A view from Anna Carpen

Never give up and learn from the greats, advises 18 Feet & Rising's creative director

Anna Carpen's interview at Watford nearly ended her career before it had begun.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in Campaign’s Faces to Watch – time flies fast and I’m glad it hasn’t been wasted. I am one of the youngest executive creative directors in advertising today – I use this as a strength.

I have more energy and enthusiasm for the industry than most people in my position. I grew up with historical ads by my hero, John Webster, but I also grew up during the rise of digital.

This mix of old and new has allowed me to carve out a space that felt right for me as a creative. Below are some things I did to get where I am today.

Try them – they may just work for you too.

Never give up

When I went for my interview day at Watford, we were asked 20 questions about advertising. I scored zero. This was at the beginning of the day and I wondered whether I should go home there and then.

Thankfully, I stuck it out and [leader of the course] Tony Cullingham saw something in my ideas later that afternoon. He offered me a place on the spot. I’m so glad I didn’t go home that morning.

Learn from the greats

I spend a lot of time looking up ads from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Yes, you have to spend time absorbing culture, art, film, trends of today – but you have to know what kind of advertising you want to do as well.

It was wonderful to see Frank Budgen’s reel on the big screen at the D&AD Awards this year. A stark reminder of how great advertising once was and still could be. Scrap that – will be.

Go with your creative instinct

I was constantly being put in situations that were beyond my level. I ran and won a pitch while still on placement, and that’s when I realised you have to always reach ahead. Never turn down an opportunity. The worst thing that happens is you mess up and you learn from it.

Articulation is key

The quicker you can learn to articulate your ideas properly, the faster your career will progress. If no-one understands your nuggets of wonder, they aren’t going to sign a cheque for it. Start going to client meetings as early as possible and always, if possible, present your own ideas. Take the client on the journey and gain their trust as early as is humanly possible.

Be yourself

When I first started out, I made the mistake of trying to be an East-London-cool type. But it wasn’t me. And my work suffered. I was too concerned with how I came across and it made me miserable.

So screw all of that. Find an agency where you can be yourself – your work will start to sing. You’ll know when you find an agency you can call home. And if you haven’t found it, keep searching.

Be ruthless with your thinking

Never settle for your first few ideas. Write as many as you can, then cull the lot. Start again. Really ask yourself if you have a strong, fresh idea that will do wonders for the brand.

Too many creatives pull image references from Tumblr and think it’s an idea. You can do so much more than a cool picture. You can create culture. Change perceptions. Improve lives.

Anna Carpen is executive creative director, 18 Feet & Rising. Carpen featured in Campaign's Faces to Watch in 2012