Creative Lives — Alex Delaney, creative at 18 Feet & Rising
Making the leap from a graphic design degree to advertising, Alex Delaney joined the team at 18 Feet & Rising as a creative assistant in 2011. Now a fully-fledged creative, she’s seen the agency grow from a start-up to a 48-strong team, in a role that requires skills as far-ranging as writing and art direction. Despite much of her work being tied to a laptop, Alex admits that she’s ever-ready to escape the confines of the screen, whether on location for a shoot or to jot down concepts on paper. With early aspirations of becoming a police-dog handler far behind her, Alex takes us through the inner-workings of a job that relies on a constant flow of great ideas.
Creative, 18 Feet & Rising (2015–present)
Guest Tutor at London College of Communication (2015–present)
Guest Tutor at School of Communication Arts 2.0 (2015–present)
Graphic Design Placement, The Partners (2010)
Graphic Design Placement, SomeOne (2010)
BA Graphic Design, Kingston University (2007–2010)
Inside 18 Feet & Rising
How would you describe your job?
I think up, guide and execute creative projects, ranging from a TV, print and radio campaign, to a digital idea or content series, or a brand look and feel. Or it could be a kids’ book, live ad or a city-wide interactive event. We work closely with the account, production, planning and client teams to nurture the idea from conception to final outcome. A big part of our job is to collaborate with external teams too – directors, photographers, animators and illustrators for example – to bring an idea to life and make it as good as it can be.
Our department is made up of creative singles – we all write, art direct and design, so unlike a lot of other agencies, who stick to strict art director and copywriter teams, we work in different creative combinations depending on the skills required. It keeps things fresh and stops us from falling into creative ruts.
What does a typical working day look like?
A typical day consists of working on one or two projects, either by myself or with other creatives. We talk, get inspired, write and draw. We have a big ‘living’ cork wall where we constantly pin stuff up, tear it down, rearrange it and present from it. When you’re working with other people it’s really important to share your ideas. When we go into production I also have meetings with directors, photographers, edit and sound sessions to throw into the mix too. I like to have at least one meeting a day as it helps me to structure my time.
I arrive at work at around 8am and ideally have an hour by myself. It’s really important and I definitely notice a difference if I don’t have it. I’ll write a to-do list and check my go-to websites for inspiration and news. I’m a morning person, so I always try and get most of my creative thinking done early. As a creative, you never stop thinking about your work, even if it’s subconscious. It’s not uncommon for me to work late into the evenings or through the weekends sometimes, but I try not to make a habit of that.
“As a creative, you never stop thinking about your work, even if it’s subconscious.”
How did you land your current job?
I joined as a ‘creative assistant’; a title I received after telling my ECD I didn’t want to be a designer anymore. My course at Kingston was very conceptual – I knew that design wasn’t right for me. I was excited by the thought of working in advertising and spent a lot of time contacting agencies in London. Luckily, 18 Feet took a chance on me and I’ve been here ever since. I think a lot of it was to do with right place, right time – they were a start-up who needed more creative resource, and I could help them bridge the gap between creative and design. But I like to think they saw a hunger in me to learn and make interesting work.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
The majority of my work takes place in the agency (probably with too much time spent in front of my laptop), but I do try and get out and see things and meet people as often as I can. I’m also a guest tutor at LCC, so I’ll work from there sometimes too. A highlight of the job is shoot days on location – wild beaches, dark forests, someone else’s home and big studios become my office.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The best thing is working with incredibly talented and passionate people. There’s a real team spirit; it’s fun and I laugh a lot. The least enjoyable part is dealing with factors that are out of my control. You put so much of yourself into your work, it’s difficult when campaigns are cancelled, ideas are rejected, or politics decide the course of a project, rather than what’s genuinely right for the brief. You do learn to deal with those situations, but it can be incredibly stressful and draining. The most mundane task is filling out time sheets (luckily I love making lists, so I also find it strangely therapeutic).
“Before I started working, I was terrified that I didn’t have enough computer skills, but people are most interested in the ideas you have, rather than your ability to mock them up.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Our ‘Christmas is Coming for You’ campaign for House of Fraser. It took around nine months from the first briefing to launch. It was a big production, and it was a luxury to be so immersed in one project for so long. We were involved in all aspects, from script writing to styling, set design to post-production. The team was huge, but I worked most closely with my fellow creative Oli O’Neill, and director Emil Nava. I’ve never worked with anyone like Emil – his energy and enthusiasm is prolific and I loved being in the music promo world, with choreographers, dancers, stylists and art directors. It’s definitely something I want to go back to at some point.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being constantly interested, strong, honest, listening carefully, communicating clearly, staying open minded and confident in expressing ideas. Most of all, I need to be able to answer each brief with unexpected, entertaining work that captures the imagination of the public. Before I started working, I was terrified that I didn’t have enough computer skills and no one would employ me because of that, but in general people are most interested in the ideas you have, rather than your ability to mock them up. Computer skills are just a bonus, and you can work around it.
What tools do you use most for your work?
My most important tools are my brain and my eyes, but I spend a lot of time on my Apple Mac (mainly for inspiration), iPhone, emails and Adobe. I’m a bit of a technophobe – so any time I can draw, write or talk is much better for me.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
When I was little I wanted to be a police-dog handler. I love dogs and I still binge-watch police and emergency-service documentaries, but I’m a sensitive soul, I don’t think I would have lasted long. I gravitated towards the creative subjects, encouraged by my graphic designer Dad. After dabbling with the idea of fashion design, I eventually returned to my graphic design roots.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
My three-month placements at The Partners and SomeOne introduced me to some inspiring people and taught me what it was like to work ‘for real’. I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the tutoring and way of working that Kingston taught me; Zelda Malan in particular was a real source of inspiration (and fear!). She was great.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
The quality and depth of my ideas have definitely improved, but I’ve learnt so much more than that. I keep a Word document called ‘What I learnt today’; it’s a list of anecdotes, tips and quotes that I add to whenever I hear or see something worth remembering. For me, it’s just as important to keep learning as it is to keep creating.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way – an idea not being robust enough, not speaking up when I should have or asking for help, and not having a strong-enough view of how I want an idea to turn out, leading it to meander off-course. A lot of that comes down to experience and putting in the hours. I know there are still plenty more mistakes to come, but each one arms me with caution and a little more foresight for the next project.
Is the job what you thought it would be?
Being a creative isn’t what I thought it would be, because I didn’t really know what it was in the first place! But I’m so glad that it is what it is. I love ideas, and I’m paid to think of them everyday.
What would you like to do next?
I’m still working it out. I know that I want to make more good work that genuinely solves problems and makes a positive impact in the world. I want to help prove that advertising can be thought provoking and entertaining, and that branded communications can be something that people enjoy, rather than switch off or walk past. I want to complete a couple of personal projects and I’m looking at doing a fashion design course at Central Saint Martins. I also want to stay involved in creative education.
Could you do this job forever?
Every day I change my mind, but I do know that I want to stay creative forever. Whether that’s in an agency or doing something totally different.
What is the natural career progression for someone in your current role?
Right now I’m focusing on progressing to become a creative director.
Words of Wisdom
What advice or recommendations would you give to a young creative wanting to become a creative?
Work hard and be prepared to keep working hard – there’s no shortcut. Even though it’s frustrating to not have a full-time job, it’s also a unique time; make the most of it. Be interested in everything. Meet everyone you can, try out lots of different working environments. Get involved. Be nice.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on 18 Feet & Rising.