This weeks interview is with Billy Bernhardt, Copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi. Billy has a wealth of experience behind him, gained from various ad agencies. In this interview we discuss how he made it into the industry, what agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi look for from Copywriters and some tips and advice on how to become a Copywriter. If you love all things writing and language related, then hopefully this interview will be perfect for you.
Billy has been at Saatchi & Saatchi for about 4 months now, beforehand working at the likes of VCCP and RKCR/Y&R – to name but a few. With such a vast wealth of experience and knowledge, Billy was perfect to speak to about some advice on how to become a Copywriter and get your first break in adland. Read on to see what he had to say.
1. What is your day to day role?
I’m a copywriter. But prefer describing myself as a Creative. Copywriter sounds too specific, but what we do here is impossible to pigeonhole. At least, we’d like to think so.
Job description would be: coming up with ideas with my creative partner, Milan Desai. All day every day. Then writing them up in order to convince an army of people that they’ll work and that they need to buy them with muchos dineros. Not an easy task but extremely rewarding when successful. The aim is to ‘make’ things. To shoot, edit, build, innovate, collaborate and see what has become of a scribble on a paper after months of hard work. Currently, I work on FMCG accounts at Saatchi & Saatchi.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
Getting to full time employment as a Creative is no easy task. Hard work, collaboration, positivity and caffeine addiction are essential. On top of original thinking. It’s also worth learning the art of apology, because you’re going to have to cancel many events with friends, girlfriends / boyfriends because you’ve got to work late.
I studied Literature and Media at Goldsmiths College. Then dove straight into a telesales job (for the dosh) that I emerged from after two years, with my creativity relatively unscathed. I then did a Masters in Creative Advertising at Edinburgh Napier for a year, then came back down to London to search for work. Placements, ‘permalance’, and freelance ensued, until finally the fine folks at Saatchi & Saatchi found us and us them.
“Rejection, redundancy, financial ruin are just some of the fun things that await an aspiring Creative. For me it was overcome by passion. Without passion I would have thrown in the towel.”
3. What was the biggest challenge you faced to get where you are now?
The biggest challenge was perhaps relentless persistence. Rejection, redundancy, financial ruin just some of the fun things that await an aspiring Creative. It was overcome by passion. Without passion I would have thrown in the towel.
4. What do Saatchi & Saatchi look for from future Copywriters?
Passion, positivity and hard work are obviously essential. But the great thing about Saatchi & Saatchi is that you’re surrounded and mentored by some of the industry’s most brilliant minds, pushing you to be original every step of the way.
5. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from copious consumption of everything. You never know where inspiration will come from which is why it’s important to have an inherent interest in everything. Films, books, art, music, the classics, the moderns, the post-moderns, and the stuff that’s not even out yet. Blogs, news, exhibitions, new releases are all things to be devoured. Always. I also find that it’s important to be creative outside of advertising in something you love. For me, it’s music and creative writing. They’re two areas untouched by the politics of the ad world and help stimulate my mind.
6. How do you personally overcome a creative block?
Creative blocks? I overcome them with my partner by talking. Chatting nonsense. Sharing stories. Sharing interesting finds we think the other may not know about. Banter and a good laugh. Change of scenery. Sneaking out of the office to the cinema or a gallery (never to the pub, promise). Sleeping on it. Ultimately, you can’t miss a deadline so the pressure will always stir something up for you in the end.
7. What advice would you give to budding Creatives?
Advice for those who want to become a Copywriter: don’t do it. Unless you’re prepared to immerse yourself in it 100%, work to death, every day (including weekends). If you can’t collaborate it’s probably not for you either. Advertising is a ‘people industry’. You’re interacting with Creative Directors, suits, clients, cab drivers and your creative partner all day, so if you lack people skills you may struggle.
Maintain an active interest in everything, because if you don’t do it first, someone else will. “It’s been done before” will become one of most soul-destroying set of words you’ll come to hear.
If agencies don’t answer emails or calls, literally go to their reception and ask if anyone is free to see you.
8. What advice do you have on how to become a Copywriter?
Start doing the agency rounds armed with your partner and your book immediately. No waiting. If agencies don’t answer emails or calls, literally go to their reception and ask if anyone is free to see you. That’s what we did (whilst I was on crutches with a broken metatarsal). But to me, the most important thing is that you show your creative thinking beyond advertising: do you draw, write a blog, play in a band, do photography, scrawl graffiti, make macaroni collages, collect ants…? These are the things that will make you memorable. Not a headline and scamp for B&Q.
9. What has been your career highlight so far?
There’s been many career highlights. Winning the first pitch, going onto the first shoot, signing the first permanent contract… all things that release endorphins. Receiving an email from Saatchi’s asking to meet us was definitely up there with the top highlights.
Key points to take away
If you’re going to take anything away from this interview, I would say it should be this:
As Billy rightly pointed out, you need to consume everything you can and learn anything you can. Working in advertising you never know who your next client could be, or what their next brief could be, so with that you never know when something you recently learnt or saw could come in handy. Never be too niche. Read books, blogs, write, attend events and exhibitions. Immerse yourself and stay motivated and inspired.
So you followed Billy’s advice and did the above point. You’re now inspired and you’ve got the great ideas, now you just need an agency to see your potential. Go get some experience. Whether that’s experience in the form of work experience, or experience in the form of getting Creatives to look at your book, taking on their feedback and making amendments as necessary. The sooner you get out there and get your name seen by professionals, the better. Your dream ad job won’t land in your lap. Work for it and show them why they should take you on.
Along with that advice, make sure you stick in their minds. Why should they remember you? What is it that makes you unique? Show your passion and your creativity.
If you have your own tips for getting into the industry, or if you’d like to discuss Billy’s interview more, please either leave a comment below or give me a shout on Twitter, I’m always eager to hear other peoples views. Thanks!