A year on from being mentioned as ‘one to watch’, it was great to be named on the main list as one of Campaign’s ‘Future Leaders’ alongside Jenna, and some other amazingly talented and inspirational ladies.
I was honoured to get a mention on this list in the company of some seriously incredible women.
The written version of the SXSW talk...
NB: This is an article which was originally published on LBBOnline.
According to Geena Davis: “if she can see it, she can be it”.
Appropriate then that I find myself in a room filled to the brim with badass female creatives. I am the lucky recipient of a ticket to the Creative Equals ‘Future Leaders’ event and – as I stand chatting – I realise I’ve never seen so many lady-creatives in the same place at the same time. This is exciting. This is empowering. We’re like a flamboyance of flamingos congregating in a glorious annual spectacular of group behaviour. The breakfast bacon butties aren’t half bad either.
But – free grub aside – why are we all here? Well, when the stats around females in creative positions stand at 30%, despite the split being 50/50 at graduation, it sounds alarm bells. When those stats fall even further for women in creative director positions to 12%, and a mere 5% at the highest level, it’s obvious the gender issue within creative departments is a problem that cannot be ignored.
Is this a case where ‘she ain’t bein’ it because she ain’t seein’ it?’ Can the complexities of the creative industry’s gender imbalance be reduced to a simple lack of same-sex role models? Some would argue that gender plays no part in our capacity to be inspired, learn and develop. Certainly, there is nothing within the act of inspiration that is explicitly gendered. What’s more, the science on the benefits of so-called ‘gender-matched mentorship’ remains stoically undecided.
But look closely and today’s studies and commentary suggest otherwise – and really, who could deny that the influence of female role models is needed with the industry stats as they currently are?
Nishma Robb, Google’s head of marketing, described the transformation she saw in her young daughter after she bought her the Kickstarter-funded book ‘Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls’. The book contains 100 true tales of extraordinary women from history. Suddenly, Nishma’s daughter’s love for all things pink and princess-related was quashed. Inspired by heroic heroines such as Amelia Earhart, Amna Al Haddad and Elizabeth I, she had new women to look up to and model herself on. Bye-bye Barbie, hello martial arts.
Unsurprisingly, the media has a similar impact. Nishma also referenced the ‘CSI effect’, where putting women in leading, powerful roles in TV crime drama resulted in the number of undergraduates studying forensic science more than doubling to the current average of 78% female students. This want and need to see people like ourselves doing what we do also helps explain the success of the #iLookLikeAnEngineer social movement, which aimed to challenge the sexist assumptions of appearance and went viral overnight.
As with engineering, business is unsurprisingly male-heavy at the highest ranks. Sandi Toksvig shared with us the fact that currently, just seven FTSE 100 companies are run by women. Meanwhile, 17 are run by men called John. Back in the world of advertising, another speaker shared a client anecdote: “we need a man leading this thing,” he had said. “We need a real big hitter”. In his mind, the only proven successful creatives who could be trusted enough to deliver were men.
Thankfully, Laura Jordan-Bambach is doing something to change this. She’s rented out an entire cinema at Cannes this year, just to showcase talented women’s work. She knows there are plenty of female ‘big hitters’ out there, we just need to give them the stadium in which to shine.
As the day progressed I felt an overwhelming gratitude for all of the trailblazing women speaking and running workshops around me. Whether it was Claire Beale’s rallying cry for more women to write for and comment in industry press, Tracy De Groose challenging us all to be 5% braver, or Nicky Bullard’s openness about crying in the workplace, every woman made a lasting impression on me.
It’s not that I don’t think opposite-sex role models can have value. Far from it. Most of my formative working relationships have been with men. But I think it’s absolutely critical that we see people we can fundamentally relate to to reach the highest highs that our careers can offer. That is precisely the reason I continue to be so gutted about Hillary losing the election. Thanks to Obama, there’s now an entire generation of African-Americans who will grow up believing ‘I can do that. I can be that.’ We need that for little girls. A successful woman is a banner waving in the faces of impressionable youth that says: “Here! Look. If I can do it, so can you.”
And that was precisely the value of the Creative Equals event. I ended the day with fresh connections made and new heroines found. Path-crossing with people who we feel a close connection to matters, because like flamboyances of flamingos, there’s safety in numbers and we truly are stronger together. In the words of Jessica Bennett: “the only thing more powerful than a self-confident woman is an army of them.” Well, consider me ready for battle.
