Host copywriter Kiah Nicholas is an achiever if there ever was one. She has gone from being an AWARD School Top 10 student in 2014 to being a tutor for the 2017 class – and was recently named a winner in B&T’s 30 Under 30. We caught up with her about her tactics for seeking out inspiration, her creative process, plus advice for this year’s AWARD School students.

TCC: What learnings from AWARD School have stayed with you to this day?

KN: An execution isn’t an idea. As a sucker for tech, I wasted a lot of time putting the cart before the horse. It took me a while to learn that the insight needs to come first. You have to find the truth and give it a twist. The twist is the good bit.

TCC: What was your favourite brief and how did you attack it?

KN: It feels so long ago now, but I think I enjoyed the brief. It was outdoor or experiential. And weirdly enough, my dad was selling his car through, at the time. He was impressed by how quickly it sold. Which lined up nicely with the proposition: the fastest way to sell a car. Apparently they sell a car every few minutes.

I noticed that while his car was fast to sell, getting it ready to be sold wasn’t. It took time to vacuum, wash, polish, photograph and set up his profile. So I thought, if is the fastest way to sell your car, why not speed up the rest of the process?

I also liked the Google Drive brief. It was social/digital and the prop was, ‘the safest place to store your data’. I remember doing mountains upon mountains of research and discovering that ‘Google Drive is safe because you own your data’. It’s written in the contract.

News about Edward Snowden was blowing up at the time. So, the dangers of not owning your data were playing on everyone’s minds. I had this idea to show the importance of owning your data by selling it online. And my tutors helped me turn this into an idea about selling people’s data on ebay.

TCC: What was your hardest brief?

KN: Probably the AFL Auskick brief. It was digital. I remember looking down at the proposition, ‘it’s our football’, and thinking, ‘what the hell am I going to do with this?’. I battled for weeks with what now sounds like the internal ramblings of an insane person.

‘It’s our football.’ Whose football? The nation’s? The people who love Aussie Rules? The people who hate soccer? Or was it something more inclusive? Like, it’s everyone’s football. Tough. Soft. Big. Small. Boy. Girl. Everyone can play it.

And then I thought, ‘well, not everyone can play it’. After all, Auskick is for kids, not adults. So, how do you prove to kids that this sport is for them? Or more importantly, how do you prove to parents that this sport is for their kids?

I knew that parents weren’t enrolling their kids for a variety of reasons. For girls, they were worried about tackling. For boys, they thought it might teach violent behaviour. Of course, both weren’t true. Especially since Auskick is a no contact sport.

The end of the course was looming. I had nothing and I was panicking. The back cramps from hunching over my lightbox had turned into migraines. And I was delirious from a lack of sleep. But then, the morning we were due to submit, the idea hit me. Funny that.

An anti-tackling backpack is a weird solution to the proposition, ‘it’s our football’. And I’m still not sure how it would work in reality. But, at the time, I was just thankful to have something. I quickly sketched it up and submitted it with the rest of my book, that afternoon.

I was more surprised than anyone to find it on the wall on the award night.

TCC: Now that you’re on the other side what would you have done differently? Equally what do you think was your biggest strength?

KN: I would’ve worked less in a silo and collaborated more. As an aspiring creative, it’s easy to assume you can just go into a room, lock the door for a few hours and come out with a genius idea.

But it doesn’t work that way. You need inspiration and stimulation. You need to talk to people outside your field, call your friends and family, do tours and test the product. It’s getting harder and harder to find time to do this, but it’s important you try to do it anyway.

After all, if your well is empty, how can anyone expect you to pull water from it?

My biggest strength is probably how actively I seek out inspiration. Part of my morning routine is people watching in the park (I know, creepy) and getting into work an hour early to look-up everything from the latest in innovation to comedy skits. The less related to advertising, the better.

TCC: Are you seeing any top students starting to emerge already? What is standing out about them? What overall advice would you give them?

KN: Some of the students are naturally talented. And scarily so. There I am, teaching class and they’ll say something that makes me go, ‘whoa, you’re already better than me’. But it’s the kids who are bringing in 30-plus ideas that are really shining at the moment.

I’m a sucker for anyone who works hard and has a good attitude. And I believe that if you put in the hard yards, you’ll pull through. It’s no coincidence that the kids bringing in the most are also delivering the best – it’s because they’re casting the widest net.

But more importantly, you can tell they’re having fun doing it. And that’s what ideation is all about; play at work. A directed reverie. You can’t have good ideas if you’re not enjoying yourself, being cheeky and cracking jokes. If it doesn’t make you laugh or gasp, you probably shouldn’t make it.

TCC: Outside of AWARD School, what is your favourite project/campaign you’ve worked on to date?

KN: My favourite would have to be, #RedefineWomen; a proactive campaign that set out to help the gender equality conversation by leveraging a brand with a surprising problem.

TCC: Do you have a secret strategy for unlocking your creative process? Can you share any tips?

KN: I don’t think there is a secret strategy. If there is one, the creative overlords haven’t shared it with me. My tips would be:

  • Do the research
  • Try the product
  • Try out different ideation techniques
  • Cover the wall with ideas
  • Stand up and walk around
  • Incubate
  • Stay inspired
  • Surround yourself with talented people. Watch and learn.

TCC: What sources do you look to for creative inspiration?

KN: If inspiration is a diet, then advertising is a sometimes food. I look to comedy shows, documentaries and exhibitions. Attend seminars and completely irrelevant workshops. Check out PSFK and Singularity Hub. Watch Vimeo Staff Picks and TED talks. Read The New York Times, Daily Mail, The Onion and Brown Cardigan, in the same day. Variety is key.

TCC: Who do you look up to in the industry?

KN: Simon Vicars. Take one look at his book and it’s easy to see why.

TCC: What are your wider career goals?

KN: I want to keep learning from the best, making great work and supporting junior talent. If I can do that for the rest of my career then I’ll be happy.

TCC: If you weren’t in advertising what would you be doing?

KN: I’d probably be a florist or some kind of tech innovator. Or some kind of florist tech innovator…if that’s a thing.

TCC: What’s your passion outside of work?

KN: Gardening and bonsai. It’s peaceful, pottering around the yard, weeding and propagating new plants. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from watching them change and grow. Ryan J. Bush created a film that sums it up nicely. It’s a bit philosophical but it’s worth the watch.

American Shokunin from Ryan Bush on Vimeo.