How Emerging Ad Talent Is Staying Creative Solely Online

Getting our foot in the door when the actual doors are closed

Internships, sprint campaign workshops and pitch competitions provide learning opportunities that can't be mimicked during a 200-person Wednesday night lecture. These pivotal experiences provide hungry young ad talent with the chance to connect with industry powerhouses, work on real clients, gain candid feedback, and if we're lucky ... raid a fridge full of complimentary goodies. 

Now, try capturing these experiences when you can't even assemble. 

In a Covid-ridden world, many young creatives are thrust into the ad scene having never stepped foot inside an agency. Earlier this year, internships got canceled and companies issued hiring freezes. Emerging talent count on these experiences to springboard their careers. The grads lucky enough to secure something didn't even spend much time in the job before early layoffs and a push back into the dreaded job search.

Portfolios need to be built and résumés need to be filled, but priorities understandably shifted away from young talent as agencies cut budgets and transitioned to remote scenarios. However, while opportunities to stay engaged with the industry disappeared, the next generation of talent remained hungry for work, and creativity prevailed. 

I share this from a specific vantage point as a young gun whose prospects of getting hired diminished before my eyes and as one of the six co-founders of Indoor Recess. I've witnessed the sheer force of problem-solving exuding from my peers stuck in the Grand Canyon of creative ruts.

Given the new remote reality, we had to get creative in order to stay creative, roll up our sleeves and do what we do best: problem solve.

Here are the biggest obstacles to creativity present in our newly distanced setting—and the digital tactics young creatives are now using that lit the spark for an alternative essential experience.

Teamwork Beats Distance

Collaboration continues to reign supreme wherever creativity is concerned. The excitement of bouncing around ideas while jotting down illegible phrases on a whiteboard is what draws us to the industry in the first place. During an internship, we observe how higher-ups work and even take on our own intern projects to showcase our smarts. Without this structure, the notion of a group project can be intimidating and seemingly impossible.

As agencies began incorporating Zoom, Google Meet, Slack and the like into their day-to-day, emerging talent followed suit. We banded together online, tapping each other through LinkedIn to create alternative opportunities including side projects or spec work for ourselves. Junior copy and AD partnerships popped up between people who've never even met in person. The relentless proactiveness of young creatives has enabled us to collaborate online, overriding geographical and monetary barriers, to emulate team experiences typically gained through an internship or case competition.

Connecting with Real Brands

One of the most crucial aspects of work experience is the actual work—the chance to touch projects for real clients and fill your portfolio. Spec campaigns grounded in half-baked briefs don't compare to a living project done for a big-name brand.

To remedy this, six students and fresh grads co-founded Indoor Recess to create a virtual competition for emerging talent to work on briefs for real clients. Complete with industry mentors, judges, agency sponsors and prizes, this Covid-induced grassroot initiative allowed 260 young guns across the U.S. to produce portfolio-worthy work for Color of Change, Twitch and Disney Music Group. 

Mentorship Moved Online

When you're a wide-eyed agency newcomer, the realities of work, office politics and the craft don't always come naturally. It's nice to get a nudge in the right direction from someone who's been there and done that. Young talent who'd typically brush shoulders with potential mentors during an internship are now seeking out mentor relationships online.

New industry resources such as Coffee at a Distance by We Are Next popped up to connect industry hopefuls with creative professionals willing to chat virtually. No Fixed Address Inc. built a similar resource, No Fixed Agency, offering online office hours. And while it may be reminiscent of online shopping, these platforms create opportunities for us to connect with prospective mentors without physical barriers or agency names in the way. These mentors continue to provide the necessary guidance, constructive feedback and insight we need to steer our creativity in the right direction and land that first gig. 

Inclusivity in a Virtual World

Creativity blossoms when diverse perspectives converge, so it's imperative that inclusive spaces prevail despite pandemic-related barriers. One of many barriers emerging talent face when breaking into the industry relates to the intersection of socioeconomic prosperity. Agencies' offices congregate in major cities where exorbitant living costs deter extraordinary talent from applying. The industry's remote shift opened virtual doors for untapped talent to engage and create in ways they'd only dreamed of. 

Professional foundations such as 4A's MAIP and AEF's MADE programs adapted quickly to the pandemic by collaborating with their partners to ensure their 2020 cohort landed in virtual internships. The AdColor conference went virtual this year, stating on their website that "although we can't be together in person, our virtual conference will allow us to rise up and reach back together in the safest way possible." Other major conferences like The 3% Movement and Where Are All the Black People also went fully online. These adaptations provided essential learning opportunities in lieu of their in-person equivalents. Those eager to connect with fierce forces within our industry could do so from anywhere in the world. So, while these online versions were slated as Covid-induced alternatives, they may set a new precedent for geographically inclusive learning.

Traditional work experience went out the window this year, but it forced us to reconsider how to be creative and get our foot in the door. And yes, we'd love to be in the same room with each other again, but this pandemic has proven the success and sustainability of virtual collaboration and creativity. 

It'll be interesting to see if this combination becomes the new "normal." Quite frankly, I hope it does.

Profile picture for user Isabella Courtenay-Morris
Isabella Courtenay-Morris
Isabella Courtenay-Morris is a freelance copywriter and co-founder, creative and brand strategy, at Indoor Recess.

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