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Creative Globetrotter: Limitless networking

Expand your network during your travels

This is the English translation of the Dutch blogpost   I wrote last week. Since I had an overwhelming amount of positive responses, I decided it to write in English for my International readers. My initial intention was to inspire Hard of Hearing and Deaf people to achieve their dreams. As you may be aware, I have been Hard of Hearing since birth and would like to show those with a hearing loss that   they can do anything you want. There are so many possibilities out there. I am aware that the Dutch blogpost was inspirational, and hope that my International viewers will be just as inspired.

Expanding my network during my Round the World trip
I have almost ten years of work experience in advertising as an Art Director. After waiting a long time I decided to chase my dream: taking a round the world trip. In spite of having a hearing loss, I rely on my high visual capacity, which is an advantage in my profession as an Art Director. In the last few of years prior to taking this trip, I was responsible for advertising concepts, such as managing the creative section for major (luxury) Car Brands. During these years, it was very intensive, stressful and I had little free time, and thus decided to quit my job.

I should mention that this is not the first time I’ve quit my job.  About 5 years ago – I made 3 month trip through Europe; during this time, I realized I wanted to plan a round the world trip. At the time, My original plan was to visit the most beautiful spots and places in the world.. Given that I would be out of work, I still wanted to be involved in my profession and keep up with the advertising world. As a result, the round the world trip would help me to get inspired (in any way, shape or form) and expand my business network.

As a Hard of Hearing guy, completely deaf on the right side with a 65 dB hearing loss on the left side, it isn’t always easy to get a job. Be able to get a good job or a desired job is difficult and the available number of jobs can be low in  some years  What’s more difficult is when the HR manager knows that I am hard of hearing and  it makes having that certain job even harder to attain. Regardless of finishing your studies or when you have been laid off to search for a job is a challenge for a hard of hearing person, as we have to appear capable or even better than the your competition. Being Hard of Hearing or deaf means having to fight for your place or doing your best more than other people because you need to constantly prove yourself.

Imagine quitting your job. It takes a lot of resilience, sacrifice and courage. Especially when there are few jobs in your profession. And still… you go traveling. Alternatively, the other option is not to search for a job at all.  At the same time, you don’t want to be a total failure when you return home. For this reason, I want to keep up my profession as an Art Director. A trip like the one I’m on changes your insight and brings a huge impact on your life. There are so many possibilities I can’t imagine before I was starting the trip.

Currently, I’m in the fifth month of my trip. I have been to countries and regions such as like: Dubai, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, United States and now, Canada. This trip gives me many clues, clarity, clearness and possibilities. It is indeed limitless – networking literally and figuratively.

It isn’t that weird: just an advertising agency walk in
I admit my first time I was nervous as hell. For anyone, an advertising agency walk in for the first time can be intimidating. Thanks to Yona Hümmels, Art Director at DDB (one of the largest ad companies of The Netherlands and the world) during a creative meeting of the ‘Jongehonden’ (Dutch Young Creatives) before I went on the Eurotrip he told me not to e-mail agencies or hope for a meeting by accident. If you really want expand your network abroad you can’t expect people to coming to you – so you go to them. 5 years ago I visited agencies in London, Stockholm and Hamburg. During my Round the World trip I did this in Auckland, New Zealand, as an example. With just half a day to visit all the biggest advertising companies without an appointment. I remember telling myself to be prepared for disappointment. I visited many agencies and for most of them my visit ended at the reception. I would tell them that I’m a backpacker from The Netherlands and that I’m a creative/art director in my country as well. If it is possible to show my portfolio at a creative director or just a creative that has some time. There were a few that had some time to speak about advertising. Several times I hear the same excuse: they are busy. At that point, I’d ask if it was possible to visit them later or to e-mail them.  At the end of each visit, I thanked them for their time and go to the next agency. Sometimes you are lucky. In Auckland I’ve had a warm welcome at James Walter Thompson (JWT). I was introduced with several awesome creative people. I was able to show my portfolio, discuss advertising, and share creative experiences and achievements. After my visit at JWT, I asked them for their information to keep in touch. The personal touch works much better then one of the many e-mails at a distance.

