Working at an advertising agency in New York might bring images of Don Draper and Peggy Olson to mind, but for Australian-born Samira Ansari it’s a day-to-day reality. The creative director swapped Melbourne for Manhattan (by way of Paris) to work for renown agency TBWA\Chiat\Day NY – but what is it really like to work as one of the modern day Mad (Wo)Men?
“Meetings, meetings and more meetings,” says Ansari of what her typical day is like. “Some of which are actually about really interesting ideas.” She’s quick to add that her work brings her into contact with a host of inspiring people, and that the most exciting thing is that “we have the opportunity to actually change or influence people’s behaviour.” Such is the power of great advertising.
Ansari’s interest in the advertising industry began when she attended an open day at Melbourne’s RMIT. “At that stage, I was convinced that I should become an engineer,” she says. “I walked into the engineering department and saw a first year student project – it was a robotic arm that was stacking and unstacking four wooden cubes. People were beside themselves with joy and excitement.”
But for Ansari, the project inspired a very different reaction. “I broke into a sweat and got chest pains when I realised this wasn’t something I wanted to do,” she says. “Short of breath, I walked out and somehow wandered into the design and visual communication building. I could breath again.”
Having found her calling, Ansari completed her studies and landed a role as a junior art director at Cummins & Partners. She cheerfully admits: “I pretended I knew what I was doing until I worked out what I was doing. But I would honestly say that my gig at Cummins was my big break into the industry. Where you start, whom you work with and what you learn at the beginning of your career does heavily influence your future.”
After a few years working in Melbourne, she was headhunted by an agency in Paris. For Ansari, it was an easy choice. “I was lucky; I was sitting at my desk at Y&R in Melbourne and received a phone call asking my partner and I if we would consider working in Paris. How do you say no to Paris?”
“Always bite off more than you can chew. Then chew really hard.”
Paris eventually gave way to New York, a place that Ansari felt a strong connection to. “I always wanted to work in New York. Always,” she says. “And by that stage I had the travel bug. A great opportunity arose to work with a close friend in New York. She flew in from London and I from Paris. We celebrated with a bit too much to drink and ended up with matching tattoos on our necks. So we became ‘the team with the matching tattoos’.”
Although Ansari loves New York, enthusing that it lives up to its reputation of the city that never sleeps, she does miss Australia. “I miss my family and friends. S P A C E. My old cat Boris. And the Swedish fans at the Australian Open. I would like to think that some day I’ll end up back home in Australia.”
For those interested in pursuing a career in the advertising world, Ansari offers the following advice: “Find what you love. Then fake it until you become it. And by that I mean stay open to learning and don’t be afraid to try new things and fail at them.” She pauses. “And always bite off more than you can chew. Then chew really hard.”