Thursday 27 January 2022

Q&A with Katrina Alvarez-Jarratt and Matt Chandler: AWARD School 2022 National Heads

AWARD School, Australasia’s most acclaimed course for aspiring creatives, is shaping up to be better than ever in 2022. Advertising Council Australia caught up with National AWARD School Co-heads Katrina Alvarez-Jarratt and Matt Chandler to find out more about this year’s program and why those looking for a brilliant career in creativity should apply.

Q1: Tell us a bit about AWARD School this year. What’s the focus and what do you hope it achieves?

Matt: Kat and I have the same ambition – to open the funnel of people that are coming into the course and to bring in a more diverse mix of people from different backgrounds, life stages and career paths to encourage more diverse ways of thinking. AWARD School is the perfect channel to foster greater diversity as it’s the entry point not only into the advertising industry but now to other creative industries as well. We had to consider who and where these audiences are in order to reach them and encourage them to apply for AWARD School.

Katrina: The message we want to get across is that if you’re a creative person, it doesn’t matter what your background is, where you went to school or what kind of sneakers you wear – your creativity is a powerful force that just wants to be used. No set of circumstances should hold you or your creativity back. We want to diversify the pool of talent we’re drawing from to ensure AWARD School is bringing in the best creative thinkers in the country.

Q2: What are some of the things you’re most excited about for AWARD School this year? Are there any new elements?

Matt: We’re providing extra support for Indigenous students. This includes implementing a program of creative yarns to better connect the students with course leaders before and during AWARD School, providing more context on working in a creative industry, and helping them build a support network that gives them confidence they’re on the right track with their creative thinking. By the end of the course, everyone should feel safe in the knowledge that there is a community that wants to hear from them, see their portfolio of work, and help nurture their career.

Katrina: We’ve also introduced a new topic this year – PR. Being able to ideate against a PR brief and understand how earned media works is really important for creatives. It has become such a massive part of the advertising industry particularly, and it’s certainly a valuable skill for anyone who enters a creative department or workplace.

Q3: It has become evident that AWARD School is becoming more than just a course for aspiring advertising creatives, with many former students using the ideas they’ve formed during AWARD School to launch successful businesses. What are your thoughts on AWARD School as a hotbed for budding entrepreneurs and what do you hope to see from this year’s cohort of students in response to the commercial creativity brief?

Katrina: This is an incredibly interesting part of AWARD School. Now more than ever, creatives need to be business-minded and strategic in their thinking. It’s a great practice that really benefits creatives as they move through their career, especially as a large majority of client briefs nowadays call for product development and commercial creativity to solve business problems. That’s why commercial creativity is a very practical part of the AWARD School program. It’s always great to see students find a place for their creativity outside of the advertising industry to develop a brilliant business idea and move it forward. 

Matt: It’s only natural that creatives coming out of AWARD School go on to be entrepreneurial and start businesses because the job description of an advertising creative is so much broader than it used to be. AWARD School has changed to keep up with that definition and in some ways does a much better job than it used to in preparing people to have a broader mind and skillset when it comes to using their creativity to solve business problems, create truly engaging content, design, etc. At the same time, AWARD School has a primary purpose being this amazing feeder of fresh creative talent into the industry, and it needs to remain focused on that, but I think just by virtue of the subjects that are taught as part of AWARD School – idea generation and the like – we are seeing students filter off into different parts of business, design, content creation etc and apply the creative skills they’ve learned in those roles with success.

Katrina: I do think some of the most successful students I’ve seen come out of AWARD School have often worked in the advertising industry for a couple of years before they’ve gone on to kind of crack their big idea. The skills that are taught within ad agencies do really help you get a good sense of how businesses run, how to be a really great business person, and how to generate great business ideas. So you know, the industry itself can kind of help step you into a career in commercial creativity as well if that’s where you want to go.

Matt: In terms of what we’re hoping to see from students in response to the commercial creativity brief, it ties to the way we think about ideas in advertising, and that is, how can you be truly disruptive? So many of the most interesting businesses emerging in tech are disrupting out-of-date industries. The things that really cut through when judging the commercial creativity brief last year were those brilliantly simple business ideas that disrupt the way things are done within established industries and business categories.

Q4. What are your thoughts on the level and quality of creativity coming out of the industry at the moment?

Matt: I don’t think it’s controversial to say that it hasn’t been a ‘golden age’ over the last couple of years, in large part due to the pandemic, and the challenges of adjusting to new ways of working and tougher-than-usual client briefs. As a result, I don’t think there’s been a consistent level of brilliant creative work. There have absolutely been highlights, but my sense is that within the whole industry, people are looking forward to what comes next, in a semi-post-pandemic world. There’s a real hunger to confront this new reality that’s very different to the one we lived before lockdown. In a different world, what does our creative work look like? I think people are ready to start working on that and it’ll result in really different kinds of work. There’s a massive opportunity for all of us to take the industry to some new places.

Katrina: I completely agree with that. Every big movement within art history has always been caused by a huge disruption and that’s exactly what we’re seeing right now. It’s hard for us to get our heads around it because it’s happening in our lifetime and as we live it day-to-day, but I think those huge disruptions foster a hotbed of creativity. It shifts the way that people think about things, opens people up to thinking differently. That’s being incredibly optimistic about what’s to come but I do think this kind of challenge can really make for some very exciting work.

Q5: Deciding to apply for AWARD School can be a bit daunting for aspiring creatives who may have heard how challenging the course can be. What are your tips for submitting a great application, and what advice would you offer as School Heads to anyone still undecided about applying this year?

Katrina: My advice is to simply apply. It’s more challenging working in a job for years that you don’t like. If you’re a creative person, it’s worth putting in the effort to be able to work in an industry you want to work in. That’s incredibly rewarding and creative people who love their work get that exciting lightning bolt every time they come up with a new idea or they feel like they’ve successfully solved a problem. That’s what spurs you on and keeps you engaged. My application tips are to just keep it simple and try not to put too much on the page. Think carefully about the briefs within the application and do some research. Really dig into people’s mindsets – those who might be using those products – and see how you can create something that will really speak to their needs.

Matt: The hardest thing to manage is your relationship with your own creativity, because there’s always an ongoing struggle with self-doubt. It’s there your whole career. One of the things that AWARD School is really great for managing is that relationship that you have with creativity and starting to become more professional in the way you apply it to ideas, writing, design, whatever it is. Because when you actually get into the industry, it’s not like you have the luxury of waiting around for inspiration to strike. You just have to start working and come up with the best thing that you can come up with in the time that you’ve got to do it. During AWARD School you’re forced into the regular practice of coming up with concepts so that idea generation becomes a muscle that’s always there and ready to go when you need to flex it.

My tip for applying is the same as Kat’s. Keep it simple. I’ve seen a lot of applications and the most common place they fall down is when they have added layers of complexity. You just need to demonstrate that you have an interesting perspective on a creative challenge and can reduce it down to a simple message. Don’t try to out-think everybody, just find something to say, and say it simply.

Thinking of applying for AWARD School 2022? Watch our video to get a taste of what it entails and be sure to attend our virtual info nights on February 3 and 9. Register here.

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