Next to grace Mavens 'Career Confessions' series is The Hallway Creative Director and copywriting queen, Jessica Thompson. Read on for the hard-won advice you wish you knew sooner (better late than never).
Tell us what you do in one sentence.
I have ideas, write words and make stuff (and help other people do the same) in order to make you spend your money, but also hopefully feel something, too.
Best day in the history of your career?
I’ve had a lot of best days - days when important things happened that made me feel like I was really getting somewhere. Days when we’ve won clients or received effusive feedback, days I’ve been given better titles and more money, days when I’ve gone into bat for myself or someone else and won. But the first moment that popped into my head was this: it was a blistering summer day and we’d just presented a pitch we’d been working on day and night for weeks. We went to the pub across the road, sat round a table in the shade, and drank gin and tonics while one of the designers told us about her side hustle: a series of erotic fiction stories set in space, starring animal/human hybrids. It was a ridiculous afternoon - we were shattered and elated and relieved and giddy and so together in that moment. I’ve never laughed more or felt more a part of something.
Worst day in the history of your career?
There was a day very early in my career when I had to take some feedback that was very hard to hear. I’ve always been super ambitious, passionate and ready to defend the work I believe in, but it took a while for me to style that passion into a cooperative shape. Okay, I’m sugar-coating it. I was difficult and defensive, terrible at taking criticism, and very thin-skinned. My Creative Director, who knew my ambition to take that title for myself one day, essentially told me I was good enough to get there, but getting in my own way. I was mortified. If something that I felt (for better or worse) was intrinsic to my personality would be the thing that stopped me from getting where I wanted to go, what could I possibly do about that?! I was willing to learn any new skill, get more knowledge, even go back to school if I had to - but I felt that if it wasn’t what I knew but who I was that was stopping me, I could never get anywhere. My self-confidence took a real hit that day and it felt like the worst day ever, but in fact it was one of the most useful. It wasn’t the last time I heard that advice, and it eventually sunk in. I play much more nicely with others these days.
What’s your professional motto?
I believe two things very strongly. When it comes to making work, it’s this: as advertisers, we are muscling in on people’s time and attention again and again to try and make them give us their money. The only way to differentiate between advertising and a stick-up is to offer our audiences something valuable in exchange - a laugh, a tear, an interesting thing to think about or a new way to see things. In a word, entertainment. We owe it to them.
When it comes to people, I am dancing on the graves of the mean Old Testament Creative Directors who thought part of their job description was to crush souls. I want to make people excited about what could happen if they make good work, not terrify them about what will happen if they don’t. There’s so much opportunity for play in our industry, and fear is its antithesis.
What’s inspiring you right now?
Something about lockdown burst my reading bubble; I think I was too listless to sit still long enough to get properly into a book. But my appetite for stories is finally raring again. I’ve just finished A Gentleman in Moscow, which I think might be the best writing I’ve ever read, and I’m about to start the second of the Before The Coffee Gets Cold series, which is basically a novel-length allegory translated from Japanese and so charming and insightful in its simplicity. This sounds really trite, but it amazes me constantly that there are only 26 characters in the English alphabet, and all these brilliant writers are so deftly arranging and rearranging them in infinite combinations with such vastly varied results and making such vastly varied impressions. It may be the bias of the writer, but it is absolute nonsense that a picture is worth a thousand words.
What advice would you give your younger self, just starting out?
Nobody ever trusted someone because they said, “Just trust me.” You need proof that you can do what you say you can do. It’s a terrible paradox, because you need the chance to do it in order to get the proof that you can do it, but if no one will give you that chance, then go and make some stuff of your own. Also, calm down. It will happen for you. Stay tenacious and hungry, take chances, take opportunities, don’t compromise on your worth, believe you’re as good as you do on your best days. Cream always rises.
About Jessica Thompson
Jess to her friends, Jessica when she’s in trouble and That Angry Girl Rapping In The Kia to Sydney’s commuters, JT has ten years’ experience writing copy that sells brands and makes people feel. Her background is a mosaic of eclectic creative experiences: degrees in Fine Arts, Event Management and a Masters of Advertising, a copywriting business, a catalogue of curated art exhibitions, side hustles in poetry and fashion design… and a coffee table book about t-shirts. Crossing to agency side after five years of client-side freelancing, JT has dozens of brands, rebrands and local and international campaigns under her belt for clients including Google, ANZ, Foxtel, Streamotion, Lend Lease, Dexus, Disney, Medibank, PepsiCo, Cathay Pacific and Tourism Fiji. In October 2020, JT became Creative Director at The Hallway because of her uniquely creative perspective, her commitment to client relationships and her deep understanding of the bonds between creative and strategy. She’s also recently discovered how painful it can be to pen one’s own bio.