After three careers, five firings and one ‘escort her off the premises’ incident, Grey’s Vicki Maguire believes she is an expert in failure. Her joint chief creative officer, Caroline Pay, reckons she’s also pretty good at screwing up and surviving. Here’s their advice on embracing failure as creatives.
Remember you’re not the first to fail
One of Pay’s first campaigns at Mother was for Organix shampoo, a job she took on with her partner Kim Gehrig (now director supremo). “We had no fucking idea what we were doing from start to finish, so we ended up on the shoot crying,” she recalled.
“We had to call Robert Saville and he came down to take over because we couldn’t decide which colour blouse the lead actress should wear. We really lost our shit. We went through the whole process and in the edit it was clear [the work was] shit.”
The duo returned to the office crestfallen. But then: “Robert and Mark Waites walked up very slowly with two U-Matic tapes and slid them on the table. They said: ‘This is all the shit work we made before we started Mother’.
“It was just a brilliant moment and probably why I stayed there for so long. We were working for people that were proud of failing miserably.”
In fact, Maguire added, Dan Wieden had a recruitment policy of only hiring those who have failed three times. “We were overqualified,” she quipped. “And by being so open with each other about where we're fucking up we’ve created a brilliant bond.”
Don’t have a plan B…
“If you don’t have anything to fall back on you’re more likely to go, fuck it, let’s go all guns blazing,” said Maguire, adding that she admits the advice sounds counterintuitive. Surely those with a safety net will be more willing to jump?
“The reverse is true,” she said. “When you have nothing to lose, you can lose nothing. You will either be gloriously successful or you’re going to have an epic fail. Either way you are going to be in a different place to where you started.”
For Maguire, no plan B means “no relying on mummy and daddy, no relying on the books under your bed, no relying on the film that you’ve got half written, no relying on marrying richer or taller”.
“It ain’t gonna happen,” she enthused. “Go plan A all the way.”
…but do have a ‘fuck off fund’
This is the cash that will get you through three months’ rent and bills should someone fail you – either personally, professionally or creatively. A terrible Dolly Parton jingle idea once made Maguire quit an agency in the middle of a meeting by writing ‘I resign’ on a Pret A Manger napkin.
“I knew that I would be alright because of my fuck off fund, regardless of whether I got another job in advertising or if I went to help my mum in Leicester market,” she recalled.
And the duo stress that people will fail you on your way – and that’s okay, too.
“I’d like to thank a certain executive creative director who many years ago, when we sent our book in to AMV, suggested that me and Ben Tollett choose a different career,” said co-chief creative officer Pay.
Tollett, on the other hand, ended up as the executive creative director of an small, unassuming agency named Adam&Eve/DDB.
Fuck imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is the pesky, persistent feeling of being a fraud in your own profession, despite external evidence to the contrary.
“It’s not very British to say it doesn’t exist and it’s definitely not very female to say it doesn’t exist,” said Pay. “But I grew up hearing a lot of people going ‘Oh my god ... I think he’s going to find me out!’
“It’s like, fuck off – you’re being paid well for your skills and your experience. Imposter syndrome is fear of failure in another form. I honestly think it’s bullshit and it’s incredibly unhelpful in this day and age to be a bit coy [about your successes], especially as a woman.”
The pair added that feelings of inferiority can be avoided by staying away from menial, secretarial tasks.
“When you walk into a room and there’s one chair left at the back – not even at the table – that someone’s saved for you, don’t sit there,” said Maguire. “And get people to pour their own fucking coffee. If you’re itching to pour someone a cup of coffee because you’re a nice person, sit on your hands.”
“And don’t take notes,” added Pay. “Don’t be the scribe – because the minute you do, you’ve changed your role.”
See failure as a method of transportation
“I once took a call from David Droga and suddenly I’m in Australia,” said Maguire. “I don’t look good in a wetsuit, I don’t like the great outdoors and the spiders are the size of dinner plates. I decided I was coming back before even my stuff coming to me landed.”
“I thought I’d gone two steps back in my career, I was skint … but no, it was brilliant. And I now know that I that I would never spend £5k on a holiday to Australia.”
Along with assessing your levels of arachnophobia before moving across the planet, the moral of the story is to always land in a different place.
“Either way you move on and you move up,” stressed Maguire, “but you always land in a different place.”