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From freelancing to owning a business and beyond - #MemberSpotlight

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In one way or another, freelance designer and creative Hiten Thaker has been in the creative industry for the best part of 20 years. A highly focused and entrepreneurial professional, Hiten has worked for a plethora of high-profile clients and you would be surprised by the range of experiences he's been through.

From self-promotion to work experiences, from freelancing to founding a business, Hiten has many an interesting story to tell and an incredible portfolio to speak for himself. A caring leader, a driven creative and a knowledgeable professional, he has plenty of advice for all the creatives out there and big hopes for diversity in the industry.

For this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about what led Hiten through such an extensive and inspiring range of experiences.

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An eight-page advertorial created for the launch of the Adidas Hyperride trainer at Revolution Creative.

How did you get into the industry?

My exploration with creativity started when I was a kid. One of the earliest memories I have was of drawing and shading in a snake’s head for a project in junior school, and receiving praise from the teacher made me think maybe I should do more. This journey continued all the way through to my first real work experience at an agency called HH&S when I was 17 years old, where a two-week placement turned into a one year junior position during my year out of education. 

I absolutely loved the experience even though I was thrown in the deep end. I was blessed to have a very supporting creative team and creative director around me who mentored me through projects for Bacardi, Daily Mail and Mazda to name a few. One of which I got to run myself from the creative concept, to briefing the illustrator, designer, copywriter and artworker. This project was a Daily Mail promotion for 15 - 18 year olds which was successful and used again 6 months later.

I learnt so much and thought to myself I can really do this! To be honest I probably got a little cocky and after leaving university I thought I’d walk into a job. I applied for all types of jobs and agencies but struggled to gain employment. So, I focused on self-promotion.

I probably got a little cocky after leaving university and thought I could walk into a job, but struggled. So, I focused on self-promotion.

I really hustled back then! I did all types of direct client work to build my portfolio and network, if someone knew someone in media I wanted an introduction (remember this was before social media took off so it was easier said than done). I found myself working with some amazing people in publishing, initially on an independent title called Tense, which led to recommendations at titles such as Mixmag, Q, Smash Hits, Cosmo and so many more. 

Moving from place to place is a fast track to learning one’s trade. Everyone has something new to teach you and every new environment provides you with new inspiration to cross pollinate with what you’ve learnt from the last place you worked at, projects you’ve worked on and people you’ve met.

But my big dream was still to run my own creative agency. In 2004 I launched Revolution Creative with one client. With a lot of hard work, dedication and passion it grew into a team of five with an extended network of some wonderful creatives and disciplines. Our clients ranged from start-ups, to small brands, to public sector, to big brands like Microsoft, adidas, Kiss FM and Sony.

We had a blast! But after 11 years, I chose to take up a new challenge. I started out freelancing at an agency called Crunch who focussed on sports management, hospitality and PR, primarily in motorsports. I totally bought into their passion and vision with a team of very talented individuals and I saw an opportunity to develop a creative department. Something I had already done for myself, so could I do it for someone else? 

I did and it was a great success and wonderful experience for the next two years. I then went on to contract and freelance at other agencies including Octagon, PRISM, J Walter Thompson and Wunderman Thompson.

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Hiten worked on the graphic design for the launch of AVON’s Distillery range at Wunderman Thompson Live.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

In these new uncertain times, I’m now based at home which works well for my work life balance having adjusted straight away as it’s something I’ve always done. I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, however, I think if you utilise technology to streamline your work flow and importantly keep in touch with the teams and stay positive, it will probably change from the new normal to general practice with office space for hot spotting.

I am currently working on several projects for PRISM. Their clients include Aston Martin, British American Tobacco, Infiniti and Lindemans.

I’m also currently working on the global BrandZ reports for Kantar and WPP.

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Hiten has been working with Kantar and WPP to design a selection of their BrandZ global reports.

Can you explain your creative process?

A well written brief is essential, but a real conversation with the client, especially one who engages in collaboration is priceless. When combined with a great creative team working together from the outset, it allows you the opportunity to think, explore insights and pose questions. 

At this point research is key and the start of immersing yourself into the brand, product, consumer and culture. From this the ideation process starts with the widest breath possible, no ideas are bad ideas, it’s simply a process to start honing in on the best solution, whilst constantly keeping the key takeaways from the brief in mind.

Whatever the big ideas are, everything from concept, to copywriting, to photography or illustration and moreover design and production must be carefully considered as they all have equal merit in terms of contribution to the final outcome.

The idea is important, but the attention to detail during the journey to realisation of that idea will often make or break a campaign.

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For Shell Helix Hiten led the creative development of the Hyundai Shell WRC global promotion at Crunch.

How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

Technology is a tool, whether it’s been advances in hardware, software or applications. It depends on how you use them which determines whether they are good or not, or whether they should be applied or not.

The key for any creative is to keep a beat on new advances and gain knowledge to help further your understanding of the technology so that you can apply it to your work.

I’ve always aimed for this type of outlook and therefore been involved in projects at the start of new advances from developing digital campaigns, to websites, to social media and other advances in experiential, as well as applications for management and core working practices.

However, it’s important to remember that although you should develop a good understanding and knowledge of new tech, you must collaborate with specialists and people with wonderful experience with specific abilities to be able to take advantage of the technology and deliver outstanding work.