NB: This is a piece we wrote for the Daily Dot
The Internet has revolutionised communication. Indeed, conversation has never been easier. Unfortunately, easier doesn’t necessarily mean better...
Nowhere is this disconnect more apparent than in our inboxes. The average businessperson now receives over 90 emails per day, of which less than a quarter are from actual people. All this information is more than any normal person can effectively handle, yet marketers have sent and are continuing to send 12 percent more emails a year since 2012. No wonder “the purge” has become a perfectly acceptable way of managing our messages.
Talk has always been cheap, but on the Internet—it’s virtually worthless. Online, the economics of quantity have almost destroyed the ergonomics of quality. The existence of spam and quasi-requested newsletters won’t come as a surprise to readers of the Daily Dot, but their presence is nonetheless emblematic of how digital is changing mankind’s approach to communication fundamentally.
Email marketing’s great contribution to the art of conversation is the introduction of “spray and pray” communication. Media people are obsessed with improving their metrics but since 2007, click-to-open rates (the only metric that really matters) have halved. Unfortunately, many digital communicators seem to be incapable of thinking outside of the inbox.
This very digital problem is compounded by our very human nature: Words are only one of the channels through which we communicate. Facial expression, vocal tone, and body language are all necessary for effective self-expression and all conspicuously absent online. There’s an argument to say emoticons provide a kind of substitute, but that’s another story.
What’s more, digital conversations aren’t governed by the same rules of etiquette as normal society. That’s why people type harder than they talk; online and offline consequences are very different. Many people are less inclined to moderate their messaging in the absence of audible boos, visible shock and physical punches.
A recent Derby University study concluded: “Smartphones are psychologically addictive, encourage narcissistic tendencies and should come with a health warning.” This is perhaps a tad dramatic, but it gives academic clout to the idea that online communications—for all their manifold advantages—come with serious baggage.
But this isn’t an article about the problems of digital communication; this is an article about the joys of analogue conversation. Right now, all across the globe, companies and individuals are putting aside their keyboards and picking up pens. This might seem like a slightly extreme backlash, but there’s more to it than that. Handwritten letters may be old fashioned, but they carry more authenticity and humanity than any other medium. Nowadays, these traits blaze more brightly than ever, casting the inadequacies of digital communication into sharp relief.
The thing is, people simply love receiving handwritten letters. The businesses and individuals who take advantage of this fact really reap the benefits. Take the example of American accessories company HEX. Hex has been sending handwritten thank you letters for years. Apart from the obvious benefits of building loyalty and return custom, the tactic has actually created social magnification, which has almost certainly generated sales.
Designer Mr Bingo gave handwritten postcards an Internet-age makeover by using them for (of course) trolling. Something about his unique brand of artistic abuse struck a chord, because before long, Mr Bingo was being commissioned to send hate mail faster than he could post it. Creativity and humor clearly played a part in these postcards’ popularity, but in our opinion, the physicality and handcraft are what really set them apart.
The old-fashioned civility and creative cruelty of HEX’s thank yous and Mr Bingo’s f**k yous are undeniably endearing, but there’s more than charm at work here. Serious psychology supports the use of handwriting (or handmaking) as a powerful method of communication. Costly signalling theory proposes that actions or objects which appear to have been costly (in terms of time, money or effort) are perceived to have value (in terms of reputation, value or worth).
If that description seems a little abstract, then it’s meant to be; the effects of costly signalling theory are so wide ranging throughout culture and nature that it’s too hard to be any more concise. To put the psychology in context, try this thought experiment:
You receive two wedding invitations.
Both weddings occur on the same date and you like both couples equally.
That’s as far as your knowledge of each event goes (and will go).
Now, based on the nature of the wedding invitations themselves… which of the two events do you reckon will have bottomless free champagne?
People almost always choose the handwritten invite. That’s because the effort visibly put into creating and/or sending a message matters. Greater effort signals greater value. It’s the reason you appreciate long, ranty birthday cards more than Facebook posts. It’s also the reason most people have a shoebox somewhere filled with love letters that their current beau definitely didn’t write. As human beings we find it incredibly difficult to ignore—let alone throw away—something with so much humanity and time invested in it.
Ironically, handwritten letters’ psychological strength—the human effort that’s visibly gone into creating them—is also their physiological weakness. This impracticality is the reason more marketers haven’t picked up a pen. Handwritten letters may have the grasp, but digital communications have the reach. Scalability is the achilles heel of the handwriting hand.
