It’s Watford Week. And I’m feeling slightly fuzzy round the edges. That’s what drinking with advertising students will do for you. It’s a heady mix of premium French lager and fond, dewy-eyed memories. Not only did I probably imbibe a few too many Katonas, I also almost definitely and quite cringingly recalled the halcyon days of touting our book around London.
It is without doubt the most exciting, confusing, character-building, horrifically hard and stressful time of your life. And despite the rate at which the world is changing (we now broadcast our Watford crit live on uStream and Liveshare), it’s not changed much. Let’s paint the picture a little for you from first hand experience. You finished work in a bar at 1.30am, you stayed up playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City till 2.30am. You get up at the crack of 10am, slog your way across town to meet your partner, try and get away with just buying a bottle of water in Starbucks and stay there all day working on a brief set by a creative director with a thing for terrorising students with an impossible task.
Later, at a self-proclaimed top advertising agency, you sit nervously awaiting the drubbing. The creative director enters. He’s had a bad day. The client didn’t buy the route he liked. They changed the edit. He’s got an itchy rash. His wife is livid he’s at the office late, again. Time to take it out on students who have the gall to walk in here with gusto and enthusiasm.
A team arrives less than one minute after he does. He boots them out. “Here’s your first lesson in advertising, ladies” he cries. In the 1990s it was de rigour for all creative directors to reference to male teams as female. Then, it’s demolition time. He tears through the work. Nothing meets his benchmark. None of it could run. None of it would pass muster. Having torn it all off the wall, he pulls out flip chart and draws a diagram (yes, a diagram) of how to come up with advertising ideas.
Cut to later (in the pub) and sixteen 20-somethings are crying into their Lowenbrau’s, metaphorically. In actual fact, we were all getting hammered and laughing a lot (laughter was and often still is the soundtrack to being an advertising creative). We laughed at the ludicrously aggressive but somehow strangely inspiring crit we’d just endured. Despite the antics, the arrogance, the mock-anger, it was a thrilling ride that I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. One thing I did change, however, was how we came to approach group crits ourselves. Opting for enthusiasm and energy over aggression and alpha-male posturing. If a student team have made it thus far, it’s unlikely their work is devoid of merit, and in my experience, everyone’s got a workable idea. Beating it out of them may work for some creative directors. But we prefer to tease it out.