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Young South Africans Making Ads Abroad


One of the most exciting awards at the Loeries is the Adams & Adams Young Creative Award presented annually to two of the most promising ad-makers under the age of 28. The winners are judged on a portfolio of exceptional creative work produced during their young careers in the industry. At some point though, there comes a drive for many ambitious young talents to succeed on the world stage whether through international awards shows, or through pursuing opportunities on foreign shores. But how do these present themselves, what is it like when you get there, and is making the move worth it? After both winning the Young Creative Award at the Loeries in 2013, it wasn’t long before copywriter Kate Desmarais (previously at Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town) was headed East to JWT in Hong Kong, and copywriter Natalie Rose (previously at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in Johannesburg and Lowe Cape Town) was headed West to Grey in New York City. As the Loeries parties on this weekend, we catch up with both women about their adventures abroad and the insights they’ve gained.


Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town


Kate Desmarais | “We have some of the best creatives in the world”. 


Why did you first decide to pursue a career in advertising? Did it turn out to be what you expected?


My high school hosted a careers evening when I was in grade 11. There was a man there who was describing what being a copywriter was. He said, “If you like history, creative writing and drama, then you’ll probably enjoy copywriting”. A year later, I applied to AAA and 2 years after that, I landed my first job at an agency. I wish I could remember who that man was… In terms of it being what I expected, yes – so far it has been.


What do you love about the job and the industry?


The people. You’ll never work with a weirder, funnier, crazier bunch. And executing an idea – whether its shooting a TV spot or sticking tiny pieces of gum to a wall, there’s nothing better than that moment when it all comes together.



Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town


How did winning the Young Creative Award at the Loeries in 2013 affect your career path?


Although they definitely look good on a CV, awards don’t change your life. You still have to do the work. For me, winning the Loeries Young Creative Award gave me the confidence to go after what I wanted.  


You won this award on the strength of your portfolio. Do you have any tips on selling your best ideas to Creative Directors or clients to ensure they get made?


Start with a strong insight. If the insight is solid, it’s harder to argue with the validity of an idea – even if the execution isn’t quite there yet.


Part of your prize was heading to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2014. What were some of the things that inspired and influenced you during this trip?


Cannes is an incredible experience in that it really exposes you to the best and the worst of the industry. Inspiration and ego come in equal doses. In one day I listened to Sheryl Sandberg talking about “leaning in” and later had a Creative Director from Brazil introduce himself to my two male colleagues by shaking their hands before patting me on the head and telling me I was cute. Good and bad, it’s an invaluable experience and I can’t wait to go back again.  


Just a few months after your trip you moved to Hong Kong to work at JWT. Please tell us how this opportunity came about and what influenced your decision to take it.


I had been at Ogilvy Cape Town for 5 years and needed a change, but couldn’t see myself switching agencies locally. One day I got a message on linkedIn asking if I knew anyone who would be interested in copywriting opportunities in Hong Kong and I put up my hand.  


How has living outside of South Africa, and specifically in Hong Kong, changed the way you work and what you produce?


I’ve really tried to hang on to the way I was taught to work, because that’s what made me the creative I am today. So the way I think is the same, but the context is different. I’ve really enjoyed trying to find opportunities and insights that are unique to the market I’m working in.


In comparison, what are some of the similarities or difference to the South African advertising industry?


These days, everyone knows what kind of work gets attention. So whether you’re in South Africa or Hong Kong, clients all want the same thing – a campaign that will get people talking.


What sacrifices have you made to work abroad, and what have you gained in return?


The biggest sacrifice has been leaving my family, friends  and fiancé in South Africa. Oh, and wine. In return, I’ve gained perspective… although what I’ll do with it is undecided.


Any advice for someone wanting to gain experience internationally?


We have some of the best creatives in the world in South Africa. Learn from them first.



Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town



Lowe Cape Town


Natalie Rose | “You have to embrace foreigness and not just try to fit in”. 


How did your career in advertising begin? Why did you choose to channel your creativity into this industry in particular?


