“…the agency mantra is “the work comes first” … but I’d also add “don’t be a dick”.”

Jason Scott on how to get a placement at Wieden + Kennedy.

I spoke to Jason Scott — Senior Creative at W+K London and one half of Jason and Joris — about team dynamics, book crits, and life on placement at one of London’s top agencies.

Jason Scott and Joris Philippart

Tom Manning (TM): How did you break into the industry? What was your path to where you are now?

Jason Scott (JS): I studied a very, very, very bland course at Bournemouth University. Like Pantone 14–1118 TPX bland. So when I finished I did the only sensible thing and spent the last dregs of my loan on a flight to Delhi. Once there I turned up at Ogilvy and said that Rory Sutherland had sent me for a job, which was a complete lie. I didn’t have a folio, or even know what a folio was, but by that afternoon I was writing ads for brands like Yahoo! and Absolut. Then when I came back I worked for a year at a little agency in Soho, before spending two and a half a-fucking-mazing years at VCCP where I was teamed up with my partner. We’ve now been at Wieden + Kennedy for just over 2 years.

TM: Tell me about the placement programme.

JS: We only get one team in at a time as we want to concentrate on quality over quantity. The team will stay for up to 3 months with a review after every month. Joris and I tend to stay close to the team for the first couple of weeks and might even help with a brief or two. The team is invited to join agency running clubs, football clubs, baking clubs or just come down the pub to integrate them into the culture. Then that’s it. It’s all up to them. Oooh, we pay the London living wage.

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TM: What’s the best way to get your attention?

JS: Essentially we just want to see interesting thinking. That’s it. Having said that, I love it when people turn up with products they’ve made or prototypes they’ve developed. It makes me jealous and that’s an awesome way to get in. Oh, and beer. Beer is good.

TM: Website vs physical book — what do you prefer and why?

JS: I prefer a website because I think it’s a better way to show off digital thinking and that’s what really excites me. But hey, it’s your book. You can shave it into your extremely thick back hair if you think that’s the best way to present it.

TM: What don’t you see enough (in or out of teams’ books)?

JS: Personal projects. Ads are fine, we expect to see them. What we don’t expect to see are those photographs you took when you went undercover in the Islamic State. Or that robot you made to spray deodorant on you in the morning. Or that awesome Facebook experiment you did that lost you all your friends.

TM: With new places to put ads popping up every day, how important is the medium?

JS: We just want to see ideas really. Doesn’t matter where they live. Although I would say that with digital becoming more and more important, I think it’s vital that you show you understand it. And I don’t just mean #PutAReallyBigHashtagAtTheBottomOfYourPrintAd. I mean by showing you can think of a really interesting digital execution of an idea. Digital and integrated thinking is what has always excited us and what we’ve always tried to do ourselves, so it’s obvious that we’ll be more interested in digital ideas in a portfolio.

TM: How ‘polished’ do you like to see a book?

JS: It’s always good to see a crafted book. There are so many people trying to get into this industry that the more professional you can make yourself seem, the better your chances.

TM: How important to you are student awards in choosing teams?

JS: Erm… not very. We look at the Young Lions winners and go to D&AD, but if we think someone who the jury told to give up and become a farmer has interesting work then we’ll still get them in.

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TM: Why do you prefer to take pairs?

JS: We take pairs at Wieden’s because there’s so much work to do. We’re always really, really busy. And unlike most agencies, we give our placement teams real briefs and not simply copy amends to existing work. For example, we’re currently working on a big US TV brief and asked the placement guys to chip in with a route even though it could have meant they got to make the work and we didn’t.

TM: Would you rather a traditional copy/art split or a do-a-bit-of-everything team?

JS: It’s up to the teams really. However they work best. And as long as they produce good ideas when they’re in, I don’t care if they take a traditional split or crowdsourced the ideas on Fiverr. Joris and I definitely have input in both art-direction and copy at the early stages but there comes a time when you have to take responsibility for one side or the other.

TM: Does it matter if a partnership is harmonious? Or can you put up with explosions if it results in great work?

JS: This sounds a bit zen (and wanky) but there can be harmony in explosions too. Tony, our ECD, is as explosive as they come and for about 20 years he worked with Kim, one of the quietest most thoughtful guys you’re likely to meet. They made incredible work together despite Tony’s explosiveness because he’s collaborative and encouraging too. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re explosive, don’t be an arsehole with it.

TM: Do you think the industry offers everyone the same opportunity?

JS: Advertising is very, very white and upper class. Obviously there’s been a huge feminist push recently to get more girls to stick it out in advertising, which is awesome (apparently lots of girls don’t last past placement stage and there are lots of theories about why, ranging from the notion that girls find it harder to live in an insecure hand-to-mouth way, to male creative directors more likely to hire male creatives). But I’ve hardly met any black or Asian creatives. And the ones I have met have all been from middle to upper income backgrounds. I think this lack of diversity is a big issue that not many people are talking about at the moment.

TM: Do you think there’s a ‘right’ number of placements before you get hired?

JS: We tend to look for teams who have done a placement or two so that they can cope with the basics of the job. There are so many things that you don’t learn about advertising at uni, ranging from how to put a deck together to how to do timesheets and who to talk to if you have a problem. Maybe unis should run a ‘how to put a deck together’ course because it’s super important.

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How would you describe the culture of your agency? And what qualities make a good W+Ker?

Work very hard. Play very hard. It’s a tight-knit but chaotic place and it’s unlike any other agency I’ve worked in. The agency itself is very embedded in the local community. We do a lot of charity events ranging from a 10-mile walk to bake sales and hackathons. All in work time too. We have a window display which changes every couple of months and is all about interaction with locals. Which all comes from Dan’s vision of the agency when he first set it up. Qualities that make a good W+Ker? Well the agency mantra is “the work comes first” so you need to be good at what you do but I’d also add “don’t be a dick”.

Would you say W+K is a nurturing environment? I’ve heard the water is pretty deep and you’ve gotta learn to swim pretty fast!

The water is deep. And there’s sharks in it. And conga eels. And probably typhoid and used condoms. But the lifeguards are some of the best in the world who just want you to swim like a fish and (I’m going to break from the metaphor here) make the best work of your life. Which is incidentally another mantra.

If a team were to give blood, sweat and weekends, what could they expect to get?

Hopefully some work out. We’ve had about 10 placement teams at Wieden’s since we were doing placements. We don’t get many teams in. We’re very selective. We work teams hard but we’re very supportive. And every single team has gone on to get a job straight after leaving us. So we must be doing something right.

Who do you have on placement right now, and what impressed you about them?

We’ve got Jack and Joe who are a team we met when we created a placement competition called “change the world from your bedroom”. What we liked was their attitude. They had an idea and they didn’t just put it down on paper and send it in. They went out and actually did it. They ended up on the BBC, in newspapers and all over the internet. So I guess they got something out of it too.

Jason and Joris are handing responsibility for placements over to fellow W+K Creatives, ✉ Philippa and ✉ Artur. They’re accepting applications for placements beginning April 2016 — we’ll speak to them closer to the time.