Ben Mooge
Ben Mooge
A view from Ben Mooge

There shouldn't be limits on opportunity – that's why we're launching the Publicis Student Workshop

As Tony Cullingham announces the end of the Watford Ad Course, Ben Mooge reflects on his creative roots as his agency launches the Not the D&AD Publicis Student Workshop this autumn.

It feels particularly pertinent to be writing this in the week when the ravens have left the tower. It seems almost unthinkable that Tony Cullingham has ended the Watford Ad Course, which gave birth to a ridiculous roll call of today’s best-known creative leaders.

I worry about the long-term impact of losing such a good start. You could always tell a Watford student – Tony had wired them in a very particular way. I didn’t do the Watford course, but often get asked the old "How did you get started in advertising?" question.

The quick answer is that my old schoolmate Paul Bruce needed a "copywriter" to be part of "a creative team" to get into "advertising". I knew literally nothing – he’d done graphic design and knew about advertising. I just did everything he told us to do.

He had two good ideas: one was us going to see a new start-up agency called Mother. The other was to try and get on this course that D&AD ran, the D&AD Student Workshop. As the title suggests, it was a workshop that the D&AD ran for students, every few months or so.

But you had to qualify to get on it, which involved answering a brief that they had published and sending in your work in response to the brief. To prove how long ago this was – the qualifying entry brief that was set was "a poster campaign to launch the upcoming Millennium Dome". I mean...

Our work on that brief in the summer of 1997 was not good (I vaguely remember cave paintings of the Dome and some kind of "it was always meant to be" messaging) but somehow we got on the course. Paul was and is a really good art director, so that was most likely how.

The format was simple. Every week you, and the other fresh-faced, naïve, hungry ad-creative wannabes, turned up at that week’s agency, to present your campaign answering that week’s brief to the creative directors who’d set it; presenting in front of everyone else, in a real live ad agency, to actual creatives, whose work you’d actually seen.

One week, we presented to the creators of the Tango work we adored, at HHCL. The next, we felt unbelievably out of our depth at the red-trousered alien landscape of Knightsbridge’s JWT.

The lesson I remember the most was Tim Mellors at Grey telling us to worry less about the intricacies of the idea and concentrate instead on how you present it in front of all these people. To be fair, our idea was answering his Tower of London brief with a collage of Cilla Black and Gary Barlow with the line "Who would you put in the Tower?", so he probably had a point.

Most importantly, every week we went to the pub with the rest of the student teams on the workshop, to lick our collective wounds and swap stories of possible connections. Who had the elusive placements lined up and where? Who were the sympathetic creatives and in which agencies?

The others in the group that Paul and I naturally gravitated towards were a young team, Dave Monk and Matt Waller. They were working then, before their incredibly successful stint at BBH, at that other cornerstone of Soho, the Slug & Lettuce in Leicester Square.

Dave would go on to be Nils [Leonard’s] deputy ECD at Grey, and then in an outrageous act of kismet was already part of the gang when I arrived at Publicis Groupe – he’s been the ECD of Publicis Poke for a few years now.

Dave and I have often talked about that D&AD Student Workshop, and how bizarre that a few Thursday nights in Autumn ’97 has seen a 20-plus year association, mutual career path and friendship through an industry neither of us was remotely prepared for.

D&AD stopped doing the Student Workshop in that form at some point in the 2000s. It evolved into different forms – the most notable being the excellent D&AD Shift, which has set the bar in widening the aperture of our industry. And of course there’s courses and competitions that just didn’t exist in prehistoric industry of 1997, from the Portfolio Course at the SCA and The Talent Business’s Cream, to Brixton Finishing School and of course Publicis Groupe’s own Open Apprenticeship.

But there should never be a limit on opportunity. And the real bright idea came from Emma De La Fosse. Emma’s the CCO of Digitas. Before that she won a truckload of awards as the CCO of Ogilvy One. But most importantly, before that, she was a similarly clueless member of the summer ’97 D&AD Student Workshop. Different student group from Dave and I, but exactly the same experience.

Emma pointed out that we have the ability here at Publicis Groupe to replicate that experience that we all had at the start of our careers. A short sharp creative induction into a world of advertising, digital, PR, health and media.

So we're introducing the Not the D&AD Publicis Student Workshop: a six-week, in-person, in-agency, course that follows the same structure, across our agencies. We’ll aim to run it three times a year, and we’ll mix up the agencies and the disciplines each time. But to start with this autumn. we’ll go from Saatchi & Saatchi to Digitas to MSL (PR and experience) to Leo Burnett to Langland (health) to Publicis Poke.

You’ll have a room of the creatives and CDs from that agency who might notice your work. And just as importantly you’ll have a room of peers, or potential creative partners that you might end up knowing for the next 20 years.

So if you fancy that – all you need to do is answer our brief. It’s the brief that every creative in our industry will face soon. So good luck. And hopefully I’ll see you in the autumn.

Ben Mooge is chief creative officer for Publicis Groupe UK