Creative Director & Podcast Host

Bird by Bird - By Ricky Richards

I Was Mistaken

I always thought advertising was a cool industry to work in, I was mistaken. Upon graduating from university I walked out of uni with a Bart Simpson strut, as I was the only student in my year to have secured a job in London prior to graduating. (I actually walked out balling my eyes out but that makes me sound pathetic, anyway...)  After years of creative experimentation and countless nights of hero worship, I rolled into London determined to be the next George Lois. I thought I was the shit, I couldn't wait to get my hands dirty.

The first day on my new job I was told I was working on a game for CNN, my mind brimmed with excitement as I imagined the number of Likes and envy my Facebook status would invoke that evening. 'Just working on a game for CNN to be rolled out over the 2012 olympics, feels like I only graduated yesterday.. Oh wait, I did.'

What a boss I thought. And I'm earring 24K, I'm balling! 

In reality I was handed a sheet of A4 paper containing numerous marker penned circles where I had to make changes. Not only that, but the game was an email game. No, I've never heard of an email game either, it's because it was a terrible idea.

The game spread out over 7 days resulting in a prize trip to Brazil. The person who won was probably the only player. Around the same time I'd come across the saying 'pixel pusher' and I identified myself as one. I was the epitome of a an entitled millennial. I looked round at all these old white blokes clinging to whatever cultural significance they had left, telling me what to do and I thought, fuck this! 

My next employer would later write an article about me, suggesting I was a borderline sociopath, and that my talent, courage and rabid sense of entitlement is what provided me with the necessary skill set to climb the greasy pole of advertising. And ultimately, help my clients get ahead. 

I think I've somewhat mellowed in later years, but not before I fully explored my initial belief that working in advertising is a cool way to make a living. I assumed that my initial misfortune was down to working at a mediocre agency. I set my sights on the big dogs. Weiden + Kennedy, the agency behind advertising classics such as the Honda Cog, Old Spice guy and the Southern Comfort Beach.

6 months later I found myself with an illustrious key fob, providing me access to the cultural epicentre of London. The place that was to be my home for breakfast, lunch, dinner and nunchies. I found myself having to come up with a new word for food at 2am, the unoriginal combination of nighttime and munchies was all my mind could concoct at those early hours.

The problem with Weiden and Kennedy, is not the quality of work. Because frankly, it's awesome. It's that the way they achieve awesome is anything but productive. I've never felt such stress in all my life, then when trying to come up with ways to sell pre pay sim cards at 2am in the morning. Knowing that I still had a thirty minute bike ride home, before scraping my face of the pillow at 7am the next day, in preparation for our 9am pitch, that would inevitably get torn to shreds in under two minutes.

They say it's being able to handle this process that makes you a good creative, I have to agree.  I found the whole process quite amusing. If ad agencies briefed creatives with ways to cure cancer instead of how to sell butter and dizzy water, I'm fairly confident they'd make more progress than most science labs. Instead you find yourself racking your brain for obtuse combinations of items, that can be used to sell ice tea in an abstract and awe inspiring way. 

When the time came for us to find out if we'd got a full time job at the studio, I was ready to leave. My dream, of what it would be like to work in the most creative job in the UK, was shattered. Thankfully I'd already planned my next endeavour, a year long stint of filmmaking that would ultimately leave me penniless, but happy in contrast to the ideas slave ship that was the big ad agencies. I've since been told they introduced a rule that all employees must leave by 6pm. A rule they hoped would spread throughout the industry to reassure prospect creatives that the working conditions aren't as life sapping as you're lead to believe. But insiders inform me, it's not changed. 

The thing is, I still admire those who choose to work there. They hang the name of the company on their chest like a badge of honor, and so they should. They're endurance athletes of divergent thinking, pulling their nylon leotards to the side so they can release their weary minds of stress and anxiety. I consider myself more of a sprinter, maybe I just couldn't hack it, I dunno. But all I know is that I need a constant stream of new ideas to feed my mind, and I wasn't able to achieve those conditions there. I'd be wrong to say that advertising isn't a cool industry to be in. After all, only mental people could spend months at a time stressing over something as trivial as a brand of cheese, shower jell or a bucket of fried chicken. As the Apple ad famously said, 'Here's to the crazy ones'. Maybe the only thing I've mistaken, is my opening sentence.

Ricky Richardsbraunton