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Lessons from London as a young advertising creative

5 min, 42 sec read
12:00 PM | 26 October 2015
by Hanna Stenwall
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When I first moved to London I was filled with energy, anticipation and restlessness. Mainly because I never planned it, I never wanted to go to London. It was just the first interesting opportunity that approached me and I said yes, because my gut screamed no.

I didn’t know what to expect from London as a city, the industry or the people. But here are some life lessons I would like to share with you.

We all get lost at some point

I ran straight into a wall after my first month of placement. I was alone in a new city that was way bigger than I felt comfortable exploring. I wasn’t going to survive as a single creative and I had absolutely no money in my pocket and no savings. I had no plan, no place to live, no nothing. But I wasn’t going back to Stockholm to an even bigger ‘nothing’. I just had to figure this out.

There’s always someone who wants to help you

Without any safety net or social network, I was forced to rely on people I’d barely talked to in the industry, who passed me on to his or her colleagues and friends.

"By crawling out of my comfort zone and asking for help, I finally got what I needed."

By crawling out of my comfort zone and asking for help, admitting my lack of knowledge, I finally got what I needed - good solid advice. I got help from strangers; people I didn’t even know existed. I got invited to agencies I’d never heard of, only to have a coffee with someone who remembered what it was like to be in my position. There will always be people ready to help a stranger out. But you must ask for it.

Embrace every single bitch slap life has to offer

One out of all the book crits I went to was particularly special. I was sitting there with a bad taste in my mouth after presenting my portfolio. I wasn’t proud of my work. He could tell. He asked who I wanted to be as a creative. I almost started to cry, because I didn’t know the answer. 

My portfolio was filled with ideas comprised by other people’s opinions. I left the agency feeling empty and even more lost. I wandered around East London trying to figure out the answer that I knew I had in me; I needed to give less fucks about other people’s opinions. That’s the only way to survive as a young creative in this cold and ruthless place we call advertising.

You get what you ask for - don’t ask for too little

I asked people if they knew a single creative. I found one. We asked for book crits. We got to talk to people at almost every agency around the city, only because at the end of each book crit, we asked for recommendations to other creatives. And no one ever said no. Although some people didn't get back of course! We asked for placements, we got one. We asked for more placements, we got more. We asked to work with smart, weird people with big hearts, and we met them all.

Admit your weaknesses, then get over yourself

The fact is you’re not good as a young creative. ‘Good’ is something that takes time, and in order to be ‘good’, you need to learn from people that are good hearted enough to put aside the time to teach you something. The only things you’ve got are your head and your heart. You’ve got some sort of potential and you need to find people that recognise that and help you find a way to nurture it. Some of us are early bloomers and some are late. It takes time and effort.

Turn your fear into motivation

I’m afraid most of the time. If I’m not scared it’s because I’m tired or coming down with a flu. Most of the time I feel a need to prove myself and to improve. I want to be as good as I possibly can, and since I’m obviously not there yet, I have to improve. Fast. Lately, I’m getting more and more obsessed with pushing myself towards everything I fear. Because I’ve realised that the sooner I do that, the sooner I can develop.

Don’t waste time with fear of bad ideas

We all feel embarrassed when we fail, and as a young creative that’s the case most days. But real failure is losing a client, accidentally erasing the agencies servers, or throwing a bottle of Sambuca at your bosses head. A young creative’s worst fears are bad ideas, or no ideas at all.

"A young creative’s worst fears are bad ideas, or no ideas at all."

Your first years are just a boot camp. If you happen to make something extraordinary that gets a gold lion, well, good for you. I had a tutor at school that wouldn’t shut up about the 20/80 rule. He said 80% of us wouldn’t even work in the industry within a few years. 80% of everything we do will be shit. Only 20% will be interesting. Not even good, just interesting.

You’re not in London to have fun (well, not too much)

You can’t work in this industry, at the agencies that are creating the most groundbreaking work, and manage to sell the ideas you wish were yours, unless you are an obsessive, slightly bipolar underdog with hubris. 

People treasure their jobs; it’s their passion. Nothing can stop them. They will spend hours and hours on something that they might already know will be killed only to prove a point. It’s impressive and exhausting. I loved it straight away. But it’s tiring. You need an outlet. You need to laugh. It doesn’t matter what your thing is. Just do something. I’ve learnt the hard way that there are no shortcuts to this, and Netflix is not the solution.

Final thoughts on being a young creative in London

You will meet people that change you, for better and for worse. You will get memories for life and you will have memory loss. You will realise that you’re capable of way more than you first thought. You will have fun. You will be scared. 

The main thing I’ve been meaning to say with all of this is basically: you’ll have to ask for help, and when you do, and someone suddenly reaches out to you, you grab that fucking hand no matter whose it is, and you hold on to it.

For more advice, read our guide to the advertising industry.

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