Making It In New York
This Aussie advertising copywriter turned down an amazing job offer only to land his dream job in New York - you should see his client list!
Hailing from Sydney, Advertising Copywriter, Ben Yabsley, knew early on that he wanted a career in advertising. Always artistic, he says the moment he realised advertising was all about using art to solve business problems, he was sold. Having made a name for himself in Australia along with his Art Director partner Rob, New York was always in his sights.
And as fate would have it, turning down a lucrative job offer in Melbourne was in fact the catalyst for a whirlwind move with his wife, Anna, and Rob and his partner, to take on a dream gig in the Big Apple.
Here Ben gives us the lowdown on what it takes to make it in the advertising world, what it's like working for major clients like Converse, Budweiser, Google and more, how he feels when he sees his work splashed across major billboards PLUS shares his top NYC foodie hotspots.
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The best thing about this job is that it rewards curiosity. You never know where you’ll draw inspiration from, so I’m constantly hoovering up culture and anything that inspires me. You don’t have to know how you’ll use something, just follow what you find interesting… more often than not you’ll draw some sort of inspiration from it later. Every experience counts.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
When I get a brief, the first thing I do is try and understand the problem we’re being asked to solve as thoroughly as possible. Then I’ll write down all the ideas that immediately come to mind. When I get all the easy ideas out I then ignore it for a day or two.
I’ll let the problem percolate away in the back of my mind while I try and stimulate myself as much as possible with creativity. I’ll look at all sorts of weird related and unrelated stuff, go for a walk, listen to some music and generally try and put off directly working on a solution for a while and just let it all swirl around in the back of my mind.
I’ll then sit down and write down as many top line ideas as I can. They could be headlines, a quick sketch, or even just a question. My Art Director Rob and I will then share all our half ideas with each other and figure out which have the most potential.
We’ll then refine those ideas as much as we can, exploring all the ways they could be expressed in different forms and start building a presentation deck. Then we think about what the story is that we need to lead people through to get them in the right frame of mind to be receptive to our ideas and see their potential. Then we start selling.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO WORK IN THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY?
At school I was always really into art, and knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to use my creativity every day, but I was also fascinated by business. During a career day I was listening to an advertising executive talk about the ad industry and realized that advertising is really just using art to solve business problems. That was it. I knew then and there it was advertising for me.
HOW MANY HOURS / MONTHS GOES INTO CREATING A MAJOR CAMPAIGN FOR MAJOR BRANDS LIKE GOOGLE, BUDWEISER, CONVERSE?
It can take up to a year to just sell in the campaign idea to the client. Sometimes even longer. Once they buy the idea we then have to go and produce it, and that can take another month or two.
Big global companies offer great opportunities to create high profile work that will be seen around the world, but there also tends to be lots of layers of people who need to sign off on the work, from lots of different backgrounds, usually representing different cultures from different regional markets all around the world.
It can be really challenging and time consuming to come up with an answer to a brief that is interesting and edgy (so that it cuts through the noise of advertising), but manages to satisfy everyone’s various opinions and various objectives.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE COME UP AGAINST WORKING ON A MAJOR CAMPAIGN? HOW HAVE YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Selling an idea is really hard, because it’s an intangible thing that doesn’t exist yet. You have to get the client to see what you have in your head and convince them you have the skills to bring it to life. The selling of ideas is way harder than the creation of them. This is often the biggest challenge. The only way to overcome it is to fully understand the client’s tolerance for risk and to know how far you can push them out of their comfort zone. Once they trust you the process gets easier.
YOU RECENTLY CREATED A GLOBAL CAMPAIGN FOR CONVERSE CALLED “MADE BY YOU”. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE CAMPAIGN AND WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
What makes “Made by You” different from a lot of traditional advertising is that it is placing the spotlight on the creativity of the people who own Chuck Taylors, not the brand itself. It’s Converse telling the world that its sneakers are only cool because of what the owners get up to in them.
