Creative Lives — Niran Vinod, creative strategist at Facebook and Instagram, on the importance of getting out of your comfort zone
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get” is a sentiment that Niran Vinod lives by. As a creative strategist at Facebook and Instagram, it has been going that extra mile – reaching out and asking – that has earned him his biggest achievements. In his second year of university, he founded a blog that would become the basis of a career, teaching himself to write, strategise, take photos, art direct and keep clients happy. We caught up on that journey, and how staying uncomfortable is the key to raising your own game.
Creative Strategist at Instagram and Facebook (2015–present)
BA Creative Advertising Strategy, London College of Communication (2008-2011)
How would you describe your job?
It’s fun, fast, flexible, challenging and uncomfortable. I’m part of the in-house creative team at Facebook and Instagram called Creative Shop, which exists to help companies best utilise Facebook and Instagram’s platforms.
My role is an amalgamation of creation, co-creation and consulting. Co-creation is probably at the core of what I do; I work closely with agencies and brands, who come to us with their creative campaigns, ideally before the production stage, and then we will advise on the best ways of using something like Instagram stories, for example.
What does a typical working day look like?
It really varies from day to day. As we work with both brands and agencies, I tend to travel a lot for work if we have client meetings or presentations. Since moving to the outskirts of London, I try and to get to the office for 8am and leave by 4pm so I can get home and cook a meal with my wife. It really depends on my day-to-day – sometimes I’ll have calls with ‘MPK’ (Our San Fransisco HQ) later on in the day.
How did you land your current job?
Funnily enough, I found it on LinkedIn, but I didn't have a contact within the company, so I tweeted asking if I knew anyone who worked at Facebook or Instagram. I got connected to two different people – one in San Fransisco, and one in London who went onto connect me with the person hiring that role. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
The core of the work, like in most advertising agencies, still revolves around a Keynote presentation or deck, so I spend a fair amount of time in front of the laptop. My role is external facing, so some days I might be with a client, or giving a talk at an event.
“I would change jobs because I got stagnated and stopped learning... When you do things that make you uncomfortable you’re constantly growing.”
How collaborative is your role?
Very. Collaboration is key to the culture of the company and role. We do our best work by working with our brand and agency partners, as well as cross-functional and regional teams.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Emails are long. One of the things about working for a platform, is that you suddenly become a LinkedIn call centre for everyone’s random requests. The best part of the job is definitely the creative process and creating things.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
A fashion project we did for Tommy Hilfiger’s inaugural collection with Gigi Hadid, as part of their New York Fashion Week show last year. The whole idea revolved around their shift to the ‘see now, buy now’ model and how we could bring this to life via our platforms. We created a plethora of content to do so, including 360 films, an AI e-commerce bot for Facebook Messenger and more.
Gigi Hadid, captured by Niran, during the Tommy Hilfiger campaign he worked on
A report on the Tommy Hilfiger campaign
A 360-degree film created for the campaign
The AI e-commerce bot created for Facebook Messenger
What skills are essential to your job?
Art direction, strategic thinking, copywriting, knowing how to give constructive feedback and good presentation skills. I also think it’s important to be willing to stay uncomfortable. That’s the reason I’m still in this role, two years on. My background has always been in ad agencies, and every two and a half years I would change jobs because I got stagnated, comfortable with my surroundings and stopped learning. When you do the things that make you uncomfortable you’re constantly growing.
Do you run any side projects?
I used to do a lot more before getting married and buying a house! Before that, I ran a blog and website, I sold caps, and I still do freelance photography and recently started watercolour painting. Does gardening count as a side project or a boring middle-aged (28-year-old) pastime?
I firmly believe in side projects. Work can be limiting sometimes when you work for clients but with side projects you are your my own boss and can do whatever you like. Whenever I apply for a new job, people always want to see your entrepreneurship, passion and creativity, and they see that through side projects
What tools do you use most for your work?
Keynote, Photoshop, Notepad or Notes on my iPhone.
“I firmly believe in side projects. Work can be limiting sometimes when you work for clients, and especially at agencies.”
A view from the Facebook London office
A view from the Facebook London office
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
It was always between Batman and an architect. I never had the grades for the latter, but I'm still working on getting the money to be billionaire vigilante.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
If I’m honest, it hasn’t been really. I studied advertising, but the industry has changed so much in the past decade – everything was already out of date by the time I was working. I learnt more through a two-month internship at We Are Social in 2010.
In terms of my design work, I never actually studied design. I’m self-taught, but I’ve been designing since I was 14 – from Myspace templates and forum signatures to avatars and more. I’ve always done it and it’s still a big passion, but I don’t really design at work now. It’s more of a fun pastime for me.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
The internship at We Are Social really opened my eyes into how the industry worked. I learnt how to handle clients, email etiquette, decks, presentation skills and more. It resulted in all my work in my final year of university being focused on digital advertising.
“I studied advertising, but the industry has changed so much – everything was already out of date by the time I was working.”
Niran and a colleague
Artwork inside the London office
Were there any early projects that helped your development?
I'd say creating Yin & Yang – the blog and website that I used to run with my good friend. We were in our first year of uni and were bored over the summer, so we just started it. I used my design skills to design a template and a friend coded it for us. We had no idea what influencers, content or any of the other industry buzzwords meant, we just started posting about things we liked and at the time – sneakers, girls, London, food, art, music. It quickly grew to a decent following and brands started reaching out to us. When I left five years ago, it was pretty much a micro-agency. Brands would come to us to create content, and by that point, we had a little team that would help us create. Most of the people that joined the team went on to great jobs in the industry off the back of it.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
Photography, filmmaking, art directing. These were definitely acquired by running the site and through the client work that we did on the site. I was forcing myself to create every weekend for the site and it pushed my skill set.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
When we started monetising the site and turning into more of a business venture. Since it was a side project outside of our day job, we didn’t dedicate enough time to it.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
I’d like to think so, it’s definitely what I’m meant to be doing right now.
A view from the Facebook New York office; Niran’s work will often take him between different countries
On top of the Facebook Paris office
Inside Facebook Amsterdam
What would you like to do next?
I’m happy where I am right now. As a generation we’re always chasing and striving for the next thing. I’m content as I enter my third year here, however I’m keen not to lose the learning curve that I’ve had in this role for the past two years.
Could you do this job forever?
I doubt it, I’ve changed jobs every few years due to the fact that I get comfortable and then stop learning. I haven’t stopped learning here yet.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
A more senior role, as a manager or director of a team.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a creative strategist?
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I realise a lot of my career has come down to that statement, from starting to talk to my now wife online to getting my first internship. My internship at We Are Social came about when I reached out after making some content for them, saying I would be really bored over the summer holiday and could I come in and work for them. Even though they said they didn’t have anything, they called me back, and two days later I was interning for them. Then in my third year of working at AKQA, I arranged to meet a guy I knew from Twitter for a coffee, and it ended with an opportunity to work at Nike.
My final example of this is how I ended up at Instagram; when I left Yin & Yang I emailed the team at Levis and asked if I could freelance for them to work on their Instagram account; they had a brief out to agencies at that time, so I pitched a response too. I didn’t win it, but it made me realise I could do strategy and art direction. Two weeks later I applied for my job now. And that’s why I believe you don’t get anything from just sitting around.