Welcome to So You Want My Job? Each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. Along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting. This week we caught up with Andy Jex, chief creative officer of TBWA\London.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I really liked the idea of being a park ranger. Possibly a result of my love for Yogi Bear when I was a kid. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an abundance of park ranger jobs in the Edmonton area so I spent my time doing what I loved, which was anything art-based. If it wasn’t art-based then when conceivably possible I answered it with an art-based answer.
However, I was always a bit paranoid that I couldn’t draw very well. I seemed to get away with it, but it always bugged me. Once I discovered that creativity in advertising didn’t really require drawing, I was in. Adverts had always fascinated me. They were as much part of school playground culture as TV, football and music. I loved the short, sharp, funny entertainment value. I loved how they resonated and stayed with you for so long. They had value and currency. I even remember recreating Benson & Hedges ads in an art lesson.
Imagine that now – an 11-year-old doing ads for fags?!
Does your job now resemble that in any way?
A park ranger? Not at all. Mind you, I did have to tell someone off for having a picnic during a Zoom call the other day. Sorry, that’s a bad Yogi Bear gag and obviously not true. But if I could do my job from a ranger’s flatbed truck that would be really nice. I think it’s the space and the freedom I liked the idea of. I live out of London now and the ability to be away from everything and close to nature actually really helps me do my work.
How did you get your job? Tell us the full story.
I’d always presumed that the person who pasted up the poster wrote the ads. It wasn’t until I was at university doing a mixed media degree that I actually discovered there were courses to help people do it. As a postgrad I went to Watford College under the tutelage of the master Tony Cullingham. There I teamed up with Rob Potts, who went on to be my creative partner of 20 years. We were actually the last team from our year to get a job.
We’d been on the placement circuit for almost a year before we got hired at BMP DDB. The book crit and placement circuit was an intense business and we took it seriously. We used Burger King on Oxford Street as our base because it was close to all the agencies and we could get away with buying one coffee and staying all day. We sat there shuffling our folio about pre and post-book crits. We got to see some amazing people, who taught us a lot and gave us invaluable help. That said, a team did once tell us that the future of advertising was ‘lamination’. We had different folios of work tailored to different agencies. I even remember us entering the Young Cannes Competition more than once under pseudonyms: Danny Upshaw and Chris Mankowski.
OK, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?
I hate it when a cabbie asks: “What ads you done then?” Regardless of my answer they always say: “Never heard of it.”
Maybe I just haven’t done enough famous work. Perhaps I need to work harder at getting ads on LBC, TalkSport or the taxi rank at Gatwick South. If I’m honest the thought of just saying ‘Guinness Surfer’ and being done with it always crosses my mind.
On one occasion back in 2014, I replied ‘EE’. “Never heard of it guv,” came the inevitable reply. “The one with Kevin Bacon,” I said. Goodness knows why I was so desperate to impress him.
“Never heard of him,” he replied, putting me firmly in my place – a small, insignificant ad wanker. He piped up again: “What team you support? Not a Gooner, are ya?”
“I can walk from here,” I replied.
Do your parents understand what it is that you do?
They really do. Honestly, I tend not to show them much work anymore, they claim to not understand any of it.
I pray they’re never in a research group when my work turns up. When I was going to Watford College and doing placements I was living back at home. So they were very aware of my journey. I’d bring home the A2 portfolio every night and take over the dining room table. So they were very involved from the outset. They found the placement system completely bizarre and unfair as a route into work.
As I discovered the industry I involved them, whether they liked it or not. They always took immense pride in telling friends and family about work I’d done. I once did an ad for Carlsberg for the World Cup and my Dad said our recreation of Bobby Moore looked nothing like him. I asked him how he’d know and he just pointed to the framed photo on the wall of him playing for Essex Schoolboys... tackling Bobby Moore. Fair play.
What do you love most about your job?
The thrill of the moment when an idea comes to light that could potentially solve a problem in a funny, fresh, endearing, memorable, relevant way is always special. Working with lots of amazing people with incredible craft skills that can change and redefine and make our work better is a thing I really love. Knowing where you want to be in the end but not knowing quite how you’re going to get there is exciting and that freedom allows for the unexpected to occur and magic to really happen.
How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?
It’s never been easy getting into the industry and certainly isn’t right now. There are more points of contact with the industry and people in it than ever before. The industry is also desperate for diverse, young fresh raw talent that’ll change the game so opportunities will develop. I’ve always thought that getting in contact with people whose work you love and learning, taking guidance and lessons from them is the best way in. There are tonnes of super smart and willing people out there who will help – just ask them.