Step in Inkpact. This up-and-coming British startup has developed a business model that they claim enables businesses to send customizable handwritten letters (among other things) with a high degree of scalability. It can sometimes be difficult to separate a startup’s buzz from its sting, but Inkpact’s modus operandi certainly seems to have potential.
Inkpact is building the mainstay of their writer roster from the ranks of stay-at-home parents. This is a canny move. As human resources go, soccer moms and dads are practically innumerable and virtually untapped.
Our ability to have meaningful conversations online is beginning to improve, but a pixel is not a person and it never will be.
More interesting still is the development of an API which can connect seamlessly with CRMs. Theoretically, this could mean telecoms companies’ databases will respond to their many customer service screw ups by automatically commissioning a handwritten apology letter.
What’s more, Inkpact founder and CEO Charlotte Pearce claims her handwritten letters achieve an 100 percent open rate. The math seems unlikely until you ask yourself the question: “When have you ever received a handwritten letter and not opened it?”
Will the future be filled with insincere apology letters from cynical insurance companies handwritten by bored housewives? It’s an amusingly horrid idea;Douglas Adams would have approved. Fortunately, we think it’s extremely unlikely.
While Inkpact may well make good on a business model which enables genuinely scalable handwritten marketing (for what it’s worth, we think they will), their prices (starting at about £7.00 per letter, or about $10 each) mean our letterboxes should be safe.
Our ability to have meaningful conversations online is beginning to improve—given enough time it will surely change fundamentally—but a pixel is not a person and it never will be. This distinction matters because humans like humans, and nothing oozes humanity and personality quite like a handwritten letter. Who can say what the future of communications will be? All we know for sure, is that handwritten letters aren’t going away anytime soon.
An interview Max and I conducted for our South By South West talk with advertising legend Rory Sutherland
In 2014 I was lucky enough to be featured in Creative Review's Graduate Issue.
In April 2013, Max and I happily become lab-rats for the Drum & Dave Birss’ exotically titled ‘Newt – Judge Experiment’.
The conundrum in the crucible was old as time itself… Do you produce better creative work… when pissed as a newt or sober as a judge?
On arrival, we discovered we were in different teams. Ran, to her delight, discovered she was on the ‘drinking team’ while Max, to his dismay, found he was not.
Here’s what the Drum had to say about it:
Most of our guinea pigs attended as part of a creative team. We expected that they’d automatically pair off with their partner and get to work. But that wasn’t the case.
Instead, both groups immediately started working in large group brainstorms. I thought creatives hated brainstorms! But we left them to it, expecting them to peel off into their creative teams at some point.
After an hour the alcohol-fuelled group ended up pretty leery, with the louder individuals dominating the conversation. We didn’t feel this was the best use of the creative minds in the room, so we split up the group and told people to work in their creative teams for the rest of the experiment.
We then went to the teetotal group and asked them to do the same. They refused. I demanded. They got up and walked out. Every single one of them. I’d started a mutiny. It was like a classic Stanley Milgram experiment. They saw me as the authority figure who had denied them alcohol. I was the one responsible for their miserable, sober condition. They hated me.
Fortunately, the group returned 15 minutes later, split into their teams and got busy with their Sharpies.
After three hours of thinking, we collected their ideas and took everyone out to the pub.
Well, not quite everyone… *cough*
A video filmed whilst I was studying at the SCA in 2013
In advertising, dialogue is a tricky thing. It can sound horribly unnatural, clearly penned by a copywriter (or all too often the client themselves). It’s incredibly easy fall into the trap of ‘client speak’: “hello Bob” “hello John” “I see you’re painting your fence with Ronseal” “Yes it’s very good and affordable and it dries in just 4 hours, maybe you should get some too Bob”. People would never actually talk like this, so why do we let these kind of scripts get made? Interesting, compelling dialogue is so much more likely to be effective, and it’s out there just waiting to be heard, noted down and reused.
It’s true, often the best script copy will not come directly from the mind of a copywriter. It will originate from the mouth of that overweight businessman on the 5.46 to Victoria, or the snippet of conversation you overhear walking through Covent Garden on a Saturday Morning.
We get told regularly not to walk around with headphones plugged in. If we can’t hear people, we can’t pick up on the brilliantly funny and fantastically weird things they say, and we can’t let it have a positive influence on the work we produce. I’ve got into the habit of making a note of the best things I overhear when I’m out and about, or read in the ‘word on the street’ section of Time Out, and making these notes has been one of the most valuable tools I have used this year. Here are some gems I have amassed.
