Hereby we inaugurate a series of interviews with some great personalities, girls only!who will share with us their point of view on advertising & women.
We start up with the reproduction of an interview made by ihaveanidea. Thank you!
Ladies, gentlemen…let's switch on the microphones!
ihaveanidea: Well we always like to start at the beginning. So how did you become interested in this crazy field we call advertising? I understand your foray into the business was not exactly "average."
Emma: It all began on a small non-tropical island called Tasmania, at the bottom of Australia. At my school in Year 10, we were all given an A-Z book of jobs from which we had to decide what we wanted to do as work experience. I skipped over "Anal Prober" and "Barbarian" and landed on "Copywriter." All the skills you needed were listed, and they seemed to match mine, so I stopped there, shut the book and said I wanted to spend my week in an ad agency. Never have wondered what might have been listed under "D".
ihaveanidea: Ah, a pity. You missed out on “Darth Vader understudy” which might’ve been cool. So once your mind was set, how did you go about making that happen? Would a high school student even know about putting a portfolio together?
Emma: Surprisingly, BBDO has an office in Hobart. Is there nowhere the might of the BBDO network does not infiltrate? Anyways, BBDO Hobart had a CD that I asked to meet. I had a folio full of ideas I did on work experience, poems I'd written and ideas that now, when I think about them, make me feel very, very embarrassed.
He told me the old "there's nothing doing in the creative department at the moment", but his advice was just to get a foot in the door. And they happened to need a receptionist.
A week later I was working on the BBDO switchboard during the day, and every shit brief no one else wanted at night when I got home.
ihaveanidea: Sounds very superhero-ish. Was this a secret identity of yours, or did your co-workers know you were actively pursuing a creative job?
Emma: Oh, they knew, but the new receptionist working on the 10X2 press ads for the local used car yard wasn't very threatening to them, I don't think.
ihaveanidea: So at one point did they realize you were far better at creating ads than forwarding phone calls?
Emma: All the best 10X2's in the world didn't really help to be honest. After reception, the agency moved me to media. Then two years later, to account service. After another two years as a suit, I entered a National Radio Writers competition for first year creative's - which I kinda lied about being - and won. The day after that, BBDO offered me a job in creative.
It was a long road, but now I can write ads, sell them to a client and book them.
ihaveanidea: And not only that, you can tell others how to do their own ads now. How was the journey from copywriter in Hobart to Creative Director in Melbourne?
Emma: It felt rough and rugged at the time, but looking back, it was pretty amazing really. I landed here in Melbourne and was lucky enough to be teamed up with the quirkiest, most interesting senior art director I've ever known. Tony Rogers. He taught me to look at the world from a crazy side as well as the strict and responsible answering the brief side.
We had a lot of ideas get through early, so got momentum really quickly as a team. We made a lot of TV for big brands, solved some big problems and won a few pitches. Then I was appointed Creative Director on a fashion retail account, which had massive concept turn over. We made telly spots every three weeks for different products. It was great fun, very frantic and a great way to get a grip on CD'ing.
After that, I was made Deputy CD of the department, then CD of the whole joint. Now, I'm CD of a group, which I much prefer. It means I get home before 2 AM.
ihaveanidea: Your career is rather unique in that, unlike many other esteemed CDs who moved from agency to agency and country to country, you’ve stayed in one place for many years and grew alongside it. What’s your secret? What keeps you grounded in one place while other creatives wander the earth?
Emma: There's no secret to why I've stayed in the one shop, although Clemenger Melbourne is actually more like a department store than a shop. I've been pretty open about the fact that as long as Clemenger kept evolving, doing great work and hanging on to what is probably one of the best client lists in the country, leaving would mean trying to find an agency that either had all that, or didn't, and then spend five years trying to get it up to the level of this one.
People may read that and think I'm maybe lazy, but I think the opposite applies.
Plenty of people are asked to leave an agency after two or three years cause they get dangerously comfortable. I've worked my butt off to be here, and to stay here.
