HOW TO HELP CREATIVE PEOPLE FIND FULFILLING WORK, with Ollie Scott, Associate Director of Gemini People

The energy ball that is Ollie Scott spoke to me about what it takes to get in, stay in and do well in, creative recruitment.

ES: What’s your life story in three, 1-sentence bullet points.

OS:

  • Birth
  • Rugby, terrible student, great socialiser
  • Was 18 by the age of 16, 21 by the age of 17, 25 by the age of 21

ES: That last one is intriguing, what do you mean exactly?

OS: People have always said that I’m older than I actually am. I think some very big life occurrences and responsibilities have taken place earlier than they tend to for others.

ES: Tell me your career story in three 1-sentence bullet points.

OS:

  • Bad at maths
  • Super close family and a tonne of friends all over the globe. ALL wanting to have fun most of the time.
  • Brief spell of nude modelling (never trust a man called Gert)
  • Built a team that does things differently, lifelong client partnerships and became a board member at the age of 25.

ES: First of all, That’s 4. Second of all… that third one?

OS: We’ll come onto it later.

ES: Haha, ok.

OS: Oh and I suppose I forgot to say that I then stumbled across the land of advertising head-hunting at a very young age and realised it wasn’t being serviced properly.

ES: Why isn’t it being serviced properly?

OS: People think of the placement before they question the hire. A true talent partner should be able to tell their clients when to hire and when to not. A lot of recruitment drives have happened in the last decade that didn’t need to happen, and if they did, they weren’t treated or taken as seriously as they should have been. We should be partnering with businesses to help them look everywhere internally before going to their competitors or to the creative market.

If they decide to hire externally, then it needs to be treated as a very delicate, confidential project.

ES: So how does your team do things differently?

OS: As I may have mentioned, I’m a firm believer in curiosity and taking our noses off the canvas before painting.

We built a business on curiosity and imagination:

  • Why is this hire so important to your business?
  • Why has it got to be X person from X agency or Brand?
  • If this is a creative role, can we be creative with where we locate the talent?

Mutual respect is also just as important. If we’re here to help grow your business, we’re also here to help you nurture and retain that talent.

That’s a lot of work and requires a close partnership.

ES: Tell me about an event or person in your childhood or teen years that has shaped the adult you are now?

OS: Apart from Lou off of Neighbours, I think I’d have to say my wonderful gentleman of a Grandfather.

A huge Rudyard Kipling fan. In fact, every time I did something silly (most days) he’d throw the ‘If’ poem at me.

I’d be over the moon if I turned out to be half the man he is.

ES: What’s the biggest lesson he taught you?

OS: Don’t deal in lies.

ES: Tell me about the first hour of your day, what does it usually look like?

OS: Ohhh this is going to sound really wanky at the moment as I’m in a pre- Bali ritual.

  • Wake up
  • Scroll on phone
  • Nearly fall back asleep
  • Sleep cycle prods me
  • Head to the gym
  • Come back
  • Play podcast whilst making breakfast (Currently listening to Diary of a CEO — Stephen Bartlett)
  • Walk to bus stop
  • Headspace app on for 10-mins then very small read of book in pocket.

(This is genuinely what happens about 3/4 times a week. There are obviously the hungover “barely-able-to-breathe-gasping-for-water-miss-bus-slip-over-chicken-cottage-box” mornings too.)

ES: What sort of stuff are you doing in the gym?

OS: I’m doing what my best friend created as an experiment a few summers ago. Check out The 32-Day cut by Ali Turpie.

(Mind the puns, they’re terrible.)

ES: What benefits do you find exercising early in the morning gives you?

OS: A huge boost and feeling of smugness. I’m not an evening gymmer and feel sorry for those who have to head to the gym after work. It also makes me feel less guilty for being idle throughout the day.

ES: Tell me what do you for a living, without using your job title?

OS: I connect creative people to businesses and people that’ll pay them for their thoughts.

ES: What did you do at work yesterday?

OS: I took a brief from a hospital bed and made three very quiet phone calls shortly afterwards.

ES: Mind me asking why you were in a hospital bed?

OS: Cycling around Richmond Park, infected elbow that led to Cellulitis.

ES: Ouch.

Ok… so why do you do what you do? What need (other than paying bills etc.) does your job fulfil?

OS: Goodness… Avoiding as many cliches as possible here… I like people being happy with something that I’ve contributed to. There’s some weird science behind this and I did a colour chart analysis day and apparently that’s what I live for; recognition and other people succeeding with my help.

ES: What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why?

OS: Sapiens:

AMAZING. It literally explains why we exist.

What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School:

He reminded me of my grandfather. Business through mutually beneficially decided partnerships.

Zero to One:

Taking a few things with a pinch of salt but the biggest takeaway: Don’t copy, create. Technology vs Globalization.

ES: What book has most made you question your life decisions?

OS: Sapiens… It actually tells you why!

ES: What was your first real experience with what you do now for living? When you thought — ”I’d like to do something like that?”

OS: Selling a suit to a chap on Northcote Road.

