of them and they beat them by going around them, rather than trying to take them on head on.

The rest is history and has lost significant market share.

Here are the 5 most common obstacles you will meet when trying to sell something to someone:

-No need

-No money

-No hurry

-No desire

-No trust.

Pretty much every advertising problem will fall down to one or more of those obstacles.

The binary brief

The binary brief is an exceptionally helpful tool created by Executive Creative Director Dave Trott.

As Trott says himself on his blog:

“Binary is a way of simplifying things down to their most basic.

This or that.

Black or white.

On or off.

No subtleties, just powerful, simple clarity. Fast, easy decision.

Then quickly move on to the next fast, easy decision.

That’s why computers work so fast.

Every decision is 0 or 1, that’s it.

Is it possible for us to use that kind of brutal reductionism for what we do?

Yes of course.

The secret is how you organise the questions.

Don’t ask everything at once.

Simplify it down so that’s it’s always one of two choices.

Then you can move through it really fast.

You’ll sit in a briefing and hear, “The brand obviously needs to grow

share via trial, but still benefitting from market growth and capitalising on product benefits while maximising our brand values.”

If that doesn’t mean much to you, imagine how little it means to a consumer.

So we need to reduce everything down into a simple COMMUNICATION brief.

If it’s going to be simple, we need to know 3 things.

WHO should buy it.

WHY should they buy it.

WHAT should they buy it instead of.

If we aren’t clear on those 3 things, we can’t put them in the ad.

If they’re not in the ad, the consumer won’t know.

If the consumer doesn’t know, nothing happens.

So, learning from binary thinking, the first step is to accept that, at every stage, we can only do ONE thing properly.

So we have to reduce each stage to what that one thing is.

Question 1

Brand Share or Market Growth.

Is your brand the market-leader or not?

Use the cola market as an example.

If you are Coca Cola you have way the biggest share of the cola market.

If you increase the number of people buying cola, you benefit much more than anyone else.

Whether consumers remember your name, or not.

If the market grows, you grow faster than anyone else, automatically.

But if you’re not the market leader (Pepsi say) you don’t want to do that.

You want to take sales from whoever is the market leader.

This gives you 2 very different sorts of communication briefs.

“Buy cola instead of other drinks.” (Market Growth, benefits Coca Cola).

“Buy Pepsi instead of Coke.” (Brand Share, benefits Pepsi).

Question 2

Triallists or Current Users.

Do you want new people to try your brand? (Essential for a launch.)

Or do you want current users to buy it more often?

Of course it depends on factors like market saturation.

Again, assume you were Coca Cola.

Pretty much everyone has tried Coke, so it’s no good talking to triallists.

If you’re Coke you have to tell current consumers why they should buy more.

So a communication brief could be, “Have a coke with a friend.”

That way you sell two bottles instead of one.

But if you’re Pepsi, and you’re trying to take share from the market leader, obviously you need to tell Coke drinkers why they should try your brand.

So a communication brief could be, “Pepsi tastes better than Coke.”

Question 3

Product or Brand

You could also refer to this as ‘rational or emotional”.

Is there a definite, logical reason to purchase your product?

Or is there an emotional preference for the brand?

In the case of things you enjoy, it’s usually an emotional preference for a brand: perfume, beer, fashion, confectionary.

No one cares much if those last longer, work better, or cost less.

They buy the imagery not the functionality.

In markets where all products are exactly like all other products, you do brand advertising.

But in other areas, facts can be more important: insurance, medicines, cars, technology.

People don’t buy insurance on imagery, they buy it on cost.

Do you have a provable product benefit that no one else has: costs less, lowers cholesterol, works faster, lasts longer?

You need to have the discussion before you do the ads.

Sometimes Product (facts) can become Brand (image).

Mercedes, Volvo, VW, Sony, Tesco, Sainsbury, Apple.

All these brands did great factual advertising which built their brands.

Please remember, the Binary Brief is just a language, it’s not a solution.

It’s to enable creatives to have a back-and-forth discussion on the

COMMUNICATION brief in simple words they can understand.

It’s to force everyone involved to choose which ONE thing they want to say.

To force everyone to keep it simple, clear, and fast.

To force people to make uncomfortable decisions before the ads are written.

If we don’t do that for the consumer they’ll do it themselves.

The average person experiences nearly 1,000 advertising communications a day in their very busy lives.

