Paul Mann, senior creative at adidas, discusses going in-house and relocating to Amsterdam
After graduating in 2008, Paul Mann worked almost exclusively at advertising agencies until moving to Amsterdam earlier this year. Taking an in-house role at adidas, this is the first time he’s ventured client side, and it’s something he’s seen more and more of, as he and his friends gain more experience in the industry. Having recently spent 18 months living and working in New York, Paul puts his intrepid career journey down to ‘itchy feet’. We find out more about his decision to make the Netherlands his home, how former tutors made him feel anything was possible, and why living in London and New York opened his eyes to the world of work.
Senior Creative, adidas (April 2017–present)
Amsterdam (Originally from the UK)
Senior Creative, Anomaly, New York City (2015–2017)
Creative at AKQA, Leo Burnett, FCB Inferno, London (2008–2015)
BA Advertising and Design, University of Sunderland (2005–2008)
How would you describe what you do?
My job is conceptual at its core, which is just the way I like it. Ideas and using creativity to solve business problems is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’ve been a conceptual copywriter in the advertising industry for a decade now, and my new role at adidas is the first time I’ve ventured in-house to create on the brand side. I’m now seeing this happening more commonly as lots of good friends and ex-colleagues are working in the same way, for companies like Facebook, Soho House and Spotify. adidas proudly calls itself a ‘digital first company’ and I’m lucky to be surrounded by a close-knit team within the digital creative team who posses a broad skill set. People who specialise in copywriting, development, digital design, analytics and even the marketing team are all accessible inside the four walls.
What does a typical working day look like?
I wake at around 7am and enjoy breakfast with my wife before taking a tram and metro to the adidas Amsterdam HQ. I arrive there just after 9am and most days I’m able to head home by 7pm. Staff at adidas get to spend a full hour enjoying lunch and many of my colleagues even find the time to play sport or go to the gym during this time too. My projects and tasks are meticulously planned by my producer, and day-to-day it’s pretty clear what I’ll be working on.
“This is the first time I’ve ventured in-house…I’m now seeing this happening more commonly with friends and ex-colleagues.”
How did you land your current job in Amsterdam?
For all of the problems I have with social media, it often proves useful. Of my most hated platforms, LinkedIn is right up there, but I’d officially like to vouch for it! After deciding to call time on living in New York [where Paul worked as a senior creative at agency Anomaly], I was on the hunt for a new role closer to the UK and preferably in Europe. I’d earmarked cities like Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm – and many of my industry friends were aware of this fact. Then my lovely friend Laura tipped me off about a role that she’d spotted on, you guessed it, LinkedIn. After a few rounds of interviews with the team at adidas, and combined with my industry track record, I began freelancing remotely before making the move to Amsterdam.
My decision to come to the Netherlands was one that was dictated by a job at adidas. After leaving the North East of England ten years ago to pursue my advertising dream, I landed in London. I spent eight years in the capital honing my skills before getting the chance to spend 18 months living and working in New York City. It was an utterly exhilarating experience, which really opened my eyes to the way business is conducted across the pond. I got to travel so much of the country as well as shooting in Washington State and up in Toronto, Canada. My wife spent most of her time in Los Angeles, and together we planned to move somewhere for a better quality of life. Amsterdam was and is a perfect option which is set up for an amazing work life balance.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
As with any job I’d say there are mundane aspects. As we look after all things digital, this involves sometimes working on deliverables such as emails, or creating toolkits to be rolled out across global markets. These are dry tasks but are often some of the most important things I do. On the other side of the coin, there are the bigger briefs that the team and I can get our teeth into. Things like the creation of brand films, influencer strategies and tech builds. All of which I have been lucky to be thrown head first into already. We recently wrapped on a week long shoot in NYC with the film to be published soon.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Since joining the digital team at adidas I’ve been immersed in numerous briefs, but the most common thread has been working on ‘miadidas’ which is basically the customisation arm of the adidas brand. We’ve just finished an influencer led campaign with London fitness bloggers and adidas ambassadors Zanna van Dijk and Adrienne LDN. We told their stories through film as well as collaborating on a miadidas product range, which resonated really well with their combined following of 200K+.
On miadidas we’ve got at least two more huge pieces of work breaking before the year is out and I’ll be working alongside creative director Eduardo Campuzano, art directors come digital designers Richard Askin and Rob Glad and producers Jamie Watson and Galini Zachou to make them happen. There’s lots of good stuff to come.
“Spending 18 months in New York City was an utterly exhilarating experience; it really opened my eyes.”
What skills are essential to your job?