ES: Tell me the the journey from that moment to landing your first, paying job.

OS: I worked as a Suit Tailor, measured up a head-hunter and he introduced me to two founders of an IT head-hunting firm… Worked there for a bit, left, went travelling and then joined Gemini People.

ES: Where did the drive or the confidence come from to do that? Who or what made you feel like you could do it? Or that you had nothing to lose by trying?

OS: Everyone told me that I needed to be surrounded by people. Apparently I understood people…. So I took that advice and ran with it.

ES: What advice would you give to a smart, driven 18-year old trying to get your job?

OS:

It’s not hard to get my job.

It’s harder to keep it and do well. My advice would be:

  1. Ask everything… No matter how stupid the question.
  2. Don’t stop meeting people.
  3. Let everyone be your mentor.
  4. Don’t trust the first person that wants to be your friend in the company you’re joining ;)
  5. Once you’ve done your listening, don’t assume everyone is right.
  6. Oh and as Dr. Seuss said: “You are you and no one is you’er than you.”

ES: If you could put your brain in the body of an 18 year-old who can’t afford to attend higher education, but wants your job… what might a rough plan look like for getting that first job?

OS: Literally, don’t worry about it. The beauty of this job is that it’s not in your degree, it’s in your ability to engage.

Go on Linkedin, write to 10 CEO’s of recruitment businesses saying that you’d be interested in shadowing their top performer. Then go and beat him the next year.

ES: What’s your measure of whether or not someone is going to be a good person to work with?

OS:

  • Have they asked me a question?
  • Have they smiled?
  • Have they listened?
  • Bonus point: Can they make a joke about themselves?

ES: What three character traits do you think people who are good at what you do, have in common?

OS:

  • Curiosity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Resilience

ES: What three things separate game-changing creative recruiters from good ones?

OS:

Ears — Sounds funny but a lot of people aren’t using them.

Mystery boxes — For both opportunity seekers and people hirers. A good recruiter knows when to think of a non-conventional solution.

Saying no — to shitty business, ignorant people (racists, sexists, you name em’, I’ll ave’ em’ all) and naive hires.

ES: What trends are you currently seeing in creative hirings? What do you think that represents?

OS: How honest can I be? Without opening pandora’s box? we’re seeing a lot of hires being made as it’s “en vogue” to get someone from a particular background or demographic or country.

Agencies seldom stop and ask if they actually need to make that hire or more importantly: are the conditions of their creative department designed to accept and nurture that kind of talent?

ES: What are some trends you predict or see on the horizon?

OS: I’m expecting to see quite a big change in agency setup.

One would pray for bigger creative departments with more diverse talent. Not just in terms of race, gender, sexuality, age etc. But specialisms.

I had a fascinating meeting about the power of diversity last week. It’s so clear how much of a positive outcome agencies would have if they had departments of unlike minded, diversely talented people.

ES: Apart from a strong body of work (for their experience level) what do creative people who “always seem to get the job” have in common?

OS: Side hustles and ideas that never quite made it for one reason or another.

If I was to have an ounce of creativity in my brain and made a portfolio, I’d think about what genuinely entertains and engages humans in ANY form.

We’re looking to you to understand how the next generations want to be engaged. Tell us!

Oh! And never underestimate the power of partnerships; Brand, talent, platform, charity, whatever!

Non-work related… They’re usually just the most enthusiastic and curious. They don’t stop asking “why” and listen when you speak.

ES: What is bad advice you hear being given about your job or your industry? What advice should people ignore?

OS: Get ready to work long hours and be rejected every day of your life — There’s an element of this. But it’s no way near as bad as it was in the 80’s

We live in a hyper-connected world. I don’t know how important “long hours” are anymore. What does that even mean?

We’re on Whatsapp at 11pm and 5 in the morning now. Why are you chaining me to this desk?

If I was entering the world of recruitment now, I’d expect to be exposed most of the time.

That’s why it’s so important to bring ‘you’ to work. Not someone else.

It’s also important to bring ‘you’ to work in order to avoid the feeling of rejection.

ES: Tell me about a time in your career that you’ve struggled? Or felt lost?

OS: When you reach the point that you’ve learnt everything from your peers that you can. That’s a lonely feeling. Best thing is to reach out externally… As I said up there, anyone can be your mentor.

ES: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

OS: One guy told me that he never wanted to hear from me ever again, booked a meeting with my boss and told my boss I was shit.

2 years later they became my biggest client that year.

ES: If you had a gun to your head and had to have one phrase tattooed on yourself, what would it be?

OS: Seek First to understand, then to be understood.

(Gets you out of a lot of trouble that)

ES: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Time with elderly people. They have the most experience on the planet and no one listens to them. Those guys.

ES: When you hear the phrase “against all odds, he/ she/ they prevailed” who or what comes to mind?

OS: Honestly? Phil Collins.

ES: What was the last thing you saw, heard or experienced that made you think or say “jesus… that’s clever”?

OS: Google hire.

ES: Anything you’re currently struggling with or trying to learn or improve?

