The Interview Series // 31

Meet David Klein. He’s the Associate Creative Director in charge of BMF (http://www NULL.bmf’s new Melbourne office. It’s easy to see why BMF (one of Australia’s better ad agencies) put this hokey-faced bro in charge. You’ve probably seen his work for Nestle Drumstick (http://www or that shining beacon of football advertising, Toyota AFL ‘Footy Moments’ (http://www It’s all gold! And you know why? Cause Dave just gets it. He knows his shit. We’ve done our fair share of these interviews with advertising bros and this one takes the cake. It’s all here: How to get a job, coming up with good ideas, what to do with award annuals, how the fuck to figure this whole game out. If advertising is something you’re thinking about, then don’t just read the highlighted bits like you normally do. Read it all slacker, sheeeeeesh.

Junior: Ok Dave, give us the low-down. What do you think the main challenges are facing juniors today…

David Klein: It’s probably exactly the same as when I started. To know what to do? Who to listen to? How to get into a good agency? How to crack the brief? All that sort of stuff. One of the tricky things is to work out who you want to listen to. You have to work out who you want to take advice from because if you take everyone’s advice – you’ll go mad.

And always thinking, I have to be in a good agency to do good work. You can do good work anywhere. It sometimes is easier in a good agency but then there are other challenges. Like the fact there’s probably a whole lot of really talented people competing with you to crack the brief. At the end of the day if you’re driven to do well, you will.

Jr: So go back to the beginning – Where did you start? Did you have a career strategy when you went out and got your first job?

D: I don’t think I had any idea what a strategy was back then. I did graphic design at Swinburne University, and I had some sort of vague idea advertising could be fun. I managed to get a job just before I left Uni, at a place that did a bit of mainstream advertising, but a lot more direct marketing. It was a pretty good learning, but wasn’t quite what I was into—I wanted to be in a mainstream agency. I didn’t like coupons and reply paid envelopes that much. I worked on my folio day and night and finally cracked a job at Grey Melbourne working on the TAC. It was a great, I really felt like I’d found where I wanted to be, and importantly what I wanted to do.

I spent two years at Grey and then went to London for a couple of years. It was a good learning curve, and very different, it made me realise that Australia is a great place to make ads. There aren’t as many barriers, and things just don’t take as long. Obviously it depends on what agency you’re at, who your clients are and how much money is involved – but generally, in Australia, you can get stuff done cheaply.

Jr: Tell us your thoughts on going overseas – I think we speak from all juniors out there when I say we all want to do it at some point. But what’s the best way to go about it?

D: I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it. I know people who have had hardly any experience who have done really well and people who have been really great who haven’t. I think it’s often about your attitude. You have to be really, really hungry. Don’t expect anyone to help you, especially in London. To most Londoners you’re just another Aussie. And don’t be surprised if you’re asked to work for free. It’s pretty weird, if your folio is good enough they’ll ask you to do a placement and then if you can prove that your any good then they’ll pay you.

I reckon going over as a team is an advantage too. It means you’re easier to employ. And you’ve got someone to hang out with when it gets tough. And trust me, it will be tough.

Jr: Speaking of working for free – It seems like non-paid placements in Australian agencies are becoming common. Our parents think we’re crazy, but do you think it’s becoming more of a way in? At the same time, how do we make sure we’re not getting fucked over?

D: I think you need to recognise when you are being taken for a ride, and when you aren’t. If it is somewhere that you really want to work then you should go for it, because just getting in the door is awesome. I think over here we are less inclined to rip people off and it’s more of a test to see if you are any good and that you can fit in the work environment. As much as your folio is key for getting a job, it’s also who you are as a person and if you can work with people around you. The only way you can know is to get in an agency and test that out. If it’s where you want to go, then do it.

Jr: Do you think it’s as hard, or harder now to get a job in the industry than it was when you started?

D: It’s hard to answer that one because I’m not trying to get a job. I think it’s probably different because there are so many options now. When I started you went to a mainstream agency, or direct marketing. Now you can go into digital, sales promotion, mainstream, activation etc. But in that time one thing hasn’t changed – a good idea is still a good idea. If you have good ideas, you will get a job.

Jr: The people coming out of Uni now are the Gen Y whizzes of the internet. Do you think the folios of today should steer away from your traditional print folio?

D: If you’ve got a skill—for example, if you’re the hottest digital guy around, then use that. There’s not one mould to get a job in advertising. If you’ve got a strength, then use that to your advantage. Show those things in your book—it’s what will set you apart from others.

Jr: Because of the ad courses that are around now, Art Directors don’t necessarily come from a straight design background. What advice would you give to up and coming junior art directors that want to build their craft?

D: I was really lucky because I had four years of hard-core design behind me so I can make things look good pretty quickly. You’ve probably heard it before, but be a sponge. Look at everything that you possibly can. But don’t just look at award annuals, that’s the worst thing you can do. Be aware of them, but you shouldn’t look at them for inspiration. All you’re going to do is end up trying to make last years winning ad, and what you want is to make is next years winning ad. Look at design magazines. Go to galleries. Every week find a new designer or illustrator or photographer and make a library. I’ve got about five million bookmarks on Safari. Photographers, animators, directors, production companies, etc. Unlike when I started about four thousand years ago, all we had was annuals. Now you can employ people from all over the world. Recently I did a campaign with a Japanese illustrator who didn’t speak any English—and bizarrely it was easier than using some English speaking people I’ve worked with.

