My Creative Career: Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director at Ogilvy UK
Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director at Ogilvy UK, has more than two decades in the business, winning countless awards on major campaigns for the likes of Ikea, M&S and Virgin Atlantic - all without a single A-level. Here is his story.
Ogilvy UK’s chief executive creative director Jules Chalkley / Ogilvy
“The one thing I was good at when I was a youngster was art, I was terrible at all my other subjects. In fact, so much so I don’t have any A-levels,” he admits before whispering: “I’ve never told anyone outside of my family that before.”
As a youngster, Chalkley was always drawn to advertising. "It made me laugh. I used to watch a lot of telly as a kid, much to my mum’s annoyance.”
A-levels aside, the creative director was accepted onto a foundation art course that allowed him to explore painting, drawing, very early digital design and filmmaking. He soon knew this was what he wanted to pursue. He needed to blag his way into a college without the grades.
“I tried loads of colleges, but because I had no A levels, I couldn’t get into them, I couldn't do a degree,” he explains. “I ended up going to Hounslow, which was a really good ad school at the time, and they accepted me on my ideas pages.”
At the time, Hounslow had good relationships with various ad agencies and Chalkley would go around them in the evenings putting his portfolio together through placements. At Saatchi&Saatchi he worked “on some amazing accounts and talked to incredible people like Alexandra Taylor”, who remains one of his art director heroes.
As well as Taylor, Chalkley adds that at the beginning of his career he was “looking at Castlemaine XXXX ads that were just extremely entertaining and very funny, laugh out loud funny” and cites the “extraordinary” Dunlop’s ‘Tested for the Unexpected’ campaign as another source of inspiration.
Back then Chalkley notes that there was, and still is, an “openness to the industry” that he so appreciates because otherwise he would have been “absolutely fucked.”
Of course, formal education isn’t always suitable or achievable for people. How important is university learning when it comes to creative work?
“The nature of art school is changing,” confirms Chalkley. “I went into the industry not really knowing anything about the money side of it, I just wanted to work in it. And money has become such a big deal in education.” Noting that he didn’t pay for his tuition and that it was “brilliantly” funded by the UK government, he acknowledges that everything “comes with a price tag now” and that “colleges are expensive“ but they don’t need to be the only option.
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“Agencies and the creative companies need to start leaning into that themselves and offering more apprenticeships,” he advises. “Training people up from scratch and bringing them into the industry on merit and ability but not on the fact that you've got an HND in advertising.” He continues: “Since Michael Gove pushed the country more towards more STEM subjects and away from creative, as an industry, we’re paying for it.”
Throughout his years within the ad industry, Chalkley has worked at various agencies like St Luke’s, Engine and BMB London where he was its first chief creative officer. “Getting into a good agency wasn’t easy,” he adds. “I spent a long time going around London with a portfolio trying to find a good partner – it took a year.”
While at Engine, Chalkley worked on a campaign for the NHS called ’Missing Type’ that he credits as being one of his favorites. “I don't think it’s my best piece of work, actually,” he confesses. “But for me it identified the work I wanted to do and the way I wanted to work. That sort of multi-platform, culturally driven, very simple, pervasive idea.”
Another favorite is Ikea’s ‘Glasgow’s Gone Soft’ project from his time at St Luke’s. Both share that talkability, disruptive factor that Chalkley states is where he’s “happiest creatively.“
With so much experience behind him, what advice would Chalkley offer young people trying to break into the advertising world? “Energy,” he states. “It’s the one thing that has always worked for me, just having the energy and enthusiasm. If you’ve got the will to succeed, you will.”
He continues by stating that the industry thrives on brilliant ideas and having people who show tenacity, but that “being able to pick yourself up from when they don‘t go right, and things go wrong” is equally as important. “Even now when I’m waiting to hear on a pitch, I‘m like, ‘oh God, please let it be good’,” he confides.
“It‘s an emotional game, isn‘t it? It‘s about connecting with people and making them feel things. All the time you‘re expressing in that sense, you‘re vulnerable, so you need to keep the passion.”