WCRS' tips for graduates: how to get a head start in an advertising career

Staff from the Engine-owned creative agency reveal 20-odd tips from 200-odd crits that have been given to people pursuing a career in advertising.

Running the WCRS placement scheme means giving a lot of book crits.  And we often see the same mistakes, missteps and ads for K-Y Jelly time after time. This is hardly surprising.  For the most part, they’re the same mistakes, missteps and ads for K-Y Jelly we ourselves made trying to, ahem, grease our way into a job.  

So, with a fresh intake of ad students setting their shoulders to the wheel, here’s the advice we find ourselves offering the most…

Weak strategy, weak work

Probably the most important advice of all.  Start somewhere unoriginal and it’s likely you’ll end up somewhere unoriginal too.

In plain English

Write a sentence – devoid of any creative flourishes – about why someone should do what you’re asking them to. That’s your strategy.  If it’s unconvincing, that’ll seep through into your work.

Seduce and persuade

Too much logic/Not enough magic and your idea will be boring. Too much magic/Not enough logic and you’ll entertain people, but not much else.

Why shop at Debenhams?

Harvey Nichols is the posh one.  John Lewis is the middle class one, Selfridges is the trendy one.  But what’s Debenhams?  Coming up with a campaign for an established brand with no clear USP is so much harder to do – and therefore so much more impressive.

75% Dulux. 25% Durex.

Risque or knockabout stuff has a place. Just do it sparingly and make sure it’s genuinely smart.

Stop saving the world (for your own selfish ends)

Charity work’s an important part of what an agency does. But it’s a small part. If most of your portfolio’s for worthy causes, you’re doing what brands come to an agency for – helping them sell stuff.

When doing digital, start in digital

Too often, digital ideas are bolted on to the end of a print campaign. If you’re doing digital, start there. You’ll end up with something fresher.

Don’t just attach a brand to a new bit of tech

Tech is media, it’s not an idea.  By all means pair brands with [INSERT FAD OF THE DAY HERE].  Just make sure there’s a strong thought in there, too.

"We’ll challenge 10 of the world’s top artists to create a 10-minute film about Softness."

We’re sometimes shown ‘empty box’ ideas like this.  Who’s doing the work here?  Don’t just come up with a framework to be filled by Sir Peter Blake or people on Instagram.

We’re not looking for scientists… or fantasists

No one’s expecting to see blueprints for your bit of tech, but if you’re going to suggest a music player that can respond to your mood, we do need some indication it’s possible.

More thinking, less designing

It’s your ideas you’ll be hired for.  Don’t waste time over-designing work when a scamp’s fine.

Can it with those Cannes videos

Knock-off case studies take forever to make and are prone to cliché.  They’re also impractical. If you’ve eight three-minute videos on your site, that’s 24 minutes.  The CD you want to impress probably has a meeting to get to in 10 minutes…

Keep creating

If most of your book’s still Uni work six months after you’ve graduated, there’s something wrong.  Show how prolific you are.

Print is still the great test

We barely write print ads these days and, chances are, neither will you. But having to reduce everything you want to say down to a print ad is still (we think) one of the best ways to show that you ‘get it’.  

Don’t listen to us.  But do listen to the consensus

The person giving you a crit could be having an off day.  But if an idea keeps bombing, it’s either not as good as you think it is or isn’t coming across clearly enough.

The best books break most of these rules

But so do the worst ones.

Don’t worry, the best book we’ve ever seen wasn’t that great

So don’t beat yourself up. An unfortunate quirk of being a creative is that the hardest thing you may do in your career is also the first thing you’ll do: getting hired.  But trust us. Creative directors are crying out for your insight (it’s fresher than theirs) energy (it’s greater than theirs) and ear to the pop culture street (it’s closer than theirs). You’ll be just fine.

David Dearlove and Richard Nott are senior creatives at WCRS

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