Failed. Failed again. Failed once more… then ready to go, probably to fail again.

I just had some recent, rare success.

You can look at this article where I feature in a wannabe-hipster-but-just-daggy-red-jumper-with-shoulder-pads, or you can take my word for it in the TLDR version right now: I won a scholarship to AWARD School based on a creative idea I submitted for a Toyota campaign.

<Link to Campaign Brief>

My idea was for a billboard that paved the way for a content campaign. Essentially it was that Toyota showcase the stories of real ‘Unbreakable Girls’ to personify the values and reason-for-being of the unbreakable Toyota Hilux.

What was more interesting for me than the creative itself was how I got there. As you can guess from the title, it starts with a (lot of) failure.

Since starting in advertising, I’ve always wanted to complete AWARD School. It is essentially a must-do for anyone who wants to work in a creative department, and also a must-do for anyone who wants to really understand the creative process and be really good at their job in any field of the ad industry.

But to get in, you’ve got to qualify. You need to respond to 5 briefs in your submission that you have 3 weeks to create, and about 15% of people who apply actually get in. It also costs a decent amount of cash and only runs once a year.

I applied in 2014 and didn’t get in. Fail #1.

I applied in 2015 and didn’t get in. Fail #2.

I didn’t apply in 2016 because I thought I just wasn’t a creative person and would most likely fail. Fail #3, and by far the biggest fail of all.

To think I wouldn’t try again due to fear of failure, and even worse, to think I’d labelled myself as ‘not being creative’ because I’d failed twice is something I’m legitimately embarrassed about.

I’m not going to give some inspirational monologue about ‘never give up’ because it’s been done a million times, but here are some reasons on why I eventually got in on my recent attempt.

What happened the first two times I applied, is I answered the briefs as I saw them. They said ‘make a billboard’, so I made a billboard. Actually, I made about 50 billboards for each brief, then showed them off to a bunch of different friends, and chose the one that most people thought was good.

There are two mistakes with that approach: (1) I made billboards that were ‘just billboards’ and (2) I asked for too many opinions and ended up with an idea by democratic process.

So this time, with only one person’s help, I eventually got to a point where I was able to think outside the (billboard shaped) box. When I got the brief for the most recent task, within 48 hours I’d created 50 billboards. I showed them to one person who is smarter than me, I trust the opinion of, and happen to be marrying in a few months.

She thought about 5 of them made great billboards, but none of them made great campaigns. The advice I got was “Think of the campaign idea that the brief hasn’t asked for, make the campaign awesome, and then make a billboard that would come out of that campaign. But first put the kettle on.

This wasn’t what the brief asked for. But it was the basis on which the client would judge me on. After some initial thinking, I also found out that this approach was so much harder to do.

From that point, I stalled for a week, telling myself I was too busy writing a LinkedIn article about emails in my spare time and that it was too much work to take on. But mores than anything, I was just scared that I would just fail again. 

But wiht this approach in the back of my mind, I started to realise that the bigger ideas were just happening in the background each day.

Once I had a structure to work to, and essentially a process to idea creation, the bigger ideas came a lot easier.

The idea I finally used hit me at a very precise point in time that I believe is in no way a coincidence.

It was the 14 kilometre mark of the Sydney Half Marathon. 

I was in so much pain, and for some reason, my mind went to developing the idea. By the time I’d made the 21.1km distance, the idea was completely fleshed out and I only had to sketch it onto one billboard.

I say it was not a coincidence because one thing I have learned about the creative process in all of this is getting to that idea really hurts

I needed to give it some love & attention, needed to hate it and fail a few times, and only then did I find something I thought was worth presenting.