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We Are All Imposters.



Verve Showrunner's Mikey Fleming reflects on what it mans to be an imposter in the industry

We Are All Imposters.

I recently did a mentoring session with other creatives who are at the beginning of their career. They were seven-minute sessions where I was asked to distil all of my wisdom in that short time slot. There were some obvious things like; be sound. This industry is as much based on personality as it is talent, and it has a very low tolerance for assholes. And then there were some specific things like: finding a creative outlet outside of work, something you don’t get paid for, where you have no one else to answer to. It really helps with the endless rejection you have to suffer through on a daily basis. Just make sure you reserve most of your creative energy and ambition for your day job.

But one piece of wisdom that had the biggest impact on me and my career was the realisation that everyone is an imposter.

In 2014, I was three years into my career as a creative in the advertising industry. I knew I was good, I’d already won a few awards, I’d just been headhunted by one of the best creative agencies in Ireland, Boys + Girls, but I still always had the question hanging over my head “am I good enough?”.

I was surrounded by incredible talent, in an agency that was producing really great work. And with every new brief I had an overwhelming feeling that ‘this was the one’, the one where everyone would find out that I had no right to be sitting at this table, this incredibly elaborate Lego table. And no matter how well I did, or how good my ideas were I would still feel like I just got by by the skin of my teeth.

In October of that year, I had the opportunity to attend a Masterclass with advertising and Art Direction legend, Alexandra Taylor. If you don’t know who she is, you certainly know her work. The campaigns she did for the British Army were so impactful it made me want to enlist, and I am neither British nor do I have any attributes that would make me a suitable candidate.

This masterclass took place over two days, and pretty much every agency in Dublin sent a couple of their Art Directors along to learn from the best. I was one of the more junior creatives in attendance, surrounded by Senior Art Directors whose work I had admired and Creative Directors who could give me my next job, my imposter syndrome went into overdrive. Over the course of the masterclass we were each given the same brief, copy and assets and at the end we had to create a print ad for Chevrolet. I sweated over InDesign for hours, created what I felt were two fairly solid executions, then last minute I just did one with cut-outs and hand type for the craic, it wasn’t good.

We all hung them on the walls, we talked through our process and she showed us a film of other world famous Art Directors working on the same brief as us, and they talked us through their process. Finally Alex picked her favourites from our selection of Chevrolet press ads, and gave out little awards, as is the advertising thing to do. One of which was the last minute handmade mess I made, for being… different.

At the end of all this, one thing was very clear. No one knew what they were doing. There was no right answer. There was no one way of doing things. There was no key set of skills or abilities needed. Everyone was just making it up as they went along. Left with only their gut instinct, and personal taste to guide them. We all had pretty much the same process; “I tried this, I didn’t like it, so then I moved this here, changed the colour of that, and lobbed this font on it, then I did that 40 more times until I was too tired to keep going”.

I spent the first three years working in advertising believing that there was one right answer, only one correct way of doing things, and everything needed to be done for a reason. I certainly found it an eye opening experience, I’m not sure it was the lesson Alex wanted me to take away, but I have carried it with me for the rest of my career, no one fully knows what they are doing, we’re all just figuring it out as we go along, some people just do it with more confidence than others. Doing what we think the person in charge might like until we are the person in charge. Just knowing this gave me the confidence to progress in my career, sell work, win pitches, and ultimately help set up Showrunner, the culture and entertainment arm of Verve.

Now let me be clear, a generous amount of talent is required to sustain this charade for a career. But if you have found yourself with a job in a creative agency, trust that the person who hired you saw something in you and relax about everything else. 

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Verve Showrunner, Tue, 09 Nov 2021 17:47:55 GMT