The core of my job comes back to writing, and being able to do so in a very concise but captivating way. I’d say the art of writing for digital is getting to grips with character counts and only communicating things to customers that really are necessary. “Less is more” has been a trend in copy for quite a few years now, and with a brand as cool as adidas I could say I’m lucky to work on lots of products that often speak for themselves. Clarity of thought is a big deal for me. It’s a real artform – something I strive to get better at every single day, as it can be the difference between an idea that lives and yet another one that dies.
Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
I do, and I have done for the past eight years. Back in 2009 myself and a couple of other young creatives in the advertising industry built a website and began hosting events under the banner of the YCC or Young Creative Council, which is still going strong. Since the beginning we’ve worked to the mantra that “People who do, change the world. Everyone else is just living here.” Our mission is to help make the path for creative graduates in the UK (and now beyond) as natural and pain-free by offering free advice and mentorship to whoever is cheeky enough to ask for it. Now that the core members of the group are spread from London to New York and Berlin to Amsterdam we’re very keen to keep helping and growing as we go.
What tools do you use most for your work?
As a writer, the tools of the trade are very simple. Gone are the days of ‘word documents’, now we’re immersed in the collaborative nature of Google docs. In the world of writing for a global brand, once you’ve written the English version, your work will likely need to be translated into 20+ languages, so spreadsheets can come in handy. Then there’s commenting and feedback across the rest of the team which is where tools and channels come in. Slack, WhatsApp, Invision and Dropbox to name a few.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
My absolute dream was to become a professional rally driver. I used to watch on TV as legends like Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen would battle it out in the early 90’s. It blew my mind, opened my eyes to what is humanly possible and what living on the edge really looked like.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I can definitely say that studying advertising and design at university has helped me in my career. It was thanks to my enrolment on the course that I discovered that advertising was even a viable career path for me. When I arrived on the course I wasn’t in a great place in my life and I really wasn’t sure what I was ultimately aiming for. Thanks to the tutors and the group I had around me, I quickly realised that it was a path I wanted to go down. It taught me that anything was possible, and that I was good enough to succeed even on the biggest stage. The hands-on skills I learned have been useful, I’m just lucky I’ve been in the best places to put them into action.
“Amsterdam has the kind of vibe that I can see myself enjoying for a long time yet.”
Was there anything or anyone who particularly helped you at the start of your career?
Firstly my tutor and mentor at the University of Sunderland, Keith Nevens, had an infectious personality and sheer restlessness that inspired me to graft to get the career he made me believe I could have. My wife and parents for supporting me in moving to London on my shoestring budget and hopping across the pond to NYC. The guys and girls with whom I worked closely, my creative partners Dani Brown and Mike Cuthell, my mentors and creative directors Malcolm Caldwell, Al Young, Andy Sandoz, Davor Krvavac, Jon Legere and Rich Mulder.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
It’s often said that working as a conceptual creative in the ad industry “isn’t really a job”. And I can safely say that this is one of the best ways to summarise how it feels. Despite the long hours and insane timelines, one huge positive is the fact that you get to do a job that many people in the working world might view as something you’d like to do at the weekend. The environment that is more akin to an entertainment venue – it’s sometimes hard to know where work ends and fun begins, and that is a pretty cool feeling. Previously, such a high turnaround of projects left me a little jaded. I felt the time was right to take a role in-house at a company like adidas, so I could commit to a cause and get behind a team pulling in the same direction.
What would you like to do next?
I’ve only been here for three months, so it still feels fresh, exciting and new. I’ve found a perfect place to live and a position within a great team at adidas which is very promising. The dynamic in the team is really inspiring and in the first couple of months I’ve been involved in a whole host of projects and the focus of the tasks is very diverse. I’d like to concentrate my efforts for the foreseeable future to help adidas achieve their brand goals as they evolve and grow.
Could you do this job forever?
Forever is a long time; I’m the kind of person that gets very itchy feet. When I moved to London I never thought I’d go beyond that, how wrong I was. Amsterdam has the kind of vibe that I can see myself enjoying for a long time yet. I find it impossible to call out a brand more relevant or exciting in 2017 than adidas, so if all goes well perhaps I’ve found a place I’d very much like to call forever.
Words of Wisdom
What would your advice be to someone wanting to move to the Netherlands and become a creative?
I’m still learning myself. Although we have actually enabled others to come and work here in Amsterdam over the years through the YCC. A university degree certainly goes a long way for getting your foot in the door, wherever you may be looking. I’m just hopeful that decisions like Brexit won’t have repercussions for me and hundreds of thousands of other creative people in the same position. Whether you're looking to the Netherlands, the United States or beyond, and you're committed to working hard to earn opportunities, you really can make it anywhere.
Interview by Indi Davies
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