OS: I’m trying to learn how to be technically savvy. I have lots of thoughts and never know where to put them.

ES: In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

OS: Meditating.

ES: What’s been the biggest difference you’ve noticed?

OS: General clarity, floods of endorphins and more time for reflection. As quite an impulsive person, I need a lot of that!

ES: If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

OS: More Grandad's like mine around! Less taxidermy.

ES: What is the greatest accomplishment of your career so far?

OS: Building a team of humans that disrupt every day.

ES: What does “networking” look like to you?

OS: Nothing like I feel it does to some people.

Natural, purposeful introductions.

ES: What irrational fears do you have about your job or your work?

OS: Trolling. I don’t know why, I just hate being trolled.

ES: Tell me about your first year of trying to get, or getting a job. What did you do right, wrong? What did you learn?

OS: 27 interviews in 19 days.

In one interview, I had to pick a Rolex off the desk and tell the Brent (Ricky Gervais' - The Office) character opposite how I was going to get my very own Rolex.

In another, I had to stand up in front of 50 people and ‘headhunt’ a man in Canada at 3 in the morning.

ES: Describe the plan, dream or desire in your head at that time?

OS: *See only fools and horses.

ES: What haven’t you achieved yet, that you’d like to?

OS: Genuine disruption of a dusty model.

ES: If there had to be an enemy of your job, what would it be? What bugs you?

OS: Old school, lazy, expensive, non diverse solutions to talent hiring problems.

ES: How do you stay disciplined in your work?

OS: Her initials are J.J

ES: What’s your personal approach for making proactive projects happen and choosing what to focus on?

OS: Whatever I wake up thinking about, that one.

Then I’ll assemble better, more operational people around me to do it.

ES: Tell me about a mistake or an obstacle that you wish someone had warned you about?

OS: A photographer called Gert based in Amsterdam.

ES: I’m assuming this is the nude modelling?

OS: You are correct.

ES: Willing to share?

OS: …

Ok…

So ‘Model Mayhem' was just that; absent Father, mother on a teacher’s salary…

A poor 18-year old trying to support his old gal… It’ll make you do silly things…

Short version:

I got a call 2-weeks before my 18th birthday from an agency based in Southampton. (I know, the UK’s answer to Milan.)

It was a test-shoot. I’d been asked to head down when I wasn’t being consumed by my Leisure Studies course. I booked the train down for the next day.

One awkward handshake and a lathering of goose fat later, I found myself chained up in a dungeon having buckets of ice-cold water thrown at me.

Why Goose Fat? Honestly, I’ve never known why.

Fast-forward two weeks and the same man gives me a call:

-“Ollie — Happy Birthday. Now… What are your thoughts of Artistic, nude modelling?”

No way.

-“We’ll pay you £200 and fly you to Amsterdam.”

Suffice to say, I did it.

This really needs to be told in person…

But I’ll give you some bullet-pointed highlights:

  • BIG Dodge arrives at Airport
  • Gert (dutch architect and photographer) collects me
  • He boasts openly about sleeping with roughly 50% of his models
  • One of the biggest houses I’ve ever seen. HE HAS FIRE FOR SKIRTING BOARDS.
  • Goose Fat. Liquid Viagra. Heineken.
  • Shoot
  • Next morning: I’m taken as a date to the next-door neighbour’s Herring and Heineken party to watch the Euro’s or World-Cup
  • I meet Gert’s actual boyfriend. (SOMETHING MENTAL HAPPENS HERE).
  • This evening ends up with me in my pants hailing down a taxi after escaping out of a club.
  • 2 Years later, I’m image No. 3 when googling: “MAN CHAINED TO DUNGEON.”
  • They have me on posters and mugs in Colorado or somewhere.

ES: That was a pretty thorough re-telling… Even if there is more, I’m not sure this is the place for it…

Tell me 3 things on your bucket list.

OS:

  • Gout through indulgence
  • Lead singer in band for at least 6 months (NOASIS)
  • Learn the real secrets about where truffles come from

ES: If you could enter a time machine that guaranteed return and also made you invincible in the time period you’re visiting, where would you go?

OS: Freddie Mercury’s 40th birthday

ES: What do you miss about being a kid?

OS: Injury-free sport

ES: What constitutes a perfect day for you?

OS: Live music, lively crowd, sun, teenie bit of exercise and a lot of alcohol.

ES: What was the last song you sang to yourself or someone else?

OS: Lemar 50/50 (Thanks Fame academy)

ES: If you could wake up tomorrow with one superpower, what would it be?

OS: At the click of the fingers, transform someone’s Nose into a wotsit.

ES: Your house is on fire and no person or animal you love is in it. What one object do you save

OS: My scent diffuser — mmm lavender.

ES: What’s your one paragraph idea for saving the world?

OS: America; Fire Trump, hire Dwayne ‘THE ROCK’ Johnson.

England; Fire May, find a way to preserve David Attenborough to be our eternal humble leader.

World; Keep a lid on AI

Ollie Scott is Associate Director of Gemini People