Just like the binary, we’re either on or off.”

So whilst you will be provided with a brief by your agency, it is always worth running it though Trott’s Binary Brief mechanism, to check that you have asked the right questions.

Probably the best brief in the world

Follow Trott’s Binary Brief. It should allow you to boil an agency brief down into one sentence and write it on a post-it note.

“Get X (target audience) to X (do X, buy X) instead of Y (competitor) by X (doing X or telling them X).”

For example:

“Get 16–24 year olds to buy Pepsi, instead of Coke by telling them it tastes better”. (Telling).


“Get 16–24 year olds to buy Pepsi, instead of Coke by doingan event.” (Doing).

If you have that, you have a clear, simple, professional starting point.

Using the binary brief, you should have arrived at answers to following questions:

-What are you selling? (Brand/ product)

-Who should buy it? (Men/ women/ age/ background/ income — think of someone you know.)

-What should they buy it instead of? (Market share/ market growth).

-What do they want from products like this? (Benefit of product, need customer is trying to fulfil).

-What does your product have, that no other product has, that they want? (Unique selling point).

Let’s use a real-world example from a placement campaign in a student’s book.

We will run it through the binary brief.

-What are you selling? The B&Q brand.

-Who should buy it? Working and middle class men, aged 30+.

-What should they buy it instead of? B&Q is the market leader, so we want to grow the DIY market. In this case, our enemy is not a brand, but people not decorating. So we should remind men how much satisfaction DIY shopping can bring.

-What do they want from products like this? To feel prepared. To have all the equipment they need to do the job well. No one wants a bodge job. They want a proper job.

-What does your product have, that no other product has, that they want? B&Q has a bigger range than any other DIY store. They have more stuff. More stuff means more stuff to help you do the job well. A proper job. So you have the confidence to decorate.

Remember. Despite having a strategic message (a bigger range than any other DIY store). We cannot stop here. This message is relevant and convincing. But the execution is not fresh, unexpected or memorable.

Therefore no matter how convincing the message, it will not be heard. Because no one will pay attention to it.

We must now ask ourselves one more question and this will begin our creative process.

-How can we communicate that message in an interesting, exciting and memorable way?

The answer has gone down in placement portfolio history.

B&Q — where men shop like women.

When doing brand advertising. Some agencies go a step further and often find gold by doing so.

Rather than stopping at a USP, they interrogate their clients to find out the reason they started their company in the first place. What role they wanted to play in the world. What reason they wanted to exist as a company. You could call it a URE (a unique reason for existing). Rather than a USP (a unique selling point).

Droga 5 New York produced fantastic work for Puma in 2012. How? They asked them why they started making trainers in the first place. Puma said they just wanted people to have fun and play sports. They weren’t trying to create the next Olympic gold medallist. This gave Puma a unique reason for existing when compared with someone like Nike (who is all about winning).

From this truth, Droga 5 created a hugely successful campaign. The campaign was called ‘Puma Social’ and included a highly lauded film ‘The After Hours Athlete’.

The piss soaked brick

No one wants to open a present with urine soaked wrapping paper.

As a result, no matter how great the present, it will never get opened.

If you buy the most beautiful wrapping paper in the world, and wrap up a brick, people will race to unwrap it. But then realise it is a brick and throw it in the bin.

But if it is a great present, in beautiful wrapping paper, what will they do?

Race to unwrap it and then enjoy it.

In advertising there has to be a beautiful wrapping (execution). This is what makes people pay attention.

But then there has to be something equally exciting inside (strategic message). This is what people remember and what makes them do what you want them to.

Remember- form follows function.

A beautiful chair is useless if you cannot sit in it.

That means that there is no point in your advert being beautiful, if it is not functional.

No matter how beautiful the art-direction, or well written the copy, adverts HAVE to convince. They have to change behaviour.

So ask yourself:

“Will this idea truly change the way people think, feel or act?”

If you asked 100 people, how many of them would think twice about buying your product?

If the number feels low… back to the drawing board you go.

Remember this when you make ads.

Ads have to be like a Trojan horse. A present with a strategy at its core.

The strategic message you tell people is not just important to the creative process. It is the creative process.

If you nail the strategic message the executions will write themselves.

It’s the way you tell em’

There’s an old proverb that says:

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

With advertising, you want to give the audience something to do. Something to figure out. A way to participate.