I created my first ad in Grade 10 with paint (and gold tinfoil as a final touch). It was for Cadburys. I figured if I could make a career out of this, it would be fun. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The launch of my highly anticipated advertising career happened to coincide with the economic recession in South Africa. Getting a job without experience is hard. Getting a job without experience in an economically depressed climate, almost impossible. Needless to say, I got a job. Working predominantly in Excel at an international food gifting company. Excel and I should have become great friends. But we didn’t, and I soon realised I still wanted to create ads with gold tinfoil. Metaphorically that is.


What do you love about what you do?


It’s funny. I actually have a love hate relationship with advertising. Obviously the love outweighs the hate though, because I’m still here. Or either I’m delusional. I love problem solving, watching ideas come to life and executing them. I love that every day is different and you have no idea what’s in store for you the next. I couldn’t work in a monotonous job. As a student, I once stood in a bottle store for nine hours trying to sell beer for four days straight. Let’s just say, I’ve never been back to that bottle store.


What did winning the Young Creative Award at the Loeries in 2013 mean for your career?


It put me on the stage. Not only when I picked up my Gold Loerie, but generally speaking. From an international perspective, it’s a great thing to be able to put on your résumé.


You won this award on the strength of your portfolio. Do you have any tips on selling your best ideas to Creative Directors or clients to ensure they get made?


I believe a great idea sells itself. Or at least a great Creative Director will be able to see one when it presents itself. However, you can help it along though with a few frills.. (I may be giving away my industry secrets here, but if it means a great idea doesn’t have to die, I’m ok with that.) Frill no. 1: I like to put together some reference pictures along with the idea I’ve written up, so whoever I’m presenting to can visualise it the way I do. Frill no. 2: Give the idea a clever, catchy name. It’ll sound awesome, rather than clunky, and sell itself. Something like Life Paint, Proud Whopper, SOS SMS or Sweat It To Get It.


You now work as a copywriter at Grey in New York City. How did this opportunity present itself and what influence your decision to take it?


I had many late night Skype interviews. Luckily I’m more of an evening person, than a morning person. It was a great offer, a leading agency (now ranked second in the world) and it came with the opportunity to work on Volvo, a brand that in the last few years has been doing some great industry-leading work. My mind was made up for me already.


What do you think the most difficult thing about a job in advertising is?


Watching an idea die when you strongly believed in it, and then seeing it get gold at Cannes. I think the subjectivity of advertising is frustrating. You have to stand up for ideas you believe in, and do everything you can to make them happen.



Lowe Cape Town 


Do you find there are challenges specific to working in advertising in the States?


Yes, converting my British English to American English. And making sure I say trunk instead of boot! Other than that, there are a million other challenges. You’re now a small fish in a big pond. A pond filled with people who are all pretty much exceptional at what they do. You have to have a big voice, otherwise you’ll just get lost. You have to embrace your foreignness and not just try to fit in. I’ve also learnt that budget is still (and will always be) a hurdle. Although 600k is over seven million in South Africa, you’ll battle to do something big here for under that, and you’ll also battle to get your client to sign off on that.


What accounts are you working on? What kinds of things do you find yourself working on day to day?


I work mostly on Volvo, and new business pitches. Everything from sales events, to interactive digital experiences and big activation stunts.


How do agency processes, clients and markets differ to what you experienced in Cape Town and Johannesburg? Have you had to adapt your thinking?


Agency processes here are pretty much the same, except for the fact that you have Project Managers assigned to manage teams, rather than Traffic Managers that manage briefs. I think this is an effective way of running an agency. You build a relationship with your Project Manager and they help to juggle your availability. They also take down notes during important internal meetings and presentations, so you can refer to them later. In other words, they’re pretty awesome.


What would your advice be for advertising graduates looking to make their mark on the industry?


Try get your foot in the door at an agency. It’s all about who you know. If your uncle has a cousin who once owned a book by David Ogilvy, talk to them. You never know what connections they might have. Once you’re at an agency, don’t wait for a dream brief to land on your desk. That’ll never happen, unless you’re the only creative working there (and even then I highly doubt it’ll be a dream brief). You’ve got to prove yourself first by being proactive with ideas. Write down a list of their clients, and then sit down and think what could make them famous. And you famous. Next thing you’ll know, you’ll be sitting at a desk in New York writing an article about your experiences. And trust me, it’ll all be worth it.



TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Johannesburg




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