Chucks are unlike other sneakers, because the vast majority of people who own them don’t want to keep them clean. They become cool when they’ve been worn in, or personalized in some way. They start as a blank canvas… and if that canvas remains blank, then it kind of says you’ve not really been living a very interesting life. This is unique to Chuck Taylors, and completely at odds with the lengths that people go to to keep other brands of sneakers clean and pristine.
We took this insight of Chucks being a blank canvas, and followed it to its natural conclusion by treating Chucks as actual works of art. We collected over 400 pairs of beautifully worn and customized Chucks from around the world and presented them as art on billboards and exhibitions in over 40 cities around the world.
The end result was pretty incredible. It’s amazing how much you can tell about a person by looking at the state of their Chucks. And the billboards we created as a result didn’t feel like ads… they felt more like an outdoor art exhibition.
DID YOU ALWAYS DREAM OF WORKING IN NEW YORK – HOW DID THE OPPORTUNITY ARISE?
Yeah, New York was always the goal. To be creative you need to keep your curiosity stimulated, and there’s no more culturally stimulating place in the world. It doesn’t matter what you’re into you can find it here, and more often than not it’ll be the best version of that thing or as good as you’ll find anywhere else.
Rob and I were working at The Monkeys in Sydney and were approached by a recruiter about a job in Melbourne. We turned the role down by explaining that we were thinking of moving to New York, thinking that it would be the end of the conversation, but it turned out that she had opportunities in New York as well. Before we knew it we were having a skype call with Anomaly, then packing up our apartments.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WALK PAST A BILLBOARD WITH YOUR WORK ON IT? DO YOU STILL GET A KICK OUT OF IT?
Yeah it’s pretty cool. Especially when I hadn’t been in New York very long and we had Converse billboards up everywhere. It helped me feel a little more at home.
HOW DOES THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY DIFFER IN THE US THAN BACK HOME IN AUSTRALIA?
In New York you have access to huge budgets and some of the best directors and “makers” in the world. When you have a good idea you really have access to all the best tools to bring it to life in the best possible way.
But Australia really punches above its weight when it comes to Advertising. We get used to doing more with less. Because our production budgets are smaller we place a lot of importance on the strength of the idea, not just how pretty we can make it look.
Each industry is great in its own way and I’m so grateful to have been able to learn from both.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE TO ANYONE TRYING TO CRACK INTO THE INDUSTRY?
When you’re starting out, the best attribute you can have is determination. It can be really hard and frustrating when you’re still trying to figure out what a good idea is and how to come up with them. The only way you get to good ideas is by getting all the bad ones out. That requires putting up with a lot of rejection. The quicker you bounce back from that rejection the quicker you get good.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of proactive work. Creative Directors love a side project. Don’t just concentrate on making ads for your portfolio, make some weird art or figure out a way to include other things that you’re passionate about. It shows people that you’re motivated enough to go out and create your own opportunities, not just wait around for a brief to fall in your lap. Those are the type of people that Creative Directors want in a creative department.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“It’s just advertising”
Perspective is really important. The work is crucial, but so is taking care of the things that keep your fires burning. If you don’t look after that stuff you won’t have anything left to bring to your job.
NYC IS ONE OF MY FAVE CITIES – PLEASE SHARE YOUR FAVE NYC FOODIE HOTSPOTS?
Veselka for late night Ukrainian
Dim Sum Go Go for amazing dim sum
Sao Mai for Vietnamese
Rubirosa for Italian
Prince St Pizza for the Sicilian slice
Xe May for Banh Mi
BEST PLACE FOR A CELEBRATORY DRINK
Spring Lounge or Sweet & Vicious for post-work drinks.
Von or Home Sweet Home if it’s going to turn into a late one.
FAVOURITE COFFEE HAUNTS
Gimme Coffee on Mott Street in Nolita makes the best flat white in New York.
Brooklyn Diamond on West Broadway Street in Soho makes the best cold brew anywhere.