Don’t give them four. Give them two plus two. Completing the equation gives them what you call “A Smile In The Mind”.

Watch the two films below from Mercedes and BMW.

The two films above show you two ways tell a similar story, to send a similar same message.

One gives you four. The other gives you two plus two.

It is obvious which advert is more rewarding.

Mercedes involve you. They give you something to figure out.

Rather than tell you that their cars have stability control, they use a simple, visual and memorable metaphor to make the same point.

It is like jokes. Two people can tell the same joke yet one can make it ten times funnier. The key is in the delivery.

Same message. Different response.

Another example of how ‘2+2’ is much more rewarding than ‘4’ was shared on Campaign by Copywriter Paul Burke.

Same agency. Same client. Same line.

Even if you ignore that the art direction of ‘Cheetah’ is clearly superior. Just as an idea, it is infinitely more rewarding.

The Mercedes advert above does what many great ads over the years have done.

It shows the benefit without showing the product (at least until the end).

As famed art-director and creative-director George Lois says:

“An ad should be 20-seconds of what the hell is going on and 10-seconds of ‘ahhhhhhh — that’s pretty smart”

(The pretty smart bit being the relevant introduction of the product).

Many great ads have followed this format. Like ‘Balls’for Sony Bravia, ‘Carousel’ for Philips Cinema 21:9 and ‘Surfer’ for Guinness.

Tension equals emotion

Dig deep enough into your product category or target market and you can find very interesting tensions.

Tensions are exceptionally helpful as a creative. Because they make things interesting before you have even started thinking.

Where there is tension. There is emotion.

Look at the below picture. What’s wrong with it?

The answer? Nothing. That is exactly the problem. It is boring.

Now. Let us make one small change.

The resulting picture is much more interesting because there is a tension, a story.

Many great ads over the years have utilised tension. Tension present either in the product category or the target market.

For example. Old Spice created an exceptionally successful and highly awarded campaign called ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’. The ways this campaign was executed were endlessly surprising.

The tension?

Every man wants to be seen as manly and attractive. But it is difficult when you are having to compete with men like Tom Hardy and Hugh Jackman.

But any man can smell great if he washes and uses Old Spice.

The tension gave the fantastic creatives the fuel to keep coming up with original work.

Morrison’s created a fantastic Christmas advert based on the following tension:

Christmas is a wonderfully relaxing time spent with people you love. Unless you are the host. Then it is very, very stressful.

When you get a brief, ask yourself:

“What is the tension with this product/ brand/ target audience?”

There may not be one. But if there is, you might have struck gold…

Even if you are only creating a poster, a great tension can get far more people talking about it, and more people talking about means more people seeing it.


It’s hard to score without a goal

You would not try to drive from Torquay to Dundee without a sat-nav, or at least a map. So why let your journey into the advertising industry be any different?

You will need to pile hundreds and thousands of hours into trying to get a job in advertising. But before you do, take the time to ask yourself where you want to get a job and why.

The best bit is, there is a simple method you can use to do this that will save you time, energy and money.

The Pareto Placement

The Pareto Principle is a theory named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He developed the theory to show that in almost every area of life, 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs and 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.

For example, 80% of the happiness in your life is likely created by 20% of the people in your life.

You probably wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. Or, in homage to Pareto, you might say that 80% of truly great advertising is being created by 20% of agencies.

The split isn’t always 80/20. But a little does often create a lot. If you’re trying to get into advertising, you can use this to your advantage. Here’s how.

Step one

Spend a weekend (with your creative partner) looking through agency’s websites. Assuming you have high ambitions, you likely want to work in a top-100 agency. If you’re in the UK, a good place to start is Campaign’s School Report.

Look through the work on the agency’s website. Do you both like it? Do you both Respect it? Does it make you jealous? Does it make you feel like your ideas are embarrassingly weak? Or is it just nice?

Step two

Write a list of the 10% you thought were killing it. Agencies you’d possibly saw off and eat your own foot to get into.

These are the agencies to focus on, filled with creatives that you really respect, with portfolios that match.

These are the people to build relationships with. Show them that you work hard, fast and can crack a brief — or at least die trying.

Step three

Every time you see one of these agencies, make a note of which of your ideas they like/ don’t like. Enter all of this into a spreadsheet.

Vertical column = agencies.

