Advice to get into the Creative Industries

I thought I'd share a rather long-winded e-mail reply I sent to a young person who's quite good at making things like film and is interested in getting into the ad industry but doesn't know where to start. If you resemble this person you may find this useful.

Hi J,

I think it’ll help if you know how I got into the industry. It may give a hint at the journey you could start.

At the age of 15 I decided I was going to be a comic book artist. When I finished high school at 17 I sat down and created a graphic novel with a friend of mine. The longest comic I had made before this was 8 pages. This was 108 pages. I learned a lot and I also created characters for other projects that I shopped around at small educational comic book studios (this was South Africa in the 90’s so this was the only kind of professional work you could do in this field).

It then dawned on me that I didn’t know very much about anything. I was only 18 after all. I visited a friendly graphic designer who showed me the work he made and did me a big favour and introduced me to ideas in graphic design. I then applied to a local college to study Graphic Design, that required a portfolio of work and an interview.  Luckily I got in and over the next 3 years started creating a portfolio that people in the industry could use to gauge my skills, but also exposed me to lots of history and technique that I would never have tried or known about beforehand. No matter what, I would have known how to create a comic book by the end of it. I was also very active in getting placements in agencies during my holidays and because I can draw I would do storyboards to earn my keep.

I was hired in my final year by a team who were starting their own agency. By pure chance I was spotted while disking my final portfolio for printing. I was a comic book graphic designer (who was luckily a digital native before anyone had that thought we'd need that term) now making posters and TV ads for clients. You can’t plan these things but what I did have was a portfolio of work that showed what I might be capable of one day and the technical skills required to be useful right now.

Since then I have done every kind of creative project I could imagine. I have always followed the advice that if you do the work the money will follow and it has.

Back to the question of what sort of role you could have in an agency: the short answer is I have no idea yet. One film isn’t enough to figure out your path, and you don’t technically know enough to be useful yet. Technical knowledge can come from study or or internships. A portfolio of work requires lots of effort over time.

You need to start to learn more about a particular field in creativity and prove that you can be useful. It could be film, or advertising school, etc but there’s nothing to say that’s what you’ll do for the rest of your life. 

Clients the size of Walls, Coke or John Lewis rarely hire single operators to do work for them. There’s a rather complicated web of design, comms, packaging, PR, media companies that in turn sub-contract film production, animation, printing, product design, service design, illustration, photography, etc etc. And if you’re not good at running your own business you’ll probably contract to people who are and make things on their behalf.

Look at for portfolios of every sort. That’s who you’re competing with. Then figure out a place to start to learn what you’re capable of. There's no sure path, you just have to work your way to the end.

Good luck