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From Google Japan to the USA: award-winning creatives share top tips to building a global career

Anne Griffin-Appadoo

07/08/2020

When creatives Gene Brutty and Tim Seddon left Google Japan to work for Apple in LA, they had no idea the world was about to turn upside down.

Award-winning creative directors Gene Brutty and Tim Seddon in Japan
Award-winning creative directors Gene Brutty and Tim Seddon in Japan

“We arrived in the US late last year,” Brutty laughs. “We had no idea how crazy things were about to get!”

Just months after touching down in California, Brutty and Seddon were adjusting to a global pandemic and working from home.

“COVID-19 has definitely changed our plans,” Brutty says. “Our partners are still in Japan and we’re navigating new jobs as creative directors at TBWA\Media Arts Lab for Apple. But we’re busier than ever and thankful to still have work.”

Brutty and Seddon, who both studied creative advertising at Curtin, joined forces in Perth ten years ago.

“I had an incredible lecturer at Curtin who taught me so much and helped me secure a three-month internship at The Brand Agency,” Brutty explains. “While there, the digital agency upstairs, Longtail, started hiring for creatives. Tim and I were selected, paired up as a creative team – and the rest is history!”

The two quickly realised they had complementary skills.

“We’re two very different people but we share the same work ethic and belief in what we do and what could work,” Brutty says.

“We looked at other creative teams around the world and thought, what makes us any different to a junior team in Tokyo or New York? And we realised there was no difference. We had strong self-belief that we were just as good, if not better. We immediately set ourselves the challenge of proving we could work on major projects for big brands on a global scale.”

To realise their dream, the ambitious pair began working on side projects outside of their day-to-day job. They entered national competitions and pitched work to major brands.

Their determination and hard work paid off. Brutty and Seddon were named the 2011 Australian digital finalists at the prestigious Young Lions competition and flown to Cannes, France to compete on the world stage.

Their success attracted attention from major global agencies. Shortly after returning to Perth, the pair were offered roles at Saatchi and Saatchi in Sydney.

“We lived in Sydney for nearly four years,” says Brutty. “But our vision was to work overseas. We knew the opportunity wouldn’t just present itself so we continued to work on our side projects and experiments and expanded our skillset in photography and coding.”

Google kick-starts global career

In 2015, the duo landed dream roles as creative directors for Google in Japan.

“It was an amazing opportunity!” Brutty smiles. “We’ve always been innovative when it comes to using technology to tell stories, so Google was a great fit for us.”

At Google, the pair pitched work to the world’s biggest brands including Toyota, Nike and Coca Cola.

Seddon says one of his favourite projects was working with Japanese food company, Glico. The pair designed an educational app that transformed Glico’s trademark biscuit ‘Pocky’ into code.

“‘Glicode’ teaches kids basic programming skills by laying out bits of confectionery in different arrangements,” Seddon explains. “The app is displayed on the packaging and is still being used years later around the world. We actually saw it at a local supermarket in downtown LA this morning so that was really gratifying! We’re passionate about product and utility-based ideas that live on, rather than temporary advertisements.”

Brutty’s most memorable project was working on a virtual reality space experience for JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“We created an origami space helmet with Google Cardboard built into the visor,” he explains. “Children could then embark on an immersive mission to the International Space Station. Once ‘inside’, they could conduct experiments with astronaut Takuya Onishi and we even held a YouTube livestream with Onishi from space!”

Brutty and Seddon say the five years they spent in Tokyo were ‘bliss’ but the long hours could be a challenge.

“There is a stereotype that people in Japan work 24/7 and we definitely found that people work long and unusual hours,” says Seddon. “It would be common for people to work until midnight. I’ll never forget when we received a meeting request for 11pm on a Sunday night!”

While the hours may have been a shock to the Perth-born creatives, they relished the open attitude of their colleagues.

“Japan has an incredibly collaborative culture,” Brutty enthuses. “We were lucky enough to work with people who were, in every way, levels and levels above us. But at no point did they make us feel unworthy of their time or expertise. They opened up about personal projects using new technologies, and we wondered why they weren’t being more discreet or patenting their ideas! But they saw it as ‘anyone who is interested in what I am doing, has the potential to make it better’ and that is a really beautiful frame of mind.”

Perth upbringing key to success

Brutty says growing up in Perth has been fundamental to their success.

“For those of us who grow up in relatively remote cities or countries, I think we have the mentality that to get noticed, we have to work harder and smarter than anyone else,” he says. “We never had a big agency backing us so we taught ourselves new skills to stand out.”

Today, the LA-based pair work for one of the world’s most recognisable brands, Apple. But what’s next?

“We’ve been putting our careers first for a long time but we want to find more balance and spend more quality time with our loved ones,” Seddon says. “In the future, we’re hoping to set ourselves up closer to home to work remotely at a global scale.”

Seddon says they will focus on building their brand.

“We now have broad experience working for agencies and tech companies across different markets so we’d like to focus on the ‘Tim and Gene’ brand and define what we offer,” he explains.

“We want to figure out how we can help start-ups tell their technical story in a way that generates investment or creates new uses for their technology.”

For those considering a global career in creative advertising, Seddon says it is as taxing as it is rewarding.

“It’s not an easy path but we have been so surprised by how transferable creative skills are,” he says. “I think the world is finally starting to realise the power of creativity and its contribution to successful business. We never thought we’d be able to work in a place like Japan, especially when we can’t speak the language, but turns out our skills are applicable anywhere. So, as a global career choice, creative advertising is hard to beat!”

Top tips to start your global creative career

If you’re interested in pursuing a creative career overseas, Brutty and Seddon have the following tips:

Upskill

“If you’re interested in copywriting or art direction, consider learning skills in motion design, graphic design or coding. Companies are interested in hiring people with a diverse skillset. How do you apply copywriting through a digital experience? Or create interactive design? Diversify your skillset and increase your international employability.”

Stay open-minded

“Working in different cultures, it’s important to remain open-minded. You’ll need to overcome societal and cultural barriers but your career will be richer for it. Ensure you have a diverse range of interests to draw inspiration from. Those who are open and fluent in the way they think about creativity and how to apply their skills in different contexts will have the best chance of success.”

Work outside the box

“What helped us get noticed on the global stage were not our day-to-day jobs but all the extra projects and experiments we did. Submit work to national and international advertising or design awards. They often have a category for junior creatives or students. This will help you get noticed by major agencies. Create a website and showcase your work. Don’t just sit around and wait, go after what you want.”