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Fail Upwards

For those of you looking for inspiration.

When I was 18, I wanted to be a fine artist.
So I applied to seven art schools all over the UK.
Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Exeter, etc.
But I got turned down by all of them.
Then my sister told me to apply to art school in New York.
Out of desperation, I did.
And I got accepted, and I got a scholarship.
And when I went to New York I switched to advertising.
And it changed my life.
But, if I hadn’t been turned down by those seven art schools, it never would have happened.
After four years in New York I came back to London.
I knew nothing about UK advertising.
So I made fifty Xerox copies of my portfolio and sent it to the first fifty names in the Yellow Pages.
I got forty nine rejections, out of fifty applications.
Only one person offered me a job.
John Webster.
I didn’t know who John Webster was.
He’d only just been made ECD at BMP.
I was the first person John hired.
And I wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been for the forty nine rejections.
I learned a lot and won a lot of awards, under John at BMP.
I wanted to stay there for life.
But, ten years later, John had two deputy CDs: me and Graham Collis.
John told me he was making Graham Collis overall ECD.
That meant I’d have to work for him.
I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t think he was as good as me.
So I had to leave.
I called up Mike Gold and asked him if he wanted to start an agency.
He said okay, as long as he could bring Mike Greenlees.
So we started Gold Greenlees Trott.
We were voted Campaign Agency of the Year.
We were voted Most Creative Agency in the World by Ad Age (or Ad Week) in NY.
It was the best ten years of my working life.
And I would never have done it if John hadn’t made someone else ECD.
One day D&AD called me.
They said they weren’t happy with the Advertising Concepts course I’d started ten years earlier.
They said too many people were applying and the standard of applicants was too low.
I said it was supposed to be low, that was the point.
To give people a chance who wouldn’t otherwise have one.
But D&AD were adamant.
They were going to select only the best applicants for the course, and reject the rest.
So I said I couldn’t be part of the course anymore.
It was elitist.
I said, give me the names of the people you reject and we’ll set up a special course at my agency.
Just for the rejects.
I didn’t want to leave the main D&AD course, but I didn’t have a choice.
Many years later I got The President’s Award at D&AD.
And CDs from some of the best agencies in town came up to me to say thanks.
They had been on that rejects’ course.
D&AD had decided they weren’t good enough to be in advertising.
And, without the rejects’ course, they wouldn’t have had the chance.
It happens like that.
What seems like the end of the road may just be a cul de sac.
It feels like rejection.
It feels like failure.
But maybe it isn’t.
Maybe you just ran out of road on that route.
Time to back up, turn around and look for a new route to get where you want to go.
And the new route may actually be better.
Although it doesn’t look that way at present.

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you is not getting what you want.


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