Advertising creative Youmna Hazzaa on imposter syndrome, social media and finding visa sponsorship
Youmna Hazzaa is a problem solver. Whether it’s tackling a brief or devising a concept, Youmna knows how to throw in some creativity with diversity and consideration in mind. As an advertising creative and art director at creative advertising agency, Recipe, no two days are the same for this budding creative; one day, she could be in the shoes of a new parent choosing nappies, the other a grad looking for a podcast. How she got here, however, hasn’t been an easy path. Having moved from Egypt to the UK, Youmna worked hard to find sponsorship a week before her student visa ran out. A close call but one that prevailed, Youmna now has some informative advice to share about her journey. Here, she tells us more about her role, the power of social media and why, most importantly, you never need to be like anyone else.
Advertising Creative and Art Director, Recipe (February 2021–present)
Placements at Wunderman Thompson, BBC Creative, STV Creative and Whitespace Edinburgh
Content Manager, Isobar MENA, Cairo-based (2019)
Place of Study
MSc Creative Advertising, Edinburgh Napier University (2019-2020)
BA Integrated Marketing Communications with a minor in Economics, The American University in Cairo (2012-2016)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
One way to sum it up is I’m a problem solver. I take client briefs and think of exciting, relatable and meaningful ways to solve them. After I do that, I also add a little bit of spice – that’s where the art direction comes in. Some think that an art director just make things look pretty, but it’s really like that “tell me without telling me” trend.
Client-wise, I also work with different types of brands, which is why I think it’s important to be a versatile creative. One day, you’re in the shoes of a new parent deciding on nappies, the next day a fresh grad looking for a podcast. Sure, we all have something we would prefer working on, but I learned to take on boring spec briefs and briefs I know nothing about, because it teaches you just that.
Personally, I try to make sure that my concepts or ideas are diverse and considerate, which isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to be the only one in the room to raise your hand and say “that’s not okay”. But I make sure to use my understanding of the world in my work, because really, what’s the point of being different in the industry, if you aren’t going to bring your own voice to it?
What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
Probably my first live piece for Audible, which actually just went live. It feels like coming full circle after winning Audible’s D&AD New Blood 2020 brief.
The campaign is all about highlighting the life lessons found in children’s audiobooks and how they can bring families together, which is great! But mainly it’s been so inspiring working with passionate, talented people.
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Coming from someone who did an undergrad in marketing communications and a post-grad in advertising, I still don’t think you need a degree to be a creative. While it is useful to practice ideation and get feedback (which you get during a degree) that’s just one way to do it.
I remember hearing someone refer to creativity as a muscle that needs working out, and that really stuck with me. Give your creativity a workout, and practice will make it better.
“I make sure to use my understanding of the world in my work, because what’s the point of being different if you aren’t going to bring your own voice to it?”
When it comes to art direction, you need to have an eye. I personally don’t believe that you need a very definitive style the way designers or illustrators maybe do, because some styles won’t work for certain brands or audiences. While art directors aren’t always required to mock things up, I’ve also found that some familiarity with Photoshop can help you visually communicate your ideas.
There are also certain character traits you should nourish: Being open-minded and humble, accepting criticism and knowing how to deal with rejection. When I look at everything I’ve been through, I think my ambition definitely played a big role in keeping my momentum going. So keep going when things get tough, and remember that tomorrow is always a new day.
If you could sum up your job in an image, meme, emoji or gif, what would it be and why?
Why is it always so hard to find all the memes you like?! I suppose this one [below] from Miami Meme School is apt. It can be weird but useful to look at your old work; it shows how far you’ve come.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
Starting out in the UK was hard. Scratch that, it’s still hard. I have had to deal with cultural differences, understand the lingo, search for an employer that’s willing to sponsor my visa and battle imposter syndrome. And because I finished my MA in the early days of the pandemic, it definitely felt like I had to work three times as hard...
