Keeping a Creative Partnership Alive: Oceans Apart
First published on LBB
The&Partnership creative team Armna Khan and Eszter Boldov tell the story of how they navigated entering adland during covid-19
Our journey as a creative team together cannot be told in the way traditional stories are. We’re a Hungarian Pakistani duo, whose creative partnership properly began when most teams parted ways. So, we’re starting our story at the end. More precisely, the moment where we thought we had reached the end of the line in our creative advertising careers in London.
We were in our third year of university at London College of Communication when the pandemic hit. We’d worked on our book for two years, gathering some awards, doing what was asked, and were in the middle of showing agencies our book. Motivation was at an all time high, and we thought we’d fly back home to Pakistan and Hungary while we had the time ahead of our placement-packed summer. We said goodbye and parted ways for “two weeks” during spring break.
Suddenly, international borders closed and so did offices. Creatives started working remotely during lockdowns, and the existence of placement schemes became a big question mark. We both stayed in our respective countries with our families and our two-week separation slowly turned into two years.
One of our student visas had expired and we realised that our book crit meetings via Zoom became as much about our visa issue as they were about the work. We found ourselves in a vicious circle: If we wanted to get a job, we had to do a placement, but if we wanted to get a placement, we needed a visa, which we could only get if we had a job. After numerous placements were offered and taken away because of visa issues, we were forced to reconsider whether a job in advertising in London was worth the two years of constant let downs.
For a brief period of time, we stopped creating work and hustling. We kept in touch as friends, and pretended that our conversations (which always ended up being brainstorming sessions) were normal.
Then came the Young Creative Council’s covid-eo crits (online book-crits during the time of covid). We can’t thank Andy Peel enough for coming up with the idea of getting fresh graduates and agency creatives together on Tuesday evenings for rapid, weekly book crits. It gave us a schedule to stick to, hope after every conversation and made us feel like we were a part of something much bigger; a network of people passionate about creating positive change in the world through their work. Even though we were joining from 8,000km away, from our parents’ living rooms, who did not understand why we had meetings to attend if we didn’t have a job.
We found terrific mentors from agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, Havas, and VMLY&R. They kept us motivated during a time where agencies sent creatives on furlough and announced a complete hiring freeze – not to mention the disappearance of placement schemes altogether.
Slowly, working from home became the standard and our number-one strategy was always to have a book crit – a portfolio review with an established industry creative – lined up for which we had to create new work. We entered and won more student awards along the way.
But there was still no placement in sight. Just when it seemed like our efforts would never pay off, we discussed giving up and staying in our own countries. This was during the second lockdown and right after Brexit, which made agencies even more uncertain regarding visa-related issues and hiring foreigners. We had one last book crit we wanted to smash as a last attempt. It was with two lovely creatives from The&Partnership, Brodie King and Owen Hunter Jenkins (now at The Or and Leo Burnett). They fell in love with a piece of work we did as an answer to a D&AD brief and forwarded it to their ECDs, Micky Tudor and Yan Elliot. On the same day we discussed giving up, we got a six-week placement. And another placement at a different agency after that. And another placement back at The&Partnership. And then a full time job.
The opportunity to work remotely for those first few weeks opened the door for us into the ad industry and meant that it was possible as an international creative team to work in London. It validated that we had a place in this industry and that our perspectives were needed and valuable. It saved our career. Later, other agencies like Havas and VCCP also joined the list of places offering remote placements. They triggered what felt like – with our little experience – a new era of hiring talent in the ad industry.
We now work as full time creatives at The&Partnership in London. We’re non-traditional thinkers who come from non-traditional backgrounds and have a non-traditional origin story. We got lucky, and we waited and worked an extremely long time for this luck to kick in. Now that we’re here – finally – the work we aspire to create has to solve problems in the world, be impactful and frankly speaking, worth it. We didn’t plan on coming this far to only come this far.
A year later, we all know that the pandemic has triggered unprecedented innovation and change, and we’d like to believe that remote placements will be one of its legacies. If working from home has been proven so effective, could hiring young creatives from all over the world be the next step towards inclusion and diverse creative departments? Towards more diverse – and better – work?
Without sounding too sentimental, our story is a testament to how a freelance contract and a sponsorship letter can open up doors that span continents and cultures – giving agencies access to young talent with a worldview and drive like no other.