Monday, May 19, 2014

When opportunity comes a-knockin'

I'm currently in my third and last year of studying Integrated Brand Communications at Vega School of Brand Leadership. It's been one hell of an experience. I've come a long way from not having a clue what to study after matric, to doing odd jobs and then a stint in the tourism industry, to knowing which industry I'd like to venture into and the companies I'd like to work for. 

I'm grateful that my Mom always instilled a hard working attitude in me. Back in the day when we had market days in primary school, she would always encourage me to make things with materials we had lying around, and sell them at school for pocket money. I was an avid baker too, so one day we came up with a way of making money from my efforts. My little sister and I made peanut butter biscuits, packaged them (along with our own "logo") and went door-to-door armed with goodies to sell. This was when I stayed in Wellington, and the quiet, safe neighbourhoods around us were the perfect place to act out out entrepreneurial ideas. I won't ever deny that I found the whole experience quite daunting, as I was a painfully shy kid back then, but I like to think that it helped me shape who I am today.

My point is that, even now, when I don't have my mother nagging me to get up and do something, I try to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to me. When I moved to Cape Town, I decided that I wanted to do an internship with an advertising agency. My Mom knew an old colleague who was the MD of a well established retail agency (a bit of nepotism never hurt anyone!) and I managed to intern with a company that is part of the well-known Ogilvy group.

The first few months of my internship we horrible. I was fully prepared to start making coffee for the big dogs, but weeks went by and no one had even said a word to me. I actually had to go up to people and ask them if they had work for me, no matter how menial it was. I was so desperate to make a success of the internship, but every day I came home depressed and demotivated. As always, with everything, my expectations exceeded reality and I ended up disappointing myself. 

But slowly, things started to improve. I tried to put my fears and insecurities aside and actually went up creatives in the Studio and executives in the Client Service department and basically begged them to give me work to do. I also hung around the bar after 3pm every Friday and introduced myself as the new intern. I remember how shocked I was when I saw that the company had a fully stocked, free bar. And apparently this was the norm in ad agencies. How naïve I was back then. It's not as hectic as Don Draper whisky'ing it up at 11:00am, but once that email went out to signal that the bar was open, people didn't delay. But in all honesty, I knew that if I didn't try to connect with these people and make my stay enjoyable, I would in the end only really be disappointing one person - myself.

Fortunately, there was a vacancy in Traffic and I got to work alongside the Project Manager there, managing the different accounts and jobs coming in and out. I had never even known what a "job bag" was before then. I got to sit in on status meetings and attend pitches with real clients. I even got to accompany the Production Manager to the recording of a radio ad. Finally, things were looking up.

I look back on that time now, and I can't help but smile. It reminds me to keep pushing forward, no matter how hard things get. Sure, I had family and friends who encouraged and supported me throughout that period, but I could have given up. I could have quit. But I would never have experienced the organised chaos and stressful deadlines of an advertising agency, and also never connected with some really cool people, had I left.

I extended the internship, simply because I was loving it there and I could see that whatever assistance I offered, was appreciated. I went in not even expecting to be paid, but received a small stipend that I was grateful for. It was during this time that I decided to apply to Vega. After witnessing how an agency functions, I was not so sure I wanted to work in one. If I had, I would probably end up being an Account Executive, which sounds like a fancy title, but I saw it as basically doing a lot of admin work for the client. I wanted something more in the Communications/Strategy field, and that is how I came to choosing to do the Integrated Brand Communications Diploma at Vega.

When it was time to leave, many people came up to me and asked me why I didn't just stay at the agency, as they would have kept me on. I thought about it, but I really wanted to apply myself properly and earn a qualification. I stayed in contact with the friends I made there, and it's also how my relationship with someone blossomed into something more than friendship. I was also fortunate to get some wonderful references from people I respected immensely.

Throughout my time at Vega, I had this idea that I would try to do a small internship every holiday. Yeah, right... After working myself to the bone with homework, assignments and studying, working during my break was the last thing I wanted to do. Although I have a job as a sales assistant at a boutique in town which I love, I felt that I needed more experience at companies I could someday work at. I sent my CV to a number of places at the beginning of my December holidays, but all of the companies politely said that this was their least busy time, and they just didn't need any interns. I was disappointed, but after a while I was able to get into something else that suited my timetable. I contacted the World Design Capital team last year and have been helping them with various projects since then. It feels really great to be involved with a cause like that, and of course it helps that I love this city! 

Recently, I was lucky enough to help out at a local PR/Communications agency and develop a marketing campaign for a production that will be staged at the Artscape later this year. My friend Natalie and I got to think up ideas for experiential & guerilla marketing, activations (think flash mobs, etc.) and we had to present this to a team of professionals. Nerve-racking stuff! We also attended various meetings, took minutes and compiled reports for them as well. Fortunately we had experience in this department, as last year we were involved in Vega's annual Brand Challenge, where we get put in groups or "agencies" by a panel of lecturers, are assigned to real brands and have to come up with solutions to their problems. We have it again this year, and I must say I'm pretty nervous. I don't know if I'll get along with the people in my team, or if I'll even like the brand I have to work with (not that it should matter, as we are always reminded...)

I hope to keep posting things like this on my blog, because it's therapeutic for me but I also hope that people can learn something from my own experiences. It's certainly helped me to come to some realisations about myself and what I want for the future.

High fives and air punches,