Jr: Was that something you found through one of your bookmarks?

D: Yeah, his name is Dragon76 (http://www NULL.dragon76 I found him in this really random way through a MySpace link, I got in contact with him through that and then discovered his agent was in London. I showed his work to the client and they really loved it. It wasn’t a problem that he wasn’t in Oz. It just goes to show that once you’ve got your reference right and your brief is really clear, you can get anyone to work with you. Our location isn’t a barrier to employ anybody. There can be an issue with time differences because it takes longer, but you can use anyone in the world now, which is amazing.

J: Do you have any recommended reading for us?

D: There’s a book that I reckon everyone should read – Hey Whipple, Squeeze This (http://www I still look at it; it’s such a perfect way of looking at advertising and very motivating. You can be a junior, or a senior, and still take out stuff from Luke Sullivan (http://twitter Just even little tips or tricks on things—for example, the client always wanting the logo bigger, his tip is to make it smaller, so then when they ask it to be bigger, it’s the size you wanted it in the first place. It’s really helpful. The other guy is Lee Clow; some of his stuff is pretty awesome on his Twitter. The guy is a genius.

Jr: Yes! ‘Lee Clow’s Beard (http://)’! Amazing! There’s some pretty inspirational stuff in there.

D: Yeah! – Look, the key thing is, never give up. If a client gives you feedback and the idea you thought was going to give you a Cannes gold is dead, don’t throw shit around the room. Look at what is wrong with the idea, or if it’s something to do with the execution. Because if it’s the execution you might just change one thing and bingo you’re back in the game. Or maybe the timing’s not right. Maybe they need to set up the campaign idea before they can unleash your great idea. If that’s the case present it later in the year. But if it’s a bad idea, then just walk away from it. Clients know the business pretty well, that’s why they’re there. Sometimes they can make silly mistakes, and it’s not from them being stupid, it’s just not knowing about how to feed back information. They haven’t done advertising degrees. They say it how they see it, sometimes they’re wrong and unfortunately for us sometimes they’re right.

Jr: It seems that getting in to the industry is one challenge, however staying in, is another. And, getting work made and getting work up is another challenge.

D: It’s a daunting thing. Once you get in, you’ve got in, and you should congratulate yourself because a lot of people don’t and it’s really hard—you’ve done what you’ve set out to do. Once you’re in, then there’s no reason why the next brief you get can’t be the one that makes you famous.

Potentially anything can win you an award but awards are a lottery. If you aren’t going to win an award then do a great job for the client’s business. Because if you do that then you get trust from the client, and the creative director, and account service, and soon things will kind of just go your way. And it’s not through doing anything different but by creating confidence in what you do and everyone else will respond to that. If you try to be bolshie and different just for the sake of it, it’s not cool. You want to be different in the work you present, but not argumentative and difficult. After a while people will get sick of you and you’ll be out of a job, or won’t get to work on the good briefs.

Learning to sell your work is really important too. The faster you do that the quicker you’re going to get ahead. Always see your work from the point of view of an idea. Work out what your idea is, put it on a piece of paper, and put your work on a wall underneath it. I always put work on a wall, four or five different ideas, and write executions from those. Don’t be afraid to have other people comment on these. You can be sitting there thinking of one idea and get stuck on how to get something to work, and someone might come along say something and open a whole new world that makes it even better. Draw on the people around you; it doesn’t have to be creative people, even the account guy or a planner. Planners are really important people. Become good friends with a planner and he or she will write the briefs you want to work on.

Jr: While we’re talking on ideas, what piece of advice would you give us as juniors to help make our work better?

You need to really learn to work out what the idea is and what the execution is, because it’s easy to get confused between the two. I’ve seen people fight for executional stuff and suddenly the client cracks the shits and throws out the whole idea. When all that needed to happen was a slight change to the execution and the idea would still be on the table.

Jr: Do you think selling in an execution-based idea is harder? How do you sell in those ideas like the Drumstick Summer Classic ad—do you just read the script or do you have to go to an extra length to sell it in?

D: Reference is key to everything in this business. For Drumstick I studied North Korean mass games and film references from Busby Berkeley. Thinking back it’s a pretty strange combination of stuff when you’re selling ice cream. But it really helped shape the vision for the way the ad should look. I guess a script is just words on a page. Not everyone can imagine it, because they’re not always as visual as you are. If you can show people what’s inside your head it’ll be a lot easier for them and for you.

Jr: You’ve just been made Associate Creative Director of BMF. Do you reckon it’s harder to do that as an Art Director?

D: No way. If you think in ideas it doesn’t matter if you’re an art director or a writer.

Jr: How did it all work out for you—has it all happened pretty organically?

D: It happened organically; there’s no way you can plot it out. I think luck plays a big role in anyone’s career. I’ve had some lucky breaks and I’ve had some really unlucky breaks too, but at the end of the day I worked my ass off. And I still do.

Jr: Any final words before the iPhone battery dies, and the sound recorder with it?

D: Have as much fun as you can. It’s hard work but we’re lucky to be doing it. Making ads means you get to meet and work with some really, really talented people, which is awesome. Advertising isn’t really a job—it’s a lifestyle. If you see it as a 9-5 job, you’ve got it wrong. If you live and breathe it, you’ll get the most out of it.

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 21/04/2010