Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Watford Interview

EDIT: I originally held this post back but now I'm making it visible on 15/07/11

It's the post you've all been waiting for. (All ten of you - if that).

After sending off my portfolio and creative test last last month, a letter came inviting me to an interview for the BTEC Advertising Copywriting/Art Direction course at West Herts college - commonly known in the industry as 'the watford course.'

The night before the interview, after 4 hours on the road and two bottles of Bud, I kipped at a nearby B&B.
The room was hotter than a sauna, but generally quite nice.

Next morning, I went to the cafe to get my complimentary breakfast.
I turned down the full english and went for a danish pastry and a drink.
I stared at the pastry for a whole hour before getting the bloke to wrap it up in cling film.
I was too damn nervous to eat.

On my way to the college, I called into the news agents and checked the tabloids... I'd heard there'd be a question on The Sun's headline.

After a brief chat with the four other candidates in the foyer, Tony appeared.
He took us to a room, gave us a brief intro speech, then hit us with a quiz. One minute - ten questions.

1. Who is the executive creative director at TBWA London?
2. Who is x factor winner Joe McElderry moving into a flat with?
3. What agency did the recent running jockey TV ad for Weetabix?
4. What agency did the recent Bakers Tweet for Fresh Bread?
5. What does M and C, as in M&CSaatchi, stand for?
6. What agency did the most recent Carling TV campaign?
7. Which of these is not an ad agency: Brooklyn Brothers, Isobel, Poke.
8. What agency handles the above-the-line UK work for Honda cars?
9. Which agency won Campaign's 'Agency of the Decade'?
10. Name three ex-students of this course?

I think one person got 0, two people got 1, another got 2 and I got 4.
A small victory on my part.
(Noticeably, The Sun question was replaced with an X-Factor one... again, something tabloid-based).

As Tony said after the test, you can find the majority of that information through reading Campaign or spending 5 minutes on each of the major agencies' websites.
True - but whether or not the names of every client and every creative director stick in your head after you've looked at over 20 agencies is another question altogether. (The past two weeks I've been memorising what the initials RKCR/Y&R, BMP, DDB, BBH, AMV/BBDO, TBWA and HHCL all stand/stood for, but didn't think to learn Maurice Saatchi's first name. Typical). Given a minute more, I coulda got six, maybe seven right, but I simply wasn't quick enough.

After the test he gave us a really engaging 20 minute talk about what it is to be a creative and about the type of person he was, and the kind of traits he was looking for in us. I'd say it was worth the trip alone.

After that he gave us an hour and a half to:

A. Come up with ways to get people to turn their ipods or MP3 players down on public transport (with one minute to present your ideas).
B. Prepare a minute-long presentation about one of the following people: Alain Robert, Steve McQueen, Charles Bukowski... I can't remember the rest.
C. Present your portfolio - two minutes.

Now, for A, obviously he wanted executions, not just strategies. And of course he wanted as many as possible. (If I could do it again, I'd bring an A3 pad to pop my scamps in. The A4 stuff he gives you is no good when you're standing up and you've got four current students all leaning forward to see your scribbles).

For B, what he wanted wasn't so clear. Crucially, he doesn't want to find out how much you know about your chosen person. Nor does he want the kind of facts you can find on wikipedia. He wants you to make the information interesting. Make it personal, take an angle, be memorable, say something funny if possible...
Whilst I was there, one girl simply re-enacted McQueen's famous scene from the great escape, running round the room making motorcycle noises and eventually jumping up on a chair and falling down.
She got 9 out of 10.
Essentially you've got do anything but the obvious, whilst still remaining relevant.

Unfortunately this only dawned on me afterwards. I was so panicked I forgot that this was part of an interview for a creative course, not an English Lit one. I ended up giving a perfectly friendly, light-hearted presentation on Bukowski, recalling a scene from Factotum and explaining his take on 'creativity'. Ultimately I did nothing inventive with the task. MY BAD.
I got three out of ten. Tony told me that this was mainly for the joke I put in there.

Finally task C. Present your portfolio.
Have you ever flicked through an catalogue in Argos looking for a certain page?
Well that's about the pace at which you had to show your ads.
There is no time for long-copy, and - as I soon found out - Tony cares very little about ideas designed to work through digital media. He wants posters. Simple, visual campaigns expressing a benefit. Your top three executions for each campaign. Ideas you can get in five seconds (without having someone explain them to you). You have to let the ads speak for themselves to an extent. Simply set them up by saying who the ad is for and what the benefit you're dramatizing is. Also, (classic folio advice) avoid ads for big brands like Volkswagen, Heinz, The Economist, Mini, Sony - your stuff is always going to be compared to the work that's already being produced, and that shit's gonna take some beating. (You can throw a few ambient ideas in, so long as they're as simple and as clear as a poster would be).

In short:
NO to long winded virals. NO to long copy ads. NO to big brands.
YES to crisp headlines/straps. YES to visual wit. YES to smaller brands with simple benefits.

I got six out of ten on this one. He said I knew how ads worked, how they're structured, and I had a good range of devices going on. I was quite pleased about that. But, again, if you're presenting to five people, an A3 folio wouldn't go a miss. Mac your ads up too (in photoshop or whatever), as this makes them much more legible.

So - the panel's results came in for the presentations.
Two people did worse than me, and two did better.
I seriously doubt I'll get offered a place straight off, but with any luck I'll be invited back to give the interview another shot in March some time. If so, I'll be a hell of a lot calmer, and I'll know exactly what Tony wants from me.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tom I'd really like to talk to you about the Watford course (whether you ended up getting in or not). My name is Edwina Khayat, I think you can find me pretty easily on Facebook. Please contact me if you feel like helping an aspiring copywriter stuck in adhell!