Sunday, 17 July 2011

The first job justifies the means.

‘The end justifies the means.’

A phrase that’s certainly true when it comes to getting one's first job.

Someone once said to me: “It doesn’t matter what you have to do to get your first job, just get it. After that, it’s up to you. If you can’t hack it you’ll be out before you know it.”

At the beginning of my final year on the Copywriting course at Hounslow College I found myself chatting to Mary Wear.

We had both realised the same thing: Our year had twenty people in it. There were fifteen other advertising courses around the country. That year the ad industry had only about six jobs going, if that. And we wanted two of them.

We realised we had to think strategically.

If we were to beat our peers to a job we had to get out there before them.

And we knew the only way we could do that was to work harder than them.

So we teamed up.

For the next few months were at the doors waiting for the college to be opened in the morning.

And they had to kick us out to lock the place up at night.

We spent the weekends at each other’s homes with layouts covering the floors.

Soon we got a book to what we felt was a place good enough to show creative directors.

One of the reasons students chose Hounslow was its strong links with industry. It had a great placement scheme.

But Mary and I didn’t reap that benefit.

All the other teams consisted of the official art director and copywriter, from the relevant courses. We had bucked the system. We were both writers so didn’t fit into their plan and consequently the college hadn’t tried to get us placements.

So we had to get our own.

Time was running out. The academic year only had four months left to run. Then the industry would be flooded with desperate graduates.

We knew we’d need to do more than just call the Creative directors’ assistants to get in front of the people with the jobs.

So at 5.30 one snowy Sunday morning we drove round London in my old VW Beetle. We erected a tent outside the reception of each of the agencies we wanted to work at, Mary stood inside the tent and stuck our portfolio through the flaps and I took a photo of the whole scene.

We mounted black and white prints (made sneakily in the college’s darkroom) on polyboard, along with the line: ‘We’re waiting to show you our book’.

(Apologies to those who'd heard that we'd actually camped outside an agency until we'd been offered a job! Rest assured if it had come to that we'd would have done so.)

We cycled round to each agency, hand delivering the prints to the creative directors on our list.

Then we waited.

And waited.

Eventually the phone started to ring.

One call was from Barry Smith at Foote, Cone and Belding.

We went in and showed him our book.

He told us he liked our work but couldn’t hire us as they’d just made a load of people redundant.

As he led us to the lift we passed an empty office.

Without thinking we asked if we could sit in it for a while.

He looked at us suspiciously as if trying to work out why not to let us. But clearly couldn’t think of a reason.

So he said "OK". Then: “I’m not going to pay you or anything.”

“That’s fine,” we said. “We’d just be happy to have somewhere to work on our book and a phone to help us find a job elsewhere.”

“Right... Ok then... Well... Fine...” He said. Then “I’ll see if I can get you a brief to work on, but I’m not promising anything.”

We were left in, to this day, the largest office I have ever worked in. It was something you’d find in Mad Men. (We later found out that it was until recently inhabited by a victim of the recent redundancies.)

Within minutes an account man rushed in asking if we could work on a brief that was needed that day. It had been given to another team who had forgotten to work on it. “Absolutely!” we replied.

We did a load of ads and the guy came back at the end of the day, grabbed a sheaf of layouts and was off.

He came back the next morning and told us the ad was sold and we had to make it.

Later that day another account man ran in with a radio brief. We spent a couple of days writing a load of scripts then showed them to the account team.

They said “Great. Now come with us will you?”

We went downstairs to an oak panelled room in which were sitting the whole client team.

“This is Damon and Mary.” The account man said. “They’re going to present their scripts.”

That was our introduction to client presentation.

And the next day we found ourselves at the sound studio making three ads.

We worked seven days a week, even having to ‘borrow’ one of the board directors’ keys to the agency as the place used to be locked up at nine o’clock at night.

The account teams were clamouring for us to work on their projects. Because unlike many other teams we were actually in the building to brief. And sober.

True to his word Barry didn’t pay us.

But three weeks later he did offer us a job.

So we done it. We were in. We’d got our first job.

But what next?

We couldn’t bare the thought of going back to college a few months later to finish the course, tail between our legs, having failed.

There was only one thing we could think of.

Carry on working the way we had been.

And I'm afraid that in the years since then experience has shown that if the end really is worthwhile the means is inevitably going to be bloody hard work!


  1. I didn't get where I was today without sitting down in a big empty office.
    Great, smashing, super…story.

  2. To paraphrase a great man - the harder we work, the luckier we get. Just as well we enjoy it!