Selling yourself

Before they shift any product, budding ad creatives need to shift themselves. But how? By being courageous. And good

The place I’m working needs a junior art director. I’m pretty new at recruiting people, and I’d assumed it would be easy. After all, shouldn’t you know if someone’s good at advertising because, first and foremost, they’re good at advertising themselves? Apparently not: despite tweeting, headhunting, and even wandering round the D&AD New Blood exhibition wearing my most expensive shoes, the right candidate has yet to come forward. So look, I’ll make it easy for you.

It’s an ideal graduate brief: differentiate a product in an overcrowded marketplace. The target audience is me. The product is you. The brand values you need to project are talent and courage. OK, that’s two things – get used to that by the way – but really they’re inseparable. Talent is impossible to measure and, if you’ve recently graduated, it’s a term used as a pre-emptive excuse for something that isn’t there yet: it means being good, without having quite done the work that proves beyond doubt how good you are. That’s why this other quality, courage, is so important. It’s not just that you’re willing to work on difficult stuff, although that is important. It’s that you’re prepared to walk through your own crapness until such a time as you become genuinely good.

Still haven’t cracked it? OK, the most famous answer to this brief is the story of Graham Fink, who, on being sent away from BMP for being ‘too young’, came back dressed as an old man. It didn’t just show that he wouldn’t take no for answer. It’s a great advert for someone whose desire to succeed outweighs their fear of humiliation: the essential psychological imbalance that makes creative people creative. It shows talent and it shows courage.

I’ll give you another example. We found our last art director on the portfolio site Behance. His work appeared near the top of search results for branding, advertising and art direction, based on ‘appreciations’ – the Behance equivalent of ‘likes’. After he’d been with us for a few months, he admitted to me that he’d gamed the system by insisting every one of his Facebook friends ‘appreciate’ his work, so he’d be featured on the homescreen. He told me this somewhat tentatively, but I thought it was a good thing. It showed willing to do the things his competitors weren’t. Cheating with this kind of aplomb takes courage.

Perhaps this is a recipe for recruiting sociopaths. After all, another way of putting ‘talent’ and ‘courage’ would be ‘a rabid sense of entitlement’ and ‘pushiness’. But if that’s the case, I reckon it’s less that these qualities help you get ahead in advertising, to ascend the greasy pole, and more that they help you make good adverts. In the end, what are brands looking for, apart from people who can game the system on their behalf? At the time of writing I still haven’t found my art director. If it’s you, you’ll know what to do.

‘Gordon Comstock’ is a creative director

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