‘What did you expect? He’s 43 and his mum still does his ironing.’
‘Please never say the words “Sex weasel” to me again.’
‘There’s nothing funnier than a singing goat.’
‘Shakespeare? Why would you wanna go and see Shakespeare? He’s dead!’
‘Totally outran her to a seat. Bitch didn’t stand a chance. Admittedly she was pregnant.’
‘No, you can’t go to a funeral dressed as one of the Beatles.’
“I’m always exaggerating. I exaggerate about a million times a day.”
‘but you know I don’t eat for 16 hours on a Tuesday!’
“They need to get some decent mirrors in this place. I don’t look good in any of these ones.”
“She had the most unfortunate face I’d ever seen. Until I saw her mother.”
‘Stop questioning me! What is this? The Spanish Armada?’
‘Jesus totally invented the beard’
Since September, I’ve also had a special note called ‘Andrea Quotes’ on my phone. My dear friend, much missed ex-flatmate, and newly affirmed ‘Norwegian Psycho’ is a brimming fountain of interesting dialogue, and collecting it has become somewhat of a hobby. One day I plan on releasing a book of all the weird and wonderful things she says, but for now I’ll give you a little sample (chapter 1, let’s say):
(discussing Halloween) ‘I want to be a slutty pumpkin’
‘Cats are like teenagers’
(on the death of her hydrangea) ‘Well I’m sorry for not being a plant whisperer’
(at vauxhall farm) ‘I hate horses, they’ll kill you any chance they get’
‘Where is the plastic foil?’
(talking about market reindeer) ‘It will be tame because it’s been in prison’
‘I think cheese is the best word in the English dictionary. I like to say it.’
‘Your hair smells like sausage’
‘I don’t know if I want him in my bed or in a cage next to my bed where I can stroke him’
(on smelling her new Khaki jacket from Camden Market) ‘I’m going to wash this because it smells like war’
‘When I was little my parents shaved my head so I looked like a bald polish bloke’
‘I tried waxing my bikini line myself, it was like committing suicide’
(talking about Maria from the Sound of Music) ‘And then she goes from nun to hooker’
‘I saw an elf on the tube yesterday’
‘My uterus hurts’
‘Oh my god I’ve consumed more food in the past 2 days than the average African child does in a lifetime’
‘Do you reckon I’ll get a seat on the tube for looking like a cancer victim?’
‘But it’s so delicious to be evil’
‘It looks like I’ve got an std on my nose’
(sniffing a tube of savlon) ‘this smells like Mexico’
‘The good news is I’d make a terrible terrorist’
‘Just because I’m chewing doesn’t mean I am eating’
‘What site do you use to buy a puppy in England? Do you use eBay?’
(pointing to our mugs) ‘are they all Cat Stevens?’ (Me: do you mean Cath Kidston?)
‘Look, a fireman. Finally some testosterone’
‘I want to be hair free as much as I want to be guilt free’
(when we ran out of toilet roll) ‘I can’t believe I actually dried myself with A4’
‘Can you cook me some water please?’
‘That school looks like Auschwitz‘
‘You’re the one with the premium taste-buds, you eat roast chicken on a Wednesday’
(After yet another batch of burnt cookies) ‘I’m going to sue Betty Crocker so much’
‘I need to change the way I speak English. There’s too much air in it. I sound lazy.’
(talking about grey salmon meat) ‘It tastes like death’
So, if over the next few years you should you see a commercial for Savlon shot in Mexico and featuring cats acting like moody adolescents, or the words ‘std on my nose’ ever creep their way into a script, you’ll know where I got the inspiration.
Below is an article written by Max Maclean and myself for the lovely London Egotist.
Confession of a placement virgin
Last week, we shared 5 campaigns from our Egotist Placement team, Ran and Max. Wanting the moon on a stick, we also asked them if we could get a piece from them about what it’s like to be on placement. It’s that time in your career when you’ll probably see the inside of more agencies in a short space of time than you will at any other time, so it’s interesting to compare.
Having read this through before publishing (diligent Egotist!) we can honestly say, this is a really well observed and written piece. If you’re on the placement trail now, have been or occasionally find yourself uncomfortably close to a placement team, this is required reading. Anyway, just for a change, here are Max and Ran:
We’re a junior creative team recently released from the School of Communication Arts into the frenzy of young grads scrambling for a chance to get experience (and eventually a job) in London’s top ad agencies. A few weeks ago, The Egotist asked us to write an article about the following…
What We learned on Placement.
