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Advice to my younger self

I have some bite-size snacks of advice to serve up as appetisers to my younger self, which I won’t mind him taking or leaving, before I bring out a one-dish, main course of ‘shut up and listen’ advice that he must swallow whole before he’s allowed to leave the table;

1. Work in a small agency

Fewer layers and silos afford greater access to client challenges, granting you more opportunities to think for yourself, express your opinions and gain a deeper respect for the people working closely beside you. In a small agency you can learn in 2 years what might take 3 or 4 years to learn in a big agency.

2. Don’t take training and resources for granted

If you ignore the above and decide to stay at a big agency that’s investing in your development then realise how incredibly lucky you are. The quality of training provided by your agency peers and the likes of the APG, D&AD and the IPA is too high to waste time making shitty jokes and passing flirtatious notes to the new friends you’ve just made.

3. Read more Hemingway

Don’t be defensive over your briefs, be grateful for every red-pen edit, and accept it will take time to master the economy of style that brief writing requires.

4. Be professional at all times

  • Slow down after 4 drinks – the excitement of being new in ad-land is equivalent to 3 units so once you’ve had 3 or 4 pints you don’t need more and should slow right down, or better still just stop there (before you find yourself arguing with a cantankerous copywriter who’s been out since lunchtime over the relative merits of air-bubbles in trainers).

  • If you go beyond 4 drinks, always turn up for work on time and ready to go the morning after – as Gravity Road Founder Mark Boyd likes to say; “If you’re a man at night, you’ve got to be a man in the morning.”

  • The client is always the client – no matter how friendly you get, how much you have in common, and how much personal stuff you share during long journeys, your client works for an organisation that employs the organisation you work for, so remember: loose lips sink ships.

5. Be less polite and less respectful

As a kid I was so polite that on a few occasions I was accused of being disingenuous. Whilst a healthy respect for authority, hierarchy and experience served me well with senior colleagues and clients, it hampered my development as a young Planner. Natalie Portman recently delivered a speech to Harvard grads about using inexperience as an asset. This called to mind something Jim Carroll wrote on his BBH Labs blog about the ability to “see the world simply despite its many sophistications” in which he argued that in this respect some of the smartest people have something in common with the less-than-intelligent. Had I been less concerned with respecting hierarchy and being polite to my elders I might have been quicker to realise that my ‘simple’ or ‘inexperienced’ observations and thoughts were unique, were desired and needed to be shared more confidently and readily. That ability is what the agency had identified in me, considered to be of value and had decided to invest-in – so to my younger self I would say don’t be backwards in coming forwards with what you’re thinking, you’ll often find that no-one else had been looking at the problem the way you were and that you can open up doors that others hadn’t noticed were there.

Ruairi Curran

Head of Planning, Gravity Road

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