And just as importantly, love keeps me here too. He's very worth staying put for.
ihaveanidea: But if you could ply your trade in any other part of the globe, where would you go? Or is Australia just too magical to leave?
Emma: I did always want to work in New York. I snuck off all espionage style one year, took my book over, spoke to some head hunters and actually got a couple of offers, which I was really considering. The only problem was these offers were made to me on September 10, 2001. The town kinda shut down the day after.
That said, Australia is a fun market. Approval levels are mammoth, though. They tend to go on for miles. Some of the clients can be quite conservative. But there are also great clients, great budgets, and great ideas here. Australia has a super knack of laughing at itself. I think you'd put our style somewhere between the wit of the UK and the quirk of the US.
ihaveanidea: You’re an extremely successful CD in a world where it seems tougher for a female to reach the top. There are lots of press release style statements about how the Old Boys Club of this business is no more, but what are your thoughts?”
Emma: I think boys clubs in advertising are unavoidable, simply because there are more men at the top, working very closely together, under very stressful circumstances. So they tend to stick together through all that. It's kind of a shame it's got a negative label.
Personally, I've never been shut out of the tree house, or told I can't be in the gang. I thank my parents. I grew up with two sisters, but we went to a co-ed school from kinder to year 12. I've always felt as comfortable hanging out with guys as much as girls. I can skip really well, but I can also kick a football.
I think the way Neil French said what he said was bullshit, but I think he also had a point. It's very hard to do both. I believe in order to be brilliant in advertising, it needs your full attention. If a women in advertising decides she wants to go be brilliant at something else, like being a mum, so what? If there were awards for breast feeding, maybe it would seen as a more worthwhile thing to go and do.
ihaveanidea: I've read somewhere that you're not a big fan of researching creativity, somewhat infamously declaring that a focus group "should only last 32 seconds: 30 to watch the ad and two seconds to react." Are you still of that mindset?
Emma: Ahhh jeez. Yes, I did say that once, and research says, I'll never live it down. I said it after sitting behind one-way glass way too may times, watching way too many groups rock up angry and tired after work, pull an idea apart limb by limb, eat free biscuits, get $50 in an envelope and leave. But their first reactions feel like their most honest to me. And if that's that they hate it then fair enough. I can accept that.
But sometimes, their first reactions are really positive and natural - like laughing, chuckling, smiling etc. It's just that then, when they're asked the inevitable, "what don't you like about this idea?" kind of questions, they seem to get all negative on purpose, because they feel like that's what they're being paid for, and I get frustrated, because that's not how they view ideas at home.
I like researchers. Some of my best friends are researchers. (Actually that's a lie.)
ihaveanidea: You have an incredible record of championing young talent; you’ve participated in our Portfolio Night, you lecture at AWARD School, and of course you’re a judge in this year’s YGAward. What sorts of trends are you noticing with each batch of young creatives that you meet each year? Is technology making them better? Are they losing certain skills that were crucial years ago?
Emma: At the risk of sounding old and grumpy, what amazes me about "young talent" I meet looking for work in the industry, is actually how "talented" they believe they are, without much to back it up.
I've meet a lot of guys who are extremely confident, who seem to just expect to walk into a job like that (snaps fingers). And then when you offer feedback, or some dead briefs to work on to show their stuff, maybe help beef up their folios, you never hear from them again. It's quite crap and disappointing.
That being said, it means the really talented, really passionate, really persistent young talent really stands out. They are generally the ones with excellent ways of looking at the world, what technology can do, and are open to hearing feedback and then doing something with it. Those are the guys that don't make me grumpy at all.
And are probably already working here.
ihaveanidea: Since I’m assuming it will be the most passionate juniors entering the YGAward, can we expect you to judge the work as harshly and critically as you would the work on a Cannes or Clios judging panel? Don’t sugarcoat anything, give to to ’em straight!
Emma: Absolutely. It's called Young Guns. You don't just get a prize for being the 'young' part.
Interview by: Brett McKenzie, Chief Writer of ihaveanidea