I was so excited to be asked to attend Craft Skills 2015. For anyone unfamiliar with the programme, J Walter Thompson has been running Craft Skills for decades. The intensive course packs months of learning into one week and equips attendees with tools and techniques they can use throughout their advertising careers. Having worked in advertising for less than a year, and following my recent move to the planning department, I was pumped at the thought of a week dedicated to learning. I was even more excited to be told this learning would be taking place in Dubai!
After a long flight and a few hours by the pool, all 40 delegates met in a conference room on the 42nd floor of our hotel (imagine the view!). Following some great group ‘ice breakers’, we got stuck into our first session, led by Kate Bruges (Co-Director of Talent, JWT London). This helped us each determine what personality type we had. It was a good opening workshop as it got us all thinking about how we like to work, and what sorts of things we should be sensitive of when working in groups of other (sometimes conflicting) personality types.
Sure enough the next morning we were split into our project groups and all presented with the live brief! My group comprised of an Account Manager, Commercial Finance Officer and Copywriter from London, Account Execs. from Cairo and Paris and a Project Manager from Dubai (otherwise known as Max, Evie, Will, Sandra, Dominique and Selina). Our client was Damas, the Middle East’s leading international jewellery retailer, and existing client to JWT Dubai. We were briefed by Donya Abdulhadi, Strategic Planner from the Dubai office, who spoke through Damas’ intriguing business problem. Before there was really enough time for her words to sink in, we had a quick coffee break and got straight into the next session: ‘discovery’.
During the days that followed, we took part in workshops about Brand Ideas, Presentation Skills, Planning Tools, and Qualitative Research, mostly led by the brilliant Shekhar Deshpande, Global Planning Director in London. We were all excited to hear that we would be conducting our own research groups. As Damas’ target audience were of a very particular mindset, different to my own, I couldn’t wait to speak to consumers to find out exactly who they are and what affects their jewellery buying habits. In advance of the research groups, we were lucky enough to have a Skype call with Shaziya Khan, Vice President & Strategic Planning Director at JWT Mumbai. Shaziya has previously worked on jewellery brands De Beers and Forevermark, so her advice to us was absolutely invaluable.
Wednesday afternoon’s schedule allowed us some time to explore Dubai. Unsure whether this was a trick (group pitches were on Thursday), we decided to split our afternoon between pitch work and visiting the Dubai offices – which were breathtaking. This was the first J. Walter Thompson office I’d visited other than ours in Manchester, so it was fascinating to see our international counterparts, albeit on the 51st floor of a skyscraper!
The following morning provided us with just enough time to practice our pitch presentations and make any final tweaks, then it was show time! We were the 4th out of 5 groups to present to a panel of Damas clients and industry experts. It was obvious from all the pitch presentations just how much work and thought had gone into each one. Michiel Hoffstee, CEO of JWT Gulf, was quick to comment on the sheer amount of work that had been produced in 4 days. Following the pitches (and a stiff drink in the downstairs bar) we received quite precise feedback both on our content and the way we had presented it.
Shekhar drew the panel’s comments to a close. He highlighted 3 key lessons which have stuck with me. Firstly, how much you can achieve in a short space of time (worth remembering when a challenging brief with a short deadline is placed on your desk). Secondly, how a collaborative approach is often the best one. Our pitches wouldn’t have been half as comprehensive without input from the different cultures and disciplines within our individual groups. As part of a global network we’re lucky to have experts within different categories, countries and cultures only an email away, and to get the best results for our clients, we should be more committed to making the most of this advantage over less connected competitors. Lastly, although only one group’s pitch could effectively win Damas’ business, we were all responsible for showing the client something new. (This final lesson rang especially loud in the ears of my group as we’d decided to challenge the brief – a risk that didn’t pay off this time.)
Overall, Craft Skills kept its basic promise of building our confidence and understanding in advertising. But it also went a step further by bringing to life the core values of J. Walter Thompson: curiosity, courage, capacity and collaboration. I’m unbelievably grateful firstly to my mentors at Cheetham Bell for giving me this amazing opportunity to further my learning and secondly to J. Walter Thompson more broadly for taking such pride in how they develop young people in the network. I stepped onto the plane back to England surer than ever that we’re good not because we’re old, but old because we’re good.