How Creative Comeback helped me start my own agency
A view from Tejali Shete

How Creative Comeback helped me start my own agency

As Creative Comeback opens for entries, one former returner explains how the programme gave her the confidence and skills to start her own agency.

In 2018, I moved to London from India with my three-year-old because of my husband’s job. After having worked for 15 years as a creative director at leading advertising agencies with big global brands, I expected my past experience to be valued enough to land me a job.

I took a short break to settle in with my family in this new city. But trying to return to work after the break was tougher than I imagined. Being a foreigner without UK work experience didn’t help either.

I wasn’t just looking for a job; I wanted my career back.

One afternoon while browsing Linkedin, I stumbled upon a call for entries to Creative Equals' Creative Comeback programme. The inertia about hiring “returners'' was clearly a problem in the advertising industry, and here was an initiative determined to change it. Something told me this was going to be my chance at bouncing back. I applied and was chosen among a cohort of top 30 returners from across the UK to join the two-week programme.

The first thing I realised after starting the Creative Comeback was my story wasn't an exception. I met 29 other talented creative minds who had all been struggling to get back into the ad industry after a break.

The workshops gave us refresher training on ideation, strategy, presentation skills and the latest technological innovations and trends in advertising. What I gained the most was a renewed confidence in myself as the rooms echoed with powerful voices telling us that there’s nothing that we couldn't achieve.

We worked on a brief set by the programme sponsor, Diageo. My team went on to win the best presentation, with help from our creative mentor from one of the partner agencies, leading us to getting a “returnship” work placement at my dream ad agency in London.

Then the pandemic hit and sent all career and job search planning out of the window. As the UK waited indoors for the first Covid-19 lockdown to end, news columns were full of stories of business owners nationwide facing an uncertain future.

Eager to employ my passion and learnings to do good, I posted on local social network groups offering pro-bono branding services to small business owners who wanted to attract customers with marketing campaigns as soon as the government relaxed restrictions in August.

I started getting dozens of requests from small businesses across all corners of London. From music schools to restaurants to food and beverage companies to startups, the struggles of these entrepreneurs were very real. Some of these businesses were on the verge of closing down and this was their one last attempt at survival. Others had changed hands during the lockdown and the new owners had no past experience in that business, yet had salaries to pay.

I spent day and night working on creative strategy, branding and design solutions for these businesses while home-schooling my toddler. Things started getting serious when clients really liked what I had produced for them and wanted to spend money to execute the work and bring the ads in front of their prospective customers.

I sought more hands to support the volume of work by tapping into my network and before I knew it, we were functioning like a full-fledged advertising agency. From ideation to pitches, brand strategy, digital campaigns, account management and delivery schedules, we were doing it all. I realised that we were rolling even before we started, and so decided to call the outfit Roll Dot Agency to reflect our specialisation on creative branding in the age of digital advertising.

I am now running Roll Dot Agency full time with a steady growth in the number of clients within the UK and other countries. My vision for Roll Dot Agency is to bring world-class professional advertising acumen and expertise to small- to medium-sized businesses at an affordable cost. This is just the beginning.

I give Creative Comeback the credit for giving me the confidence, support and network to become a founder and agency owner.

This year's 10-day programme will run virtually from 17 to 28 May and aims to continue to support up to 30 women back into employment. It is free to attend and is open to all women, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who've previously worked as a creative (art director, copywriter, designer or similar role) in the advertising, marketing and design industry. 

Companies joining the programme include Wieden & Kennedy, Anomaly, VMLY&R, Fishawack, Adam & Eve/DDB, Edelman, Engine Group, VMLYRCommerce/Geometry, MRMMcCann, Wunderman Thompson and more to come, with talent agency Major Players supporting the Returner selection process. 

Want to join the programme as a returner? Apply here. Application deadline is Monday 5 April.

Want to get involved in the programme as an agency? Email ccldn@creativeequals.org

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