Gabs and Youms – Gabriella Holmes and Youmna Hazzaa – on graduating, establishing a career and finding each other in lockdown
Starting out your advertising career in the middle of a pandemic is a situation that no aspiring creative wants to find themselves in. Creatives Youmna Hazzaa and Gabriella Holmes (Gabs and Youms), though, have found some upsides to the situation. For one thing, without lockdown they never would have met each other – they had to turn to online creative matchmaking platform singlecreatives.com to find a creative partner. With Youms living in Scotland and Gabs in England, it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely they would have stumbled upon each other IRL.
And the partnership has been incredibly fruitful – their work has won coveted new talent awards such as D&AD New Blood, Creative Conscience, Cream Collective 2020, Student Startup Award 2020, and they’re just coming off a placement at Wunderman Thompson London. Their portfolio reveals a witty creative energy. Incredibly, though, they had never met in person until December.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with the pair to find out more about how they made the remote creative team work.
LBB> Tell me a bit about yourselves!
We’re Gabs and Youms. One Egyptian, one English. And both angry at the British Museum.
Youms has pink stripes in her hair. Gabs pats herself on the back for landing a partner that cool. Our favourite joint pastime is lying on soft furnishings (preferably bean-filled) and staring into the abyss. When we’re not doing that, find us in Pret rinsing our free drink subscription and discussing our next hot brief.
LBB> What led you both to pursue a career in advertising?
It’s one of those things where even though you see adverts all the time, you don’t really think about who makes them (or at least we didn’t). Then at some point during both of our undergrads, we stumbled upon advertising as a career option. Youmna originally wanted to be an economist, but now that word just screams iconic newspaper ads. But yeah there’s no denying a career in advertising is a lot of fun. Every day is different, and you work with so many brilliant creative minds. There’s literally never time to be bored - and to be able to say that about your day job is surely a privilege.
LBB> Where and what were you studying before you met?
We both went on to do a master’s in advertising, Youmna in Edinburgh and Gabs in Leeds.
D&AD New Blood Wood Pencil-winning idea
LBB> How did Covid-19 interrupt both of your plans or hopes for your new careers?
Obviously, networking didn’t happen in its conventional form this year. Events like the D&AD festival, degree shows and face-to-face crits that really help grads get a leg up into the industry. But as with most things, people gradually adapted to the change and agencies started to realise that they couldn’t just neglect grads until this all blows over.
Video crits have been a huge help, and while #technicaldifficulties come thick and fast, in many ways this online system is an improvement. Doors have been flung open for those living outside major cities, and aspiring creatives who work other full-time jobs no longer have to take a day’s holiday to visit London. For a crit, not even for a joy ride on the Eye and an overpriced pint.
Almost a year on and many agencies have the same uncertain reaction when it comes to hiring. And you almost feel bad asking, knowing that so many redundancies were made last year. But Youmna is on a student visa like so many other international students, and unless we’re offered a permanent job in the next week she has to go home to Egypt. It’s a stress-inducing situation, but in many ways, we’ve worked harder because of it.
Cream Collective 2020 winning idea which pairs up IKEA with Shelter to tackle homelessness
LBB> What sparked the decision to try Single Creatives?
Before lockdown neither of us really considered using Single Creatives, and the idea of partnering up with someone you’ve never met was mildly mind-boggling. But over the summer we both found ourselves in the same boat, and it ended up being an incredible platform. When you get over the fact that it feels like serial dating, pixel partnerships are a great way to trial working with lots of creatives until you find ‘the one’.
LBB> I guess people will liken it to online dating - what's the key to figuring out who would make a good partner, understanding what you're looking for?
We both wanted to find someone that was equally driven. Covid has made the industry even more competitive, so everything you do has to be with purpose. Whether that means jumping straight into sending each other great agency work, 50 strats you’ve just written or new competition briefs - these are all signs that you want to make waves as a team.
LBB> Why do you think your personalities and creative styles complement each other?
Aside from balancing on either side of the art-copy spectrum, we think having different backgrounds and worldviews makes for a stronger team. So, while it’s definitely important to click with your ‘other half’, don’t just look for someone you have loads in common with. If you’re on the same page with your ambition and the type of work you want to produce, then having unique perspectives is only going to be a positive thing.
Clever comedic creative fresh from Gabs and Youms''Idea Oven' of spec work
LBB> How have you made the long-distance collaboration work? Any tips or useful practices for people in the same boat?
Being virtual partners means it’s easy to miss out on all the non work-related conversations you’d have if you were together IRL. We were a couple months in on our placement at Wunderman Thompson and still didn’t know whose head could lean on whose shoulder, or what the other one smelt of. So we tried to call and chat as much as possible, and build a bond like you would in person.
LBB> Tell us about the first time you met in person - what was that experience like?
It was very surreal. On the way there you start to question if they’re actually a deep fake or whether to have 999 on standby. We met at Kings Cross when Youmna came down from Edinburgh for a couple weeks in December. Poof - this person that you see for hours every day on a screen, suddenly there in the flesh. We kept poking each other trying to convince ourselves that it wasn’t a weird virtual reality. But we knew so much about each other by this point, it was really just a case of picking up where we left off.
LBB> How did you find your time at Wunderman Thompson?
We were lucky enough to work with two brilliant CDs Chris McKee and Rich Morgan - the wizards who made BT Unscripted. So from the get-go we were working on big briefs for BT Sport that we could go wild with. Having mentors that help you get work in front of the client is what any junior team wants, and these guys did just that.
Despite working remotely, WT made loads of effort to integrate us and the whole team is so genuine. We kept thinking - where are all these big industry egos you get warned about? Even when our placement was coming to an end and we’re edging towards the exit, one of the teams compiled an absolute treasure trove of contacts to help us get hired. So big ups to WT’s Sam and Josh, everyone really did have your back there.
LBB> And are you working on any other things together?
We’re on our final week at WT and on the hunt for this permanent role to keep us together. So let’s just say our lockdown side hustle is LinkedIn and G&Ts...
LBB> Please share any projects or work you've done together!
They say to ‘kill your babies’ when you start making live work, but the very first campaign we birthed together for MullenLowe SUCKERS is one we’re still proud of. We made a campaign for Persil, addressing the impact of all these disposable masks we’re using right now. It ended up getting taken into the final by Persil’s Global CD, which gave us a lot of confidence as a new team.