It’s been a lot of character-building, though, and this industry definitely needs tenacity. While it’s hard, every time you pass an obstacle, remember that someone else may have given up at that point. Don’t be the person that gives up. Everyone in the industry is also super-helpful, so remember to reach out, network, showcase your work and drop the ego and pride.
At the end of the day, though, there was definitely a bit of luck in the mix, at least for me. I did everything you’re expected to do as someone trying to get into the industry – the course, the awards, the placements and the self-promotion – but I still needed someone to have faith in me and sponsor my visa, which Recipe did a week before my student visa was due to run out. This is why I’m always there for those wanting feedback, mentorship and crits; I know what the journey can be like.
What inspired you to move from Egypt to the UK?
Thinking about my three years in ad land in Egypt feels like a different life now. I wasn’t technically in the creative department there, I was in creative content, but the two often overlapped. I think at one point I realised I wanted to get better at what I was already doing, but with the job title to.
At the time, there weren’t a lot of learning opportunities [in Egypt] and mentorship wasn’t as common of a thing as it is here. That’s why applying for a creative advertising course in a country where I could speak the language felt like the natural step to take – which is definitely a privilege considering how much it costs as an international student. Since I’ve moved, however, I’ve seen more courses, talks and competitions happening.
“At one point I realised I wanted to get better at what I was already doing, but with the job title to match.”
I don’t think I originally intended to remain and work in the UK, but after doing some placements, I really enjoyed the way advertising works here. Comparing the industry in both countries actually became the topic of my dissertation!
I think as an industry, Egypt is filled with extremely talented creatives, and the culture itself is so rich that the work you produce naturally reflects that richness. Humour plays a big role as well. There are the same troubles of dealing with clients, but clients in the UK seem to be more open to original creative ideas than back home.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Firstly, two advertising books that helped me were The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry and Hey Whipple! Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. I’ve also tried to attend popular industry talks and events. Crits are also extremely useful – I can honestly say my thinking and portfolio got so much better because of them.
Secondly, I would say the Young Creative Council with their long list of mentors, and BADASS.GAL which is filled with talented, inspiring women in the creative industry.
“It’s inspiring to see someone who isn’t hiding their background or trying to fit in, but standing out and using it to make good work.”
Thirdly, on a personal level, it’s other diverse creatives in the industry, their work and their accomplishments; people who look like me, people who have had challenges similar to mine. It’s inspiring and comforting to see someone who has made it, and how they aren’t hiding their background or trying to fit in, but standing out and using it to make good work. That’s what I aspire to be – and to hopefully inspire others like me.
Finally, whether you’re looking to be a copywriter or an art director, feed your brain! Take in a lot of things that aren’t advertising-related. Go on walks, watch people, films and listen to music. But don’t stay in your comfort zone with those things, either – diversify what’s going in.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Super-important! There are so many creatives out there and almost everyone is after the same thing. Posting about your accomplishments, awards, latest work and keeping yourself on people’s feed is important. I have found that LinkedIn is where you wanna brag, and The Dots is where you post for feedback.
But everyone has a different technique and it should always match your personality and character. Some people do PR-able stunts, funny videos, or even stick their portfolio on agency doors. Standing out is almost a creative task in itself; set yourself that brief!
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Look at other art directors and creatives, D&AD annuals, Ads of the World; anywhere you can find good work.
Network and put yourself out there. This was really scary for me – the first step is always the hardest, but you will get the hang of it. Add people on LinkedIn, meet them for coffee (IRL or Zoom), let them tell you what they know, show them your work and ask their advice. If there is someone you look up to, reach out to them and ask if they would mentor you. I recommend OKO as a mentorship platform.
And my final tip would be: don’t compare yourself to others. Look to others for inspiration and definitely a little bit of motivation. But remember that you don’t need to be like anyone else. Everyone has their own pace, so just focus on what matters to you. Oh, and remember that it’s supposed to be fun.
Mention Youmna Hazzaa
Interview by Ayla Angelos