Saturday 12 October 2019

“…but then I found AWARD School”

Lewis Clarke is a copywriter at Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder. In this article we follow his personal journey from AWARD School into the advertising world.

The year is 2030. I’m selling hand-woven dreamcatchers at a farmers market to repay my inflated student debt. My wife just left me for her spirituality coach who she met at our drum circle a year ago. I caught them ‘aligning chakras’ in his hemp-cloth tipi.

This could have been my life, but then I found AWARD School.

I was introduced to the course through a good friend of mine who had done it a few years back. He’d call me to chat ideas and although I had no clue what advertising was, I loved it.

It was like I leant on a false bookcase and fell through to an underground society. I’d spent the last few years wandering between multiple creative industries and everything I’d learned was now not only relevant, but valuable.

I was determined to take on AWARD School myself. I spent the next year bringing myself up to speed on the ad world and gathering any helpful information about the course that I could. I knew the application was fierce, so I spent my last pennies on an AWARD School workshop ticket, hoping to grasp an upper hand.

And I feel like I did. There were workshops and ad bigwigs doing talks. It certainly focused my creative output, but the best part of it all was the extra motivation I felt afterwards. I’d spent the previous year lost, wafting around with as much conviction as a fart in a breeze – but I finally felt energised and focused.

When the briefs were released, I put my game-face on and spent the two weeks churning out ideas. One of the briefs was the ol’ “Why do you want to do AWARD School?” question, which I found excruciatingly difficult to convey. I’d never been confident enough to enter competitions, but I really wanted to succeed in AWARD School.

So naturally I illustrated this in the only way I knew how: by taking a somewhat deep and reflective notion and wrapping it in a thick layer of crass humour, which I developed from my healthy exposure to the public schooling system. I drew a tiny sperm cell in the middle of the page with: The last time I won a competition as a headline.

I was working on a TV show in the South African jungle at the time, so I sent my ideas home to my housemate who printed and submitted them for me.

Mary’s miracle child – I made it in.

Leading up to the course I’d spent every spare second reading ad books and listening to ad podcasts, so I remember the first lecture feeling like the information was both fresh and familiar. I still have my notepads full of mad scribblings, but all of the precious take-outs from the weeks of lectures has since calcified to my cranium.

My first course tutors were Simon Koay and Steven Hey at JWT. I developed an instant respect for these guys and fell into a good rhythm as we sifted through my conceptual vomit for deposits of gold. After weeks of creative refining, I began to bring in stronger ideas and could pick ones worthy of showing and ones that needed to be sent to the farm to play in the grass and chase rabbits.

Like many other AWARD School students, working a full time job and trying to crack complex AWARD briefs was tough. Due to late nights, conceptual exhaustion and a developed resistance to caffeine, I walked in to work most days with the mental capacity of a neanderthal with a concussion. Over the final weeks I was barraging my tutors at JWT with emails; but to their credit, they remained helpful and responsive.

A few weeks after submitting my final book, the AWARD School Graduation night was upon us. As I walked in, I saw all of the work lit up on the wall. Naturally, I narcissistically searched for my own work and found two of my submissions featured, but I had no idea if that was good or not. One of them was commended by an AWARD judge: Ant Melder. But like everyone else, I just wanted to make the top ten.

Then the names were announced. I wasn’t called.

It sort of felt like I’d been dumped via public announcement and everyone’s immediate response was to clap and cheer. I’m not a very competitive person, but I wanted to march through the crowd and flip the fucking taco stand on my way out. It had been a long, exhausting few months, so I wasn’t the only one that felt like this.

But thankfully I didn’t. I shook some hands which circulated some blood back around to my pallid face, supplying enough oxygen to force the 26 muscles it takes to smile to do just that.

After a full day’s dose of indulgent self-pity, I decided to crack on with it. A friend and I built a portfolio site that weekend, which was made to look like we were live streaming from a chatroom 24/7. We even linked the chat up to our phones so we could swiftly reply.

Through this we got to meet with a few great people at some great agencies, but most of them weren’t hiring. A few weeks on I received a message from Ant Melder. He wanted to meet at his young agency: Coffee Cocoa Gunpowder.

The team were awesome. There were only a few in the office, but they were all warm and welcoming. Ant and I seemed to get along better than any of the other ECD’s I’d met, because we shared a fondness for the same tone of work.

Weeks later Ant invited my friend and I to work with them on a pitch for a big client. It was like AWARD School’s hotter sibling, with the opportunity for our ideas to actually go live.

For the next few weeks we spent our nights and weekends coming up with concepts. Thankfully it was a fun brief, so I really enjoyed the whole process – especially seeing our ideas making the pitch decks. One night I received what I thought was a typical update from Ant. Instead, he offered me a job as a copywriter.

I squeezed my phone so hard it almost flew out of my clammy hands like a wet bar of soap. It had been a trying year, but in the end I’d made it through the door.

And here I am. For the first time in my life I genuinely enjoy coming to work. Every day I’m working on something new and I feel like I’m finally doing something that suits me.

And the agency? Well you don’t need Tracy Grimshaw’s inside report to uncover the truth here. These guys are the real deal. There’s a drive to do better. Better work for better reasons. The agency focus is pure and if you’ve had the chance to meet Ant and Chiquita, you’d know that their ethos naturally oozes not only from these walls, but from any room they walk into. Not literally or anything, that would be kinda messy.

Speaking of messy, I’ve just dropped some chili relish on my white shirt, so I’m going to attempt to get it out with some of the fancy hand soap upstairs.

Thanks and see ya ‘round.

Don’t miss out on your chance to attend the AWARD School Application Workshop. Full details here.

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