Freelancer Insides Radovan Andrej Grezo - Freelance Creative Director & Copywriter

Radovan is a Slovakian campaign Creative Director working between Prague and Berlin. With five years of freelancing under his belt, he’s got quite the story, and plenty of advice for up-and-coming creative freelancers.

Hi Radovan, we are delighted to have you in our Insides series! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what are you up to?

I'm a Slovakian brand campaign Creative Director from the copywriting side, currently living between Prague and Berlin. In other words I live on a train, I guess. I'm a freelancer, obviously. Have been freelancing for the past 4 or 5 years full time after about 10 years of employment with some fine advertising agency networks.

Recently I started pulling together some awesome freelancers I love to work with in order to create something that I have to basically call an ad agency, because I hate buzzwords so saying anything like "we are not an agency, we are a collective" or whatever makes me vomit in my mouth a little. We're not an agency with an office and people on payroll, but we offer the same skillset combination as any traditional ad agency while remaining independent workers. From a client's perspective we are an agency and we're small and nimble; if that's what they're looking for in an agency partner, then let's talk about their business, not our naming semiotics.

Oh wow, I'm running long here, I'm sure everyone's already stopped reading this interview. Sorry!

 

What exactly made you want to become a copywriter and creative director? And how long have you been freelancing?

A combination of my love for advertising (yeah, such a thing can actually exist) and my wish to make a good living using my writing skills.

As a kid I loved watching TV commercials. I grew up on the border with Austria so we got Austrian - western TV, even during the iron curtain years. I spoke little German, but I loved watching their ads and learned to discern what brand it was for within the first three seconds. That was a challenge I made for myself.

When I was about 17 and started writing some (horrible) fiction and poetry, I wanted to turn it into a well-paying career. Advertising seemed a better option than journalism in that respect so that's how it came about.

Becoming a CD later on was a matter of my big mouth, my business school background and somehow automatically being the guy who gets a lot of face-to-face time with clientele, which I enjoy more than a lot of other creatives.

 

If you would search for your profile on Google, what are the three keywords you would type in the search bar?

Ha, that's a trick question! The part of my business that comes off googling isn't really the part that best describes what I am great at and do mostly - that comes off personal recommendations and public appearances.

So what I do is creative advertising campaigns. But you'd find me by googling "copywriter, Slovak, advertising," I think.

 

What do you love most about your work? Is there one particular project that you are especially proud of?

Being a CD, what I love the most is leading creative teams. Sure, coming up with great ideas and executing them is fun, and I still love it immensely. But that's my job when I get hired as a Senior Copywriter. When I perform my CD role, my job is to make other people's work better, and you can do that mostly by guiding them, nudging their careers. And I love presenting to clients and discussing strategic needs and going over feedback with them.

Of course I have my favorite projects. But they come and go and while I'm still proud of them, it's more about the next one for me now.

 

You have been working with some big industry names in the last years, like Apple, for example. How do you market your freelance services? How do you find new clients? Are there any tips you could give to fellow freelancers?

I know this will sound like huge BS, but I got lucky with Apple. You can put it another way - say that everything I did up to that point in my career, all the long nights as a junior and pushing forward, moving away from home, switching from traditional advertising to digital and then back (or whatever it is now - I like the word 'integrated') somehow led to that moment, or maybe helped Apple to pick me over other people. But in the end, I got lucky they even stumbled upon me.

The only, and not very practical, advice I can give is: be nice to people, help them find jobs, help them find employees, get deeply involved with the business you're in. Be knowledgeable, share that knowledge if you can, and be extroverted enough to speak in front of audiences (yeah, I know, that's a stupid advice, but I warned you it's not going to be very practical, didn't I?).
 

...get deeply involved with the business you're in. Be knowledgeable, share that knowledge if you can, and be extroverted enough to speak in front of audiences.

 

I assume your life as a freelancer is very busy. How does your working routine look like and how do you manage the pressure of meeting deadlines?

I'm actually not that busy, normally. It's why I stay freelance - I can manage workloads to a certain level. I generally don't work on weekends and nights unless I am bored to death or it's really, really necessary. And it mostly isn't.

Sure, recently I am getting more and more busy with the agency I'm putting together. So I think my life will begin to get pretty busy with time. Luckily, I'm pretty well organized - that's from my business school background.

Meeting deadlines is about having a good grasp on what can and will go wrong in your current projects, and leaving enough free time on your schedule to fix it. Sometimes that means pulling a long day of work; once you promise to deliver by a certain time, you have to.

Then again, what I see a lot of creatives not doing well is communication. Once you see you might not be able to meet the deadline, shout out. Not 5 minutes before the deadline, but a day or two before. Often the deadline can be moved, you just have to ask and ask a bit in advance. Or, ideally, when you're projecting a deadline, be super pessimistic. Tell them you can deliver in a week if you could maybe do in two days. Everyone's rather pleasantly surprised when you beat the deadline with time to spare than when you have to push it back 3 times.

 

What tools are essential to your life?

Coffee. Third wave, hipster, freshly ground, chemex prepared, the whole nine. Take away my computer and I'll hate you with a passion, but will be still able to work. But without coffee? Never.

Besides that, all my Apple devices, the usual suspects like word processors, Excel for timekeeping and project-finances tracking, Gmail, Keynote... One little gem I love dearly is followupthen - it's a free service that you put in BCC of your emails with addresses like 2days@followupthen.com and in 2 days it will remind you about that email conversation in your inbox. That's how I manage to chase unpaid invoices, non-responding coworkers and more.

 

Do you have any hobbies?

I'm an ice hockey goalie. Not a good one, but I love it. So I play hockey, I watch my favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche play (mostly at 3 am in my time zone, unfortunately) and then I have my various pet projects.

I am the cliché of a copywriter who is working on a book – I’ve been writing a book called Fairytales For Workaholics for the past 2 years and hope to get it published by Christmas 2018. It's fairytale-ish short stories about those lies we tell ourselves at work so we don't jump out of a window. For example, “we just have to put in working on weekends for a few more weeks and then it will be back to normal.”

I'm also producing a podcast called Precitaj si to po sebe where I have Czech and Slovakian published fiction authors read excerpts from their books. There aren't many opportunities for book promotion here, so I decided to spend a bit of my money and time to help them.

Spending money is a big part of my pet projects, actually. For the past year I ran a secret bookshop in Prague from an apartment I rented solely for that. 

You could just write "I waste my money" for my answer here and that would be rather accurate.
 

What advice would you give to those aspiring to become copywriters/creative directors?

Screw up your passion to the max. Sure, I'm whining here about not wanting to work weekends and nights, but I'm 37 and I don't really have all that energy. When I was starting out I worked relentlessly. Days, nights, weekends. I'm not saying it was the smartest thing in the world to do, but it helped me get where I am now.

So love what you do. Go to all the meetups until they start boring you. Read all the (good) books, blogs and whatnot on advertising. Look at the winning campaigns from award shows. Try to figure out how they worked and what's great about them. Don't be shy. Be respectful, but don't be shy. You can reach out to the best CDs and CWs in the world with a single tweet. So don't be shy

If you don't know where to start, read Luke Sullivan's book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. That book changed my career and life, and it might do that for you, too.

 

Screw up your passion to the max.


Last chance! Is there anything more you would like to tell our readers?

Oh, I think I spoke for too long, I'd rather just shut up finally.

 

Where to find Radovan Andrej Grezo

Radovan Andrej Grezo
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