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At Crunch Hiten and his team looked at the full guest engagement journey for each F1 race. Part of that campaign included the creation of a VIP presentation box.

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I’m motivated by my family, my wife Rupinder is very supportive and my two boys Vihr and Josh are equally creative and fun. They light the fire in my belly.

I’m inspired by everything! I think as a creative person studying the creative arts over many years you learn to consciously and subconsciously observe and absorb content continuously. So, that when you are thinking about a particular project, your mind begins to knit things together to help you ideate concepts and solutions. 

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I’m most proud of Revolution Creative. Building a creative agency from scratch is incredibly difficult. Putting the work aside, you need to have a business and entrepreneurial spirit, hard head and a real passion for your vision including the perseverance to make it a reality. 

As the owner and director, you must own and direct every aspect of the agency from operations, to new business, to client relationships, to project management, lead the creative and energise the team, whilst keeping focused on your vision, agency culture and manifesto of what your agency stands for.

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At PRISM Hiten and his team created the global toolkit for VUSE. Celebrating and highlighting their partnership with the F1 McLaren Racing Team.

How do you recharge away from the office?

Time is precious. I’m usually pulled toward home life or work. Somewhere in between was my me time, travelling on the train each day I would read as much as possible. My favourite books are factual or opinion led, everything from geopolitics, to history, to wellbeing, to autobiographies. I love the feeling of a real book and immersing my thoughts and imagination fully into what I’m reading. In fact, I have been known to miss my stop a few times.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

As a creative it can sometimes become disheartening to work in environments that are heavily monetised and packed with operational processes. We just want to create without someone telling us you only have X amount of budget and 4 hours to complete a brief. 

So, although it’s enticing to take up any role that you can get, especially in these uncertain times. I’ve found it’s important to find a place with people who are like minded, collaborative and passionate. For this reason, I’ve always preferred smaller agencies, also because they can be very agile and dynamic.

Finally consider the clients they work for and what they do for those clients because that is the work you’ll be doing when you join. Working for clients and projects you enjoy or a particular industry you have an interest in or a cause you are passionate about, will all come through in your work and make you a better creative for it, hopefully whilst enjoying every minute, even if you have to fill in the dreaded timesheet.

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Hiten spent 18 months as the brand guardian for VYPE at J. Walter Thompson, working on several global campaigns.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

The worst thing that could happen to our industry is that we end up with a small number of large creative agencies producing most of the well-paid work. I think that would stifle the creative process and quality, in fact the genius of some work, creating a monopoly over an industry that needs to remain fluid and diverse. I’ve already seen this happening over the last 10 years. 

I hope that once we come out of the other side of this global pandemic that there are not only many of the smaller agencies still operating but we see more diversity, more collaboration of people from different creative fields combining their abilities in small but free thinking environments, and that clients realise their potential by taking a chance on something different from the status quo.

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If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I’ve been a part of this industry for over 20 years and although I have seen changes in culture, I still believe it’s a highly white privileged industry. I’m generalising of course, as there are many wonderful agencies that are diverse and inclusive. 

However, particularly Asian and black people are underrepresented across the industry, even more so in higher positions. There are some who have done exceptionally well, but they are the exception.

I’ve never been a fan of equal opportunities quotas or equivalent mechanisms, but they do allow for people of colour to be given a chance to be seen in creative roles contributing and hopefully excelling, and for those achievements to be recognised. Only then will the subconscious notion of best fit for the role will include those who are not white.

I once applied for a job at a place I had previously worked and I made a point of displaying that in my CV and portfolio, unfortunately the people I had worked with there had left. I never heard back which I thought to be a bit odd. So, as a test I altered my name to sound more English, Hilton Thackery (don’t laugh), removed my age, address and anything that I felt might be held against me. I got an interview. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the job, although I was more than qualified and even had someone in their organisation vouch for me. The moment I walked into the room I could see the expressions on the two interviewers who I believe were expecting someone else and then proceeded to throw several curve ball questions at me in an attempt to catch me out. I’m sure that anecdote will resonate with some people.

I speak only from my own experiences and those of other people I have discussed this with over the years, of which there are many. I’ve never gained employment through the interview process, I’ve often had to prove myself before I’m given an opportunity, or create opportunities where there aren’t any to speak of and I’ve been fortunate enough to have built up a wonderful network who have helped me to open doors. 

As an Asian, east Londoner it did make me question whether I was good enough or had a place in this industry. If I could gain employment or even, make a living from this industry.

Over the year, I proved to myself that regardless of the obvious obstacles and obstacles which were less apparent, I love this industry, I love the work, the people I’ve been blessed to meet in my journey and the small creative imprint I have made on it. It’s been worth everything I’ve put into it as I’ve gained so much in every which way.

I simply ask those who are in a place to recruit creative people that they remain conscious of any subtle prejudices they may be holding, often without realisation of them being there when considering applicants. Forget the notion of best fit, in fact forget the way they look, their name, the way they sound when they speak and even where they live. Focus on their portfolio of work, consider their ability and listen out for their passion. That’s what counts, the rest is for a conversation to better understand that persons journey! You’ll only ever know if someone will fit into a team once they’re in it.

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