Creative Lives — Alex Blacklock, account director at Creature of London: “You have to be the person with a plan and be prepared to argue”
When Alex Blacklock isn’t at his desk you’ll find him working at the dartboard of fun-loving, Shoreditch-based agency Creature of London. As an account director, he describes himself as “the person with the plan”, in a role that calls upon ruthless organisation, a knack for arguing and keeping everyone – namely a client – happy. Having graduated with a degree in history, Alex made the move into advertising with experience at Saatchi & Saatchi, before moving on to Wieden+Kennedy. A desire to work within a smaller, more creative environment drew him to Creature last year, where we spoke to Alex about being pushed out of your comfort zone, working beyond your job title and maintaining healthy perspective.
Account Director, Creature of London (2016–present)
Account Manager, Wieden+Kennedy (2013–2016)
Account Manager, Saatchi & Saatchi (2011–2013)
BA History, University of Southampton (2008–2011)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m an account director at Creature, which is a bit of a weird job to explain. I don’t come up with the ideas for ads (that’s what the creatives do), and I’m not responsible for actually making the ads (that’s what Producers do), but I am responsible for making sure everyone knows what they’re doing and that there’s a plan. I maintain the relationship with the client and ensure everyone is making work we all think is great.
What does an average working day look like?
The great thing about advertising is that no two days are the same. I tend to get into work about 45 minutes before the day starts and write my list of things to achieve, and make sure I always do the worst thing first. I work across two clients and am often on a few pitches at the same time; sometimes I go on shoots or I’ll be in big planning meetings, and other times I might be at my desk writing emails. One day I played football with Usain Bolt. Genuinely. And another time I had a big meeting with will.i.am.
“In advertising, everyone is expected to manage their own time and put the effort in to get the job done.”
How did you land your current job?
I’ve worked in advertising for a few years, including at a couple of big agencies. They were great places to learn, but I really wanted to get involved in a more creative company – somewhere I would be a bit more entrepreneurial. I spoke to my headhunter about Creature, and she was able to introduce me to the heads of account management, who gave me an interview – and now I’m here.
I’m a big believer in researching the person you are meeting beforehand. You don’t need to tell them you’ve stalked them, but I’ve always found job interviews much more interesting when I’ve prepared a couple of questions for the person I am meeting. It’s not every day that you get to have a one-on-one chat with someone who runs an advertising agency, so use it to find out something interesting. That way, even if you don’t get the job, you’ll leave having learned something unique.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
I do a lot of my work at the dartboard. I’m in the agency most days, and I’d say 40% of my time is spent at the dartboard, 15% making tea in the kitchen and 45% at my desk. I’d love to say that there’s some strategic or creative reason for working in front of the dartboard but there’s not, I just love playing darts.
Alex at Creature of London’s Shoreditch-based office
Inside Creature of London
What are your working hours?
It varies massively. In advertising, everyone is expected to manage their own time to get the job done. Sometimes that might mean working all night to get a big pitch ready, but other times it might mean you finish early and head to the pub with the team.
How collaborative is your role?
My role is very collaborative, I get to work with creatives, producers, strategists, clients and then a whole host of production partners, directors, art buyers and photographers. I’m very nosy, so this is great job for me, and you get to put across you point of view in different conversations with lots specialists.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The good bits are that I genuinely get to come to work every day and sit with some of the most creative, inspiring, interesting people I’ve ever met. The bad bits are that account management can be stressful. You have to be the person with a plan and sometimes you have to be prepared to argue with people. The mundane bits are that when you’re junior, you have to do a bit more of the boring work. The good news is that you progress quickly.
“Be yourself and ask as many questions as you can. Don’t worry about knowing exactly what you want to do, right now – nobody knows exactly what they want to do.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We did some really exciting work with a mental health charity and a beer brand. We wanted to challenge the stigma around mental health and get more men talking about their feelings with their mates in the pub. As a small team we came up with some ace ideas to get guys talking. It was really cool to make genuine difference to a big problem.
What skills are essential to your job?
You have to be organised, which definitely isn’t something that came naturally to me. Also, not being a dick is important – nobody likes to work with dicks.
Would you say your work allows for a good life-work balance?
If you want a really clear divide between your personal life and work life, this probably isn’t the job for you. The people are super-interesting, which means I hang out with them outside of work so we talk about work at the weekend. But that’s because we all like it.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Originally a bin man and then an army officer.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I did a history degree. It’s not directly linked to what I do now, but I learned how to construct an argument, and that’s something I use daily.
What were your first jobs?
My first job was a six-week internship at Saatchi & Saatchi. My advice is to take any opportunity you get, and turn it into something you can learn from. You might not get a job at the end of it, so what can you learn from it? As long as you leave wiser, that’s all that matters.
Was there anything in particular that helped you the most at the start of your career?
Michelle Greenhalgh gave me my first job at Saatchi & Saatchi and helped me immensely. I had no experience, but she took a chance on me and gave me mountains of exposure to people and opportunities. I’m eternally grateful for that.
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I did a couple of big projects for Three, which forced me to grow massively. I’m a big fan of being pushed out of my comfort zone because that’s when I learn the most.
“My biggest misconception was that people fit neatly into little boxes, and could be defined by their job titles.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve had a couple of proper clangers, the world hasn’t ended, though. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is perspective – the worst thing that is ever going to happen to me in advertising is that I will get sacked. Some people have to make life-or-death decisions at work, but if I mess up I might have a slightly awkward meeting. Once I gained perspective I became much better at my job.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I had no idea what my job was when I first got it; all I knew was that I was working for Saatchi & Saatchi, and that my grandparents had heard of them so it had to be a good thing. My biggest misconception was that people fit neatly into little boxes, and could be defined by their job titles. The best creatives I know are a bit strategic; the best strategists I know are a bit creative; the best account handlers I know are a bit of both.
What tools do you use most for your work?
A MacBook Air; Keynote for presentations; a bit of Creative Suite; old school-style exercise book; darts – Phil Taylor Power Nine 5s (very important for all the meetings at the dartboard).
Alex at work
What would you like to do next?
I’ve always seen advertising as a great place to learn. One day I’d like to take everything I’ve learned and apply it to a business of my own. I’m talking about starting a soap company with a friend, so maybe I’ll sell soap.
Could you do this job forever?
Advertising is a full-on industry: it’s great fun, but hard work. Once I’ve had children I imagine I’ll want to spend a bit more time building Lego than in client meetings.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
After about six to seven years in account management at an agency, you’ve got a choice – you can choose to stick it out, and one day maybe you’ll be a managing director, or you can go and work for a brand. Apparently you get paid more as a client, so people tend to do that.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become an account director?
Just be yourself and ask as many questions as you can. Turn everything into a learning experience. Ask yourself ‘what am I getting out of this?’ Making tea for the CEO might not seem like a great use of your time, but think about how you can turn that one-on-one time into a learning experience. Don’t worry about knowing exactly what you want to do, right now – nobody knows exactly what they want to do (well, I guess some people do, most people don’t know straight away). We’re all going to work until we’re 133 years old and bionic, so we might as well have a laugh while we do it.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Creature of London.