As the fresh faced freshers begin their advertising careers, here’s some friendly advice I’d have given myself (and Rich) all those years back.

There’s a lot of activity around here in Birmingham with the start of new students just up the road at BCU.

As all these hopeful and enthusiastic young things embark on their journey towards a chosen career, it got me thinking: what would I have liked someone to gently drill into me when I was in their shoes as a wannabe advertising student 26 years ago.

  1. You’re studying advertising, learn your history.

    Find out the greats. See what made them tick, how they thought, why they did what they did.
    Just because an ad is in black and white and doesn’t animate doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it.
    Dissect the thinking, read the copy, absorb the language.
    Cover your wall in the best you can find and aim to achieve what they do so brilliantly.
    Read the old awards annuals from around the world cover to cover, you’ll find them in one of those old fashioned libraries. You’ll appreciate them far more in a printed format than on a computer screen.

  2. Focus on the idea.

    There’s some amazing technological advancements taking place around the world and nearly all offer an opportunity to do something great. But this business and your future job will only survive if you stay steadfast on the creation of ideas.
    We already have AI software that can write copy and find a stock image.
    But the one thing we still have in our armoury is free thinking and tangential problem solving.
    Ideas that are logical tend not to be very creative.
    Be brave. Safe never got anyone a job.

  3. Listen.

    You may be blessed to have the most amazing lecturers. Sage-like advice and guidance abound at every turn. Maybe not.
    But listen carefully to everything you’re told. Whether you act on it depends on how worthwhile you believe it to be.
    There will be nuggets in there that you will carry throughout your career but only if you hear them.

  4. Talk.

    This industry is full of talented, generous people. Creative Director’s by their nature (and job description) love guiding thought processes and making ideas and people better. Make contact with them.
    Too many times we witness 3rd year students who are just about to enter the big wide world looking for advice from the industry for the first time. Do it from the end of the first term. Your book should be torn to shreds from the moment you create it. Treat the interactions as relationship building with people you want a job from further down the line.
    It will make your work better and put you ahead of the hundreds of other graduates when the time comes.

  5. Don’t be precious.

    You’re getting older now and it’s time for mummy to stop telling you how brilliant you are. You’re not.
    There’s a lot to learn and having your work criticised is the best way to do it (see above).
    Get yourself a partner. One who’s not afraid to tell you your ideas are shit and won’t mind you telling them the same.
    Learn to think with a pen and paper (an Ad Pad and a 2B pencil are my weapons of choice). Computer skills are essential this day and age but if you want to make a career from ideas they can be obstructive and lead to easy answers.
    Bullet marker ideas are easy to throw away. Mac visuals that took a week to create aren’t.
    The leg work for an idea is always done in your head not with a mouse.

  6. Absorb.

    As well as learning from the masters (see point 1) look beyond the industry. Inspiration is everywhere and whether you’re a budding Art Director or Copywriter you need it. Visit galleries, go to the cinema and the theatre, look in shop windows, admire the typography in a menu, read blogs and trade mags, flick through books on architecture, interior design, fashion. Look at street furniture and how it’s shape is form and function. Watch music videos, listen to music you wouldn’t normally give airspace to. Take in the graffiti, (sorry, street art) after all, it seems to be everywhere these days.
    Just soak up as much as you can and expand your cultural reference points.
    Use your phone to take photos and make notes. Years later they may be a trigger for something amazing.

  7. Change your scenery.

    Welcome to a new city. It’s all shiny and exciting but get out and see new places.
    If you’re here in Birmingham jump on a coach (shameless client plug) or hitch a lift to London, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Bognor – wherever you can get a deal. Meet old friends and talk to them. What’s making them tick, what does their new home feel like? What are they learning? One day, the chances are you’ll have to solve a problem in their industry.

  8. Work hard, it’s easy when you love it.

    Easy thing to do as a new student is to coast in the first two years and then knuckle down for the final year.
    Forget it.
    Graft from day 1 as if you were in an agency.
    This isn’t real work and if this business is for you then you should want to do it more than anything. Solving problems and thinking creatively should never ever be a chore. Difficult? Yes. Labour intensive? Damn right. Frustrating? Without a doubt. Unenjoyable? Quit now.

  9. Be passionate.

    We see so many students who lack a passion for the industry.
    This isn’t a job.
    You need to not only enjoy what you do but you need to live and breathe it. Your passion will shine through in your work and the way you present it and yourself.
    Be prepared to solve briefs in your dreams. For years to come you’ll be waking up at a ridiculous early hour with a solution to a problem (have your phone to hand to jot stuff down).

  10. Read Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan.

    By far the best book on how to get into this industry and what to expect once you’re lucky enough to join us.

  11. Do more than was expected.

    As a young boy, Damien Hurst used to sit at the kitchen table drawing. When he finished he would shout his mum to look at his picture. She would sellotape another piece of paper onto the artwork and tell him to keep on going.
    This is what makes the difference.