Be open for meeting people (even it’s by accident)
Be open during your travels for meeting people randomly. How coincidental those meetings can be! Those random meetings can always help you. You talk about a lot of things with those people. It ranges from traveling itself, questions you always want to ask about yourself, and your work. Regularly I meet backpackers and asked them how they face with a specific situation during work. Sometimes I get answers from another perspective – and sometimes you meet someone that is in the same profession. For instance, I met Maddie, a student in advertising and design during a trek in Northern Thailand. An encounter does not always mean you ‘take’ all the time. You also can ‘give’. I helped Maddie to have insight in the advertising and helping her with tips and tricks on how to make advertising concepts better. Another random meeting was in Seattle. After breakfast I met a copywriter from New York, Josh Stark, in the lobby of the hostel. He was busy working on his own business. He worked for the biggest agencies (Tribal DDB and Y&R). After a short conversation instantly the subject was advertising. Because of him I have some contacts in New York. In that city I want to get in touch with some people at the ad agencies.

Everything is a possibility.
If you think in some cases it’s a dead end – you’re probably wrong. A good example was in Portland, Oregon. After a long day I passed a random building that owned by Wieden + Kennedy. I walked into the building towards the reception to speak with a creative. However it wasn’t possible to talk one of the creatives because they were busy. Interestingly, in the lobby (W+K Gallery) there was an   Ellen McFadden painting exhibit. I contacted the Ellen to talk about her paintings and that I recently posted a blog about the paintings. Ellen responded on my e-mails and let me introduced by with the designer of the exhibit poster. Surprisingly, this designer is the creative director at Microsoft. If you still think it’s a dead end you might see other possibilities.

Persistence paid off
Sometimes it still helps to e-mail. I sent tons of e-mails before my Round the World trip to advertising agencies across the world.  Emails were sent to every award winning and renowned agency in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, San Francisco, Toronto, New York and other major cities. As I said before, sending an e-mail to agencies and creatives is easy that’s why they receive tons of e-mails every day. They just don’t read it or respond on it because it’s too many. But persistence paid off if you keep e-mailing (every receiver once) an executive creative director from Sydney, Australia contacted me and I’m welcome to visit TBWA Toronto.

Check if there are any announced gatherings
Because it is May, I receive many of e-mails from the Art Directors Club Global (ADC Global). ADC global organizes several events like the Portfolio Night, ADC awards etc. Unfortunately for me not one of them will be around when I’m visiting a specific city. But I keep looking because maybe there are local awards gatherings or creative gatherings just talking about advertising. You never know. The internet is a common way to check if there any announced gatherings or meetings around in the specific city you want to visit. I especially like the portfolio night because you get in touch with a lot of creatives and they’re able to give you good tips. My last one was actually in Amsterdam during a gathering of the Dutch Young Creatives.

Use your current network
It’s like an opening a door – tapping into the network helped me to find the contact I was looking for abroad. The IFHOHYP (International Federation of Hard of Hearing Young People) helped me connect with with people living outside the Netherlands. These contacts may know some people in the advertising business. Or on the LinkedIn network. If you have a good network there must be someone that can help you. Or the contacts you have and they work in a specific agency in a city you want to visit. For example, a couple of years ago I got in touch with a creative director in New York: Nick Klinkert (in those times for the big BBDO NY). His interview appeared in the Adformatie (a Dutch magazine for creative and marketing people). I was interested in Nick and decide to e-mail him. Since then, we’re still in contact. In the meantime he moved to San Francisco and working for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Because he was working there it was on the way to Seattle and Canada. An appointment was easily made.

Prepare yourself and remember the advice
If you get invited or are welcome to pass the reception during a ‘walk-in’. Just like a job interview, always prepare yourself. First, people like it if you know something about them and you talk about their advertising campaigns. In the advertising world they are very proud of their award winning achievements. In addition, try to get to know them. What are their thoughts, and how do they approach creative thinking. Besides the fact that it is an interesting process you can learn a lot. Having your story ready helps a lot. Coming unprepared means you are uncertain and they don’t know what are you coming to do. My story was that I want to research advertising and the advertising culture of a specific country or company by showing my portfolio. By showing my portfolio I can see the differences as the similarities. When the creatives are giving some advice write it down on your laptop or notepad. It shows you are taking them seriously and you are going do something about it.

