How I Got Started
Once I started Ad School, it didn’t take long to know that I was in the right place. As the semesters went by, that feeling only grew stronger. From all my classes, to my time in our student-run agency with real clients, to agency tours, and a week at Ad Week in New York City, I had many glimpses into the world of advertising, and I was eager to dive in headfirst. But with that excitement came a lot of caution.
I was sharing my excitement with 50 of my fellow peers. And with them, hundreds of students who walked the halls of different Ad Schools. It would have been self-destructive to think of myself as better than anyone else. I had to respect that we all had different things to bring to the table, so I kept my wits about me.
I remained focused on why I wanted to be a part of this world. That three years in Ad School mean diddly-squat unless you have a keen eye for insight, respect and willingness to collaborate, and an almost debilitating love for creativity. That nothing was for certain until I signed the dotted line.
And when I found myself back in Ottawa, sitting amongst my peers at graduation, editing copy on-the-fly via text with my creative partner back in Toronto, I was more proud to have stuck by to those principles than I was walking across a stage to get the most expensive piece of paper I’ve ever owned.
I moved to Toronto just over a year ago from Ottawa, a goal I set about halfway through Ad School. Not that there is anything wrong with Ottawa. It’s simply that the marketing landscape there didn’t line up with my career goals. But I knew that the leap from a B2B and government-focused city to the highly competitive world of the B2C agencies in Toronto would be a tricky one to navigate. So, I asked the people who did it.
My creative partner in Ad School and I connected with like-minded alumni who not only made the move to Toronto but would want to tell us their story. That led to meetings with ten creatives at five agencies in the span of two days.
The fateful meeting was with an Ad School alumnus and his Creative Director. We had a great conversation where we talked about the experience of moving to a new city, advice on surviving internships, and eventually ran out of time to even share our books. We left with a promise from the Creative Director that he would check out our books and give us feedback. Later that night, I got an internship offer. 17 days later, I was living in Toronto, and my career as a Copywriter began.
The Biggest Challenge Getting into the Industry
I spent three years in Ad School listening to my teachers talk about the glory days of advertising. Watching Cannes Lions Reels and thinking “That will be me”. And when I walked into the agency on my first day as an Intern Copywriter, I was ready to make a name for myself. And then I got my first brief: we need copy for this web banner. Second brief: we need a copy for this web banner. Third brief: we need copy for this web banner. And so on.
And that was my biggest challenge - but it wasn’t to be patient. It was to understand why I was brought on as an intern. The powers that he saw something in me. A fresh set of eyes. A different way of thinking. Someone who was meant to be a Copywriter, but still had a lot to learn. And they wanted to see where I could end up. They wanted to see that they were right about me.
So I pushed the boundaries of web banner copy. I toed the line between curiosity and sheer annoyance. I would ask the accounts team about the strategy for the web banner. Hop on the server and look up what was done in previous campaigns to see how I could, respectfully, do it better. Run 20 lines by the Art Director and get their take on them. Bring the ten that survived to my creative director when he only asked for five. Present those five and speak passionately to them during the internal. All to give everyone a glimpse of what I would create from even the smallest of briefs. As the radio briefs, and the billboard briefs, and the TV briefs started coming my way, it paid off.
But don't let those briefs go to your head. Continue to show people why you are in the Ad game, especially when you get another brief for web banner copy.
It was simple really. I realized that I love solving problems without using math. That in everyday situations, I always took the creative route instead of, for lack of a better word, the logical one. That I would always put my ideas first and worry about the rest later.
I was talking about this with my brother, who at that point was nearing a decade in the industry, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said: “Get into advertising”. It was so direct, as if he would give me a wedgie if I said no, even though we were both in our late twenties. But it made perfect sense. And as advertising started making its way into my life, seeing the process of a small idea coming alive in such big ways sucked me in and hasn’t let go since.
Always Remember; You are your Book.
Don’t leave it to your LinkedIn page to tell your story; tell it through the work in your Book. Your Book doesn’t hold the answers that currently allude marketers. It’s a glimpse into who you are. What you are passionate about. Your likes and dislikes. A map of the way you think. Find that nice balance between showing you can do great work while also showing who you are. Where Creative Directors can almost picture you in the room, walking them through it, even though the two of you have never met.
Don’t start with a client. Start with an insight. Run it by your peers. Your partner. Your parents. A bartender. Anyone who cares to listen. And then expand on it. Go further, and further and further only until your insight is truly golden. And then pick your client. If it’s a big-name client, cool. If it’s a client we’ve all forgotten about, amazing. This is the only time you will ever get to do this, so have fun with it.
Nobody’s perfect, and neither is your Book. But just as you should love yourself, love your Book. Wear it proudly. Defend it respectfully. And when a Creative Director starts asking questions and giving you feedback, listen to them. Because that usually comes with a hefty bill, and you are getting it for free. They know what they are talking about, and all they are doing is trying to get more out of you.
This is part of my Book.
When I was 13, I blew up the microwave.
The day started like any other, only I wanted to have a hot chocolate in hand for my walk to school.
I popped my thermos in the microwave, went upstairs to grab my things for school, and returned to a kitchen full of black smoke. My brother quickly followed and asked ever so lovingly “Why the hell would you put a tin thermos in the microwave?”
I began to desperately clean the caved-in, tar-filled and utterly destroyed microwave, hoping that it would somehow alter my fate. My brother stood there laughing as I battled the dizzying sensation that was induced by the toxic fumes. He took the blackened rag from hand, looked me straight in my diluted eyes and said:
“Kyle, there is no use in cleaning this.”
I’ve come a long way since that day. So, on that note, welcome, and these far better ideas of mind that didn’t blow up in my face.”
That story is on the homepage of my Book, and it’s a story that went from making me look like an idiot to an idiot with ideas. This story plagued me at family gatherings for over a decade, and now I’m the only one who still tells it. I put it front and center in my Book because it shows who I am. A guy who has both good and bad ideas, and can now tell the difference between two.
So, once my Book was live, I knew the sensible thing to do next was to get a microwave and leave it on the front door of my Dream Agency. I took a train to Toronto from Ottawa, went straight to the nearest Good Will, spent $15 on a used microwave, wrote my website on the top in permanent marker, marched over to The Dream Agency, and left it on their doorstep. And just like when I walked away from that microwave at age 13, I felt like a genius. Why had no one thought of this before? But instead of confidently walking away, I ran. That awkward run that is not so much about speed walking as it is desperately looking for a restroom. I kept looking back, out of breath, hurrying down the crowded sidewalk. I looked like I just committed a crime. It felt like I did.
Twenty minutes later, my phone rings. The Dream Agency. I answered and my voice cracked just when my parents saw the first microwave disaster. I though they would ask me to come back and collect my garbage. But they didn’t.
In fact, they loved it. Or at least the receptionist did. But according to her, the microwave created quite a buzz in the office. So, she gave me some emails and I followed up, simultaneously thanking them and apologizing for the unneeded appliance. But that was it. Nothing else from The Dream Agency. For now at least.
But the microwave stunt still comes up every now and then. I recently started at a new agency, and I was asked about the microwave during my interview. Just last week, I was at a friend’s concert with a good 30 people there, and someone asked me if I was a Copywriter. Turns out she worked at The Dream Agency and was there the day I dropped off the microwave.
So I guess that makes me the Microwave guy. And since this story is known by my fellow co-workers, I’ve been sure to bring in non-repeatable lunches to the agency.