Horizontal column = campaigns.

Mother loves your idea for Kia = insert Y in that cell.

BBH hates your idea for Aviva = insert N in that cell.

Do this for every book crit, at every agency, every time you re-work your book. Assuming you’re listening to nice people you respect at agencies you respect and you are acting on their advice, you should soon see a trend appearing in your spreadsheet. A nice, but not perfect line of Y’s.

Next, the campaigns that have a Y against them for every (or almost every) agency in your top 10%, they go into your book.

You should now have before you a book full of campaigns and ideas that every agency in your top 10% likes. We can’t promise you that placements will follow, but they’re much more likely to occur than if you just slavishly keep re-working your book.

The 80/20 of getting a job in advertising is performing on placement.

The 80/20 of getting placements is having a strong book.

The 80/20 of having a strong book is extracting gems from agencies and creatives that make you weak at the knees and fill you with big, squishy dreams.

And the best bit is, no one needs to know that you are doing this.

The Devil’s In The Data

In the same way you can use a spread-sheet to strategically put your book together. You can do the same thing to make sure you start in an agency where creativity thrives.

Credit for this strategy has to go entirely to Simon Veksner for his advice in ‘How To Make It As An Advertising Creative’.

Advertising awards are not a perfect way to measure an agencies creative output.

For example; bigger agencies have bigger awards entry budgets. This allows them to enter more awards and therefore, win more awards. Beyond the quality of the work itself, it’s simple math. The more awards shows and categories an agency enters, the more awards it is likely to win.

Some agencies choose to enter fewer awards. Some none at all. Mother for example, is seen by many as consistently one of the UK’s most creative advertising agencies. But they enter far fewer awards than their counterparts. The same can be said for Wieden + Kennedy London.

So, not perfect.

But they are about as objective a measure of an agencies creative output as we can get.

It’s easy to look at a big agency and be impressed by how many awards they win. But when you work out how many that is per head, you realise some smaller agencies seriously punch above their weight.

The Big Won Report measures agency success at all of the world’s major awards shows. It then compiles them into a list showing how each agency has performed overall.

Below is an example for 2016/ 2017.

If you want to do this yourself. You can access the spreadsheet here.

This is not to be taken as gospel. It’s far from perfect.

For example, adam&eveDDB London, often heralded by the industry and the public alike as the UK’s best creative agency, ranks at number 5.

But it can teach us something.

1. Not to be immediately impressed by all of the awards a big agency has won. But to question if they are beating their smaller counterparts.

2. Some small agencies seriously punch above their weight. If you can get a job there, you can really prosper.

What’s next?

Like a long car journey, things go smoother when you plan.

Your journey into the industry is no different.

You have to plan some milestones and signposts along the way.

This serves two functions. It keeps you motivated and on track.

But it also allows you to see how far you have come. It allows you to give yourself a break from constantly pursuing industry success.

We encourage you to set an ultimate ambition for yourself in the industry. For example, becoming an Executive Creative Director.

We then encourage you to work backwards from that goal to where you are now.

Remember we talked about how success leaves clues? That the best way to succeed is to find someone who has already achieved your goal and model their strategy?

Well. Do some online stalking of ECD’s you admire.

You’ll soon come to a realisation.

Something that makes career progression as a creative so beautifully simple…

Career progression is simply a matter of making great work.

As BBC Creative, Executive Creative Director Aidan McClure puts it:

“Look after the work and the work will look after you.”

This is great news. Because it allows you to ‘set and forget’ your ultimate goal and focus on what matters, which is making great work.

But your ultimate goal will be there for you when times are hard. When motivation is low. It means you can look for the next signpost on your journey.

We like to think of this as asking the question: “what’s next?”

For example:

You find a creative partner. What’s next?

Together, you choose the agencies in your top 10%. What’s next?

You put your first book together. What’s next?

You do your first round of book crits. What’s next?

You eventually get your first placement. What’s next?

You now have 5 placements lined up back to back. What’s next?

You eventually get a job. What’s next?

You get the picture.

Success as a creative, is ultimately about making great work…

And making great work requires you to focus as much of your attention as possible on the work.

Do this and allow the chips to fall as they may.

Because if you focus on the work. If you make great work. Promotions, pay rises, job offers and industry fame will all take care of themselves.

But when times are hard, you will have a destination and signposts in place to encourage you to keep going.

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