Having discussions is good
I meet a lot of people from different countries. Different countries mean exposure to different cultures. During my visits at foreign advertising agencies I discuss a lot about the difference of the Dutch culture of advertising and the advertising of the company where I’m now. New Zealanders and Australians are more introverted and do not look abroad. They want to have more creatives from their own country – whereas I say it’s healthy for a foreigner to look at advertising from a different approach or suggest what can be differently. You don’t to have agree all the time. Sharing your opinion is who you are. The basic rule at my last agency was: who is not capable to generate is useless.

Feel the positive vibe.
What I realize is when I visit creative agencies or creatives I feel a huge amount of positive energy. Use this ‘positive vibe’ to enjoy every moment. Also it acts as an energy boost for your appearance. It gives you kind of x factor. It helps to stay positive even the creatives are saying your portfolio is nothing you see it more a constructive way to improve yourself and your portfolio. Or give a positive twist to a discussion you face. Of course you feel nervous when you visit one of the biggest agencies but the ‘positive vibe’ overrules the nervousness. You eventually perform way better when giving your presentation.

Inspiration is everywhere.
If you are in between the mountains of 4000 meters, or visiting a museum in the heart of the old town, a small statue in the middle of nowhere or just hearing a quote by fellow a traveler. How big or small the moments are it inspires me always. As an Art Director you get used to thinking quickly-turning random situations into a creative concept. For example in Seattle I was at the Gum Alley, which is an alley full of gum on the walls. It’s a local attraction for tourists. As a concept thinker, a couple of years ago I created c an anti-chewing gum campaign. People were throwing their gum everywhere except in the garbage bins. The Gum Alley in Seattle gives the perfect solution for this kind of problem. I document my moments of inspiration in a sketchbook or make a picture of it. But usually I save it in my head. Later on when I have a particular assignment I can use all those memories and can pick out the memory I need. The lonely rock in the glacier valley, the local saying or just advice from an Art Director can help me in my future creative process.

Keep the contact alive
A disadvantage of having long distance contacts is that it is easy for them to fade. You can keep those contacts alive by contacting them every single half year or use the advice they gave to you during your visit or meeting and send the message of you using their advice. As an Art Director I use my portfolio as the binding factor. When the creatives have some comment on the portfolio I change the portfolio and send it back. Be realistic that half of the contacts you made during your journey will likely fade.. If there is an opportunity to meet one of those contacts like you in the neighborhood during a vacation or he or she is visiting your country, do not hesitate to make an appointment.  They like it and are curious how you are doing and whether if you’ve made any progress.

Once in your lifetime opportunity
Your dream job or a Round the World trip it is a once in your lifetime opportunity. If you take this opportunity enjoy it to the fullest but maximize it as well. Maybe stay one day longer in a city for that special creative event. Or walk a couple of blocks further even when you are tired to visit the agency you want. Changing dates by visiting the exhibition in a museum. If you have the opportunity when you are in a specific region or city, take advantage of it. Those extra couple of hours are worth it. I think often: ‘I’m here, soon I’ll be somewhere else and I am not able to return.’ My motivation is I hope to have job abroad at a foreign agency. Or because of my new contacts having a new job in The Netherlands. The weblog I write shows that I keep in control of my skills and my profession.

Push your fears aside and create self confidence
Go on a journey especially a long one if you are full of uncertainty. What will happen, who I will meet. I admit the first trips I made I was nervous. It’s the same feeling when visiting advertising agencies abroad – especially the big ones and meet the famous creatives. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The whole journey is one big lesson. You can think ‘I’m here maybe one time in my life and never again, what I have to lose?’. Eventually you get used and get skilled in doing in it when you do it a lot more. Self-confidence is so big you take that confidence back home.

Just do it.
Last but not least. If go on a round the world trip you already face the most difficult part. DO IT. You climbed over the wall to make dreams come true. But when you are underway you still face a lot of challenges, even when visiting agencies and meeting creative people. Don’t doubt. Just do it to meet them. Have the guts to do it. If you standing in front of an office of a huge company and you have the nerves just think: do it.

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