Unfortunately, we’d only been on placement for 4 weeks so far. That’s not to say we haven’t learned anything – we’ve learned lots! (including how to poach an egg in the microwave: life-changing) but summing up what we learned on placement demands stories. Armouries of anecdotes. Quivers of quips. And we just don’t have them yet. So instead we have written this:
Confessions of a Placement Virgin.
When we reflected upon our time on placement at our first agency, we were struck by how similar the experience felt to another virginal awakening…
Being a junior creative team on your first placement is a lot like getting into a nightclub for the first time (when you’re not yet 18).
– You’re chuffed just to get in.
– It’s really important that you fit in (and you’re trying a little too hard).
– You don’t know anyone yet.
Yes, it does sound silly, but after further investigation we discovered there was wisdom to be gained from comparing and contrasting the two experiences. Here’s what we learned:
Fake IDs and Portfolios are the same thing.
– Both get you into fascinating new places.
– The best ones are expertly crafted, and cleansed of spelling mistakes and Comic Sans.
– You should have the contents and order of each memorized.
– Both must be presented with confidence and eye contact.
Learning – Preparation is everything. You can seriously affect your chances of success by the work you put in before turning up and hoping to get a foot in the door.
Fear follows excitement.
Once you’ve got past Reception (or the bouncers) your initial excitement is quickly replaced by all-consuming feelings of inadequacy. Suddenly you’re convinced that:
– You’re wearing the wrong shoes.
– You’re the most boring and ugly person in the room.
– Nobody has ever really liked you.
– They’ve only let you in so they can laugh at you.
Learning: Paranoia is not your friend.
Believe in yourself.
Your fake ID can be flawless… you can even have stubble! But clammy hands, shuffling feet and nervous stutters will betray you.
The same applies to being a placement team; give people confidence in you and your abilities. Treat yourself like a brand and use your advertising talents to sell the f*** out of it. As our Dean (Marc Lewis, follow him here @sca2dean) used to say: ‘A brilliant pitch is 80% great idea, 80% brilliantly executed, 80% wonderfully sold’.
Learning: If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
Sometimes things go tits up.
Things in life don’t always happen the way you’d like them to. Indeed, sometimes no amount of preparation can immunize you against failure.
Starting out in this industry is no breeze – things fall through, people break promises, places reach capacity – and sometimes it seems like you’re outside the club when everyone else is in. It’s important to remember that Advertising is subjective and your work won’t hit the spot for everyone.
As clichéd as it sounds, the important thing to do is keep trying. Perseverance is key. Aside from being admirable, it shows people that you really want it, which might eventually make them really want you.
Learning: Failure is your friend. It makes you work harder.
There’s no one-size fits all.
Every aspiring raver or wannabe placement team has a ‘hit list’.
We make judgements based on hearsay, where’s currently ‘cool’ and where we think would sound impressive. It’s natural to think like that, after all you have to make decisions based on something, but it’s not smart. Just because you’ve heard The Box is like, ‘so totally cool and edgy’, it doesn’t guarantee you a good night. Just as working at BBH doesn’t guarantee you a career like Hegarty (filled with awards, happiness and sheep).
*On a side note, what is it with the acronyms and weird names that clubs and agencies alike opt for? It’s like they want something exotic sounding enough to cover up the smell of vomit and desperation. Why the fuck is it called ‘Tiger Tiger’!? Was one ‘Tiger’ not enough?)*
Placements can be exasperating, but they’re great for helping you and the agency find the right fit. You want to be somewhere that will get the best out of you, because making brilliant advertising is more important than the initials on the door of your workplace.
Learning: Don’t limit your options. Great work is made by more than just a handful of companies, and snobbery isn’t cool. Overlooking somewhere because it isn’t a household name could seriously be shooting yourself in the foot.
To conclude, we’d like to polish off our list of ‘dos’ with a short list of ‘don’ts’, which we may or may not be affiliated with:
– Don’t call a Creative Director on their private mobile when they’re on a family holiday.
– Don’t make highly sexist jokes about your partner in front of female Creative Directors.
– Don’t joke about your Creative Director being short, to their face, on your first day.
– Don’t send ‘reply all’ emails containing nothing but ‘A thought’ as the subject heading.
– Don’t get drunk with the senior creative teams and call the agency website ‘shite’.
Best of luck to all advertising grads past, present and future.