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M&C Saatchi’s Tom Bradbeer on How to Be Human

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The senior copywriter spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the importance of stepping away from your work, his most groundbreaking projects and learning to trust his own process

M&C Saatchi’s Tom Bradbeer on How to Be Human

Busy playing sports and “making random stuff” in the back shed, Tom Bradbeer, now senior copywriter at M&C Saatchi Sydney, never really thought his current career existed when he was growing up. He was into taking things apart (not necessarily putting them back together) and making other things from them. Besides sports, his hobbies eventually all revolved around art – he enjoyed drawing and creating, but never with a “set goal or expectation”. Arguably, the best mindset when it comes to creativity.

In later years, after graduating high school, Tom took a year off to travel and “get away from the whole education experience”, but eventually he ended up going to university in Perth’s Curtin University, where he pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Design. Sampling a wide plethora of skills and creative ideas, he got to the idea of advertising only in the second year of his studies. “Overall, the experience was amazing. I learnt skills that I still use today throughout the entire process of making an ad. The course was deeply connected to the industry over there and we were hunting for jobs even before we’d finished,” remembers Tom.

Getting into the industry was only a matter of time – as part of his course, the copywriter spent four weeks on a brief for a real agency, from which six people were chosen for a 10-week-long ‘incubator’ at said agency. From there, he was offered a full time position, which at the time was the best thing he had hoped for. The agency was called Longtail and the job, Tom describes, was pivotal for his growth as a creative. “I got to work directly under the executive creative director and was thrown straight into the biggest briefs they had. We were also a digital focused agency, so trust me, there’s no better way to hone your craft than writing 150 unique headlines for every single course offered at university, for three years.”

One of the lessons Tom treasures most from these early days is that “you will always crack the brief – even when it looks like you won’t, you will find a way”. And isn’t that a reassuring lesson to learn?! He believes that one of the best decisions when you’re hitting a wall is to walk away from it for a while – “go for a walk, have a beer, watch a movie, pet a dog – we’re selling things to human beings, so go and be human”.

When looking back at his very first project, Tom tells me about his experience creating a campaign for Edith Cowan University that was meant to convince high schoolers that ECU would take them to the next level. Since Facebook, at the time, was the only “decent” social media, Tom’s team took it upon themselves to create a video that was personalised using the data from each person’s Facebook profile. “For 2011 it was very cutting edge and it picked up a couple of digital awards. I loved working on that project and how involved the whole team got with solving problems and crafting the final product.” 

And when it comes to the tough subject of change, Tom points to two projects – one that changed his career outlook and one that changed his career growth. First one being early, back in Perth, and starting out as a quick and easy $5k brief but ending up as an idea ‘too good not to present.’ The client, of course, fell in love with it and the project ended up with a $200k budget. The product? Instant scratch and win tickets. Tom and his team ended up making a talk show about coins (because, you know, you scratch the tickets with them) and have the client’s product sponsor it. “I’m sure we sold it way better than that back in the day,” admits Tom. “But what it taught me was that so much of our job is about having the right idea, in the right place, at the right time. As frustrating as that can be, statistically, it will happen.”

The one project that changed his career growth, however, was quite recent. Called ‘Thrive By Five’ and having the central idea of a seven-year-old giving a TED Talk on the importance of early childhood development, the project blew up all over the world. “It’s the type of advertising I love, because first and foremost, we made a positive impact for a super important cause on a massive scale. And secondly, when people see my portfolio of work, they can see the type of creative I want to make.”

What helps Tom do exactly that is being able to come up with ideas alongside other “incredibly creative people”, which is one of his favourite bits from the job. “It honestly doesn’t sound like a viable career when I put it like that, but here I am!” No matter what it might sound or look like, the job definitely comes with its challenges. For Tom, that being trusting his own process. “I’ve definitely improved on this recently, and working from home has helped,” he admits. “I used to look at how other people work, whether it was staying late at the office, or having three pro-active ideas on the go, and worry that I was doing something wrong. Now, I’ve come to realise that every creative process is different and the way for me to produce the best work is to do it in the way that works for me.”

Trusting that personal process and aiming for originality, surprising himself, and making himself proud has driven Tom this far in his career. That, and reading industry blogs. “They’re helpful to see what other people are making! Of course award show winners are a great way to see what the benchmark is for epic work too.”

Looking at the state of the industry, every creative has something that frustrates them or they are absolutely sure they can change for the better. Like any job, “there are things that will annoy you”, and for him that specifically is “‘art directors wanting the copy shorter because it doesn’t fit the design”. Having that said, for Tom the pros (clearly) outweigh the cons, so “those annoying things just don’t stick around”. What he finds mostly in his career is that the prospect of the unknown gets him excited, “The world is changing so fast, and our industry has to keep up with it. We’ve seen VR, AR, NFTs, blockchain and the metaverse exploded only recently and who the heck knows what will come next!” You don’t have to tell us twice!

To fit with that ever-changing environment, flexible and grand ideas are many times necessary – this is exactly why conservative clients or “clients who have a ‘too hard basket’ that’s overflowing with ideas” frustrate Tom in his creative process. “Amazing ideas are always scary and are going to come with their unique set of challenges, but at the end of the day that’s what makes the finished product so amazing.”

On the side of his creative projects, Tom is part of the M&C Ethnicity Network, for which the goal is “to create a space where all cultures and backgrounds are treated as equal and education and understanding is encouraged”. “Race and gender equality will never not be an issue until they are truly equal,” he reflects. “And I think this starts from the ground up, with the juniors we hire and mentor.” Since June 2020 and the rise of the #BLM movement, M&C Saatchi has been taking active steps to combat systemic injustice within its own company culture, by staying noisy and protecting safe spaces where people are encouraged to talk and listen on the harder subjects. This, as well as fundamentally reshaping their recruitment and mentoring process eventually helps the company “walk the walk” that Tom precisely is talking about.

Starting off as a kid that was drawn to “taking things apart” and ending up as an adult that is essentially putting them back together and selling them in the best way possible is a full circle if we’ve ever seen one. Wanting to create work that resonates with his moral pillars, makes people proud and inspires creativity are only a handful of the things that make Tom the creative that he is today. These, as well as “being able to retire a comfortable and lazy old man…Maybe with a few Lions and pencils scattered around the house,” he adds. 

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M&C Saatchi Sydney, Wed, 02 Feb 2022 16:02:53 GMT