Sydneysider Josie Burns is creative director at Host/Havas, an AD STARS 2019 final judge, a reformed Sims player, and a committed mentor
Josie Burns’ journey to advertising involved a brief stint copywriting for commercial radio before securing a place at AWARD School, which is run by the Australasian Writers and Art Directors Association. Named their best student in Queensland for 2010, she’s maintained strong links with the organisation and a keen interest in mentoring new talent ever since.
In late 2018, she was appointed an AWARD School co-head and is heavily involved with the School’s excellent ‘Only Ideas Wanted’ initiative, which makes scholarships available to indigenous students and improves access to the advertising industry by running courses outside of major Australian cities.
In between working on campaigns for brands as varied as the Australian Army, James Boag, and Pine O Cleen, Josie almost managed to get Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, to appear on a New Zealand-bound plane recently.
She also caused a stir a few years back when she managed to make Jesus appear on a pizza – so there’s definitely something divine about her campaigns. Josie will be moving in mysterious ways toward Busan, South Korea this August, where she’ll be judging Design & Print at AD STARS 2019. She caught up with reporter Lee Patten.
LBB> You grew up in Temora, NSW. What do you miss about country life?
Josie> 1. Absolutely everyone you see down the street saying hello to you, whether they know you or not. 2. Waking up and realising the only things you’re expected to do that day are feeding chickens, climbing a fig tree and patting a cat.
LBB> You studied Commercial Radio and Communications at university. Do you feel like you still draw from this in your current work?
Josie> Yes, for sure. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I applied for the course; it just seemed like a good idea at the time. It was a radio campaign I heard during one of the lectures that made me want to work in advertising – Bud Light’s ‘Real Men of Genius’. My marks improved a lot when I learned that being a copywriter in an ad agency was a real and legitimate job.
Josie> I can’t personally claim any credit for the Palau Pledge campaign, but I definitely did personally (and aggressively) claim cake and alcohol as a result of the win.
We spent some on celebrations, but it was a project the people involved felt strongly about continuing, so most of the $10,000 went back into our ongoing work with Palau.
LBB> What does your typical workday look like?
Josie> I’m not sure anyone in this industry really has a typical workday.
In the last week: I’ve gone to a meeting to discuss footage of a guy rubbing a cricket ball on his crotch.
I’ve recorded my own guide voiceover that somehow turned out to have a horrendous, unintended Kiwi accent (potentially offensive to the professional, legitimately Kiwi voiceover artist we got to do the job).
I’ve googled bird wranglers, and I’ve done my timesheets.
LBB> Have you particularly enjoyed any campaigns you’ve worked on recently?
Josie> We recently did a campaign around Game of Thrones. People didn’t react too well to the end of the final series, and we noticed a lot of posts online about wanting the original author, George RR Martin, to finish his next book (as one person put it, ‘so we can find out how it was really supposed to end’).
So, we made a campaign. Air New Zealand offered George a free flight to New Zealand so he could finish his book. He actually responded to it.
The campaign film can be found here
, George’s response can be found here
, and it picked up articles like this
LBB> What are your passions outside of advertising? Any nerdy obsessions?
Josie> Hmm. I wouldn’t call my nerdiness a passion so much as an upbringing. I was raised on Dungeons & Dragons, Red Dwarf and a Commodore 64. I had no chance.
Before advertising, I used to dabble in gaming but ended up having an existential crisis when I realised my Sims characters were living more fulfilling lives than mine. So, I quit and applied for AWARD School. These days, I’m more into outdoors/adventure stuff.
LBB> How do you recover from a bad day at work?
Josie> I write one thing I’ve learned from my rancid day into a Google doc, then do something to get out of my own head; go for a run, go to the movies or to go to trivia at the pub.
Hot tip: don’t drink wine before you go for a run.
LBB> You returned to AWARD as a co-head. What’s the most rewarding thing about mentoring?
Josie> The best thing is seeing the different types of students coming through – the way they think and the questions they ask constantly redefines the way I think about advertising and my role in it.
LBB> How proud are you to be involved with AWARD’s ‘Only Ideas Wanted’ campaign? How important is diversity in creating effective advertising?
Josie> Diversity = different perspectives = different thinking. It’s very important for both effectiveness and creativity.
Kerstin and James (2018 AWARD School students) came up with the campaign, and they did a great job of nailing a truth about the course.
AWARD School has a refreshing ignorance of university transcripts and employment history. It doesn’t want to see your CV; it just wants to see your ideas.
AWARD School has introduced initiatives like blind judging and Indigenous scholarships to improve its own diversity because we know how important it is for creatives to be representative of the population their work is speaking to.
I find the best agencies aren’t in denial about unconscious bias and don’t try to preserve the identity of advertising’s yesteryear. They love hiring a bunch of people with nothing in common but talent and drive to see what comes of it (a pretty excellent kind of chaos, in my experience).
The industry still has some way to go in this area, but I’ve watched it improve dramatically over the last few years.
LBB> Are you optimistic about the industry and the future for creative advertising?
Josie> I don’t think I could still be in it if I wasn’t.
Consumers are pretty good at reading advertising these days. They’ll say ‘fair play’ when brands are brave and honