The Interview Series // 50

Coming up with the ideas is only one part of what we do. Selling, presenting and most importantly – winning business is the other. But that’s the shit they just don’t teach you in class. So we decided it was time we learnt a thing or two about it and chatted to Andrew Foote – founding partner and creative director at AJF Partnership (http://ajfpartnership NULL.com NULL.au). He knows a thing or two about hand shakers – he started AJF from scratch with two other lads (who, weirdly enough, all have the same initials) almost 7 years ago. They are one of the largest independent agencies in Oz. Couldn’t really be further from where he started — as a little junior copywriter in (r)Adelaide.

Junior: Ok Andrew – Can we call you Footey? Tell us, how did you get into advertising?

Footey: I was studying law at university, and realised the only thing I’d learned was that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I’d never really thought about a career in advertising, because quite frankly it hadn’t occurred to me. (Truth be known I was probably spending too much time on the golf course to think about any career at all.) But I got to talking to a couple of mates in the ad business who suggested I give it a go, firstly by doing AWARD School. One of those mates was Adam Francis, who was an art director at the Adelaide start-up Killey & Withy, which was to become KWP! Anyway, I finished my law degree, then did okay in AWARD School, and by this time Adam had moved to Clemenger Adelaide and was in need of a writer. Fortunately, Clems gave me a crack. That was over 18 years ago, and Adam and I still work together to this day.

Jr: 18 years! That’s longer than some marriages. At what point did you consider starting your own agency?

AF: Just to give you the career context, I went from being a writer at Clemenger Adelaide to a senior writer and creative director at Clemenger Harvie/CHE, then to Y&R Melbourne as a senior writer under James McGrath, then to joint creative director at Y&R Adelaide. We had an interesting 18 months or so at Y&R Adelaide. When Adam and I, together with MD David Hallett arrived, the place was struggling badly despite having an agency full of great, talented people. We worked incredibly hard, did some good work, turned things around, and then… lost Mitsubishi, our biggest client. The decision was made in Japan, and was totally out of our hands. Y&R made the decision to shut the agency, so we initially decided to start our own shop in Adelaide, which we did, although it proved to be a false start for AJF Partnership. At around the same time, CHE asked us to return as joint executive CDs, and for one reason or another this seemed like the best option at the time, particularly as it allowed us to return to Melbourne. But after ten months at CHE we realised that we really would like to have a bash at it ourselves, so we left, and we did.

Jr: It’s obviously paid off now, but what were some of the initial challenges you first faced? Obviously it didn’t take long to pick a name?

AF: Winning clients, obviously. Ever tried cold-calling anyone? It’s pretty daunting. We had to decide who we were going to call, who would actually do the calling, what they’d say, and then how we’d present if they were interested in hearing from us. What was our point of difference? What could we offer that other agencies couldn’t? Fortunately, our approach must have worked – in six years we’ve gone from three to sixty five staff in Melbourne, and have our Sydney office up and running with around a dozen staff. As for the name, crazily enough we did think about other options. Fortunately we resisted, and AJF Partnership it was. The fact that the three founding partners have exactly the same initials has been a pretty good icebreaker.

Jr: There’s a lot of factors in play when it comes to a winning new business pitch, but what advice would you give young creatives when one lands on their desk?

AF: I don’t think young creatives should treat a pitch brief differently to any other. Simply put, answer the brief in a creative, engaging way. More often than not, you need to find a big brand thought that can be easily demonstrated across a whole range of media. You might find that the CD pushes you down a certain path, and may not always go for what you consider to be your ‘coolest’ or most creative ideas. But as you say, there are a lot of factors in play in a pitch, so there are a lot of strategic decisions being made that you may not fully appreciate. Clients pitch for a lot of reasons, but there are generally very specific things they are looking for in an agency, and it’s the CD’s job to make sure the work delivers on those. One thing I’d say is that it’s important to get up to speed with the client’s business, their category and their target audiences very quickly. Any agency that demonstrates a good understanding of these things will be off to a good start.

Jr: Selling ideas – whether it be a pitch or a presentation is the second part of what we do. Can you tell us a few things we can do to get our ideas made?

AF: As a junior, I think the best thing you can do is to make sure your ideas answer the brief, and can be achieved on time and on budget. You may not be presenting the work yourself, so you’ll often have to leave the selling to others, be they account management or senior creative people. But you can make the sale somewhat easier by developing a bulletproof creative rationale, explaining why the idea is right for the brief and why it will do the job it needs to. If appropriate, include plenty of reference so that the client can really picture what you’re trying to achieve. But don’t despair if work doesn’t get sold. Chances are, you’re working on smaller briefs at this stage, and although you’d no doubt like the agency to fight tooth and nail for your idea, in the bigger scheme of the client relationship it may not make a lot of sense to push too hard for a smaller job. It’s a ‘lose the battle to win the war’ situation. In any case, if your idea’s good enough it’ll still stand out in your folio, and CDs will understand the reasons why it didn’t get made.

Jr: Speaking of folios – What do you consider when judging the strength of an idea?

AF: Does it answer the brief, and will it work its arse off. In other words, will it get the people we want to do what we want them to? That’s what all great advertising does. Of course, there are many ways to achieve this – that’s where the creative bit comes in, and that’s what we’re paid to do.

Jr: And what do you look for when hiring a potential creative?

AF: For a start, we’ve got an unwritten no-dickhead policy. You spend a lot of time with people at work, so I’d rather enjoy their company than not. We look for people with honesty, integrity and a good work ethic. We look for people who can create campaigns, not just one-off ads. We look for people with a certain level of maturity so that they can work autonomously. And we look for people who create brilliant work that is designed to sell stuff, not just make their reel and folio look good.

Jr: As a copywriter, what process do you go through when writing headlines?

AF: I sit down with a pad and a pen. I scribble words on a page. If I kind of like a thought, I’ll draw a box that’s the shape of the ad and write the headline in it. Sometimes I pull out a thesaurus, just to look for other ways into what I’m trying to say. I keep referring back to the brief. Maybe flick through an annual, visit the client’s website, stare out the window – all the usual stuff. It has to be quiet – I can’t write with music on or people talking around me. I really enjoy the process. I don’t delete or chuck out anything either, because a lot of thoughts that you don’t end up using for that particular headline can make great bits of copy, or lines for digital pieces, or become other ideas altogether.

Jr: Lastly, what’s the best piece advice that was given to you when you were a junior?

AF: Here’s a good one for writers: buy a stopwatch. Whenever you’re writing for TV or radio, read your scripts out loud, at a leisurely pace, and time yourself. This will help you to stop over-writing, and prevent much stress in the recording studio.

There are all sorts of those little things that you pick up along the way, but I can’t recall any single profound pieces of advice that I’ve lived by. I guess I’ve always just observed everything and everyone, and reached my own conclusions about what I thought were the right and wrong ways to do things. I’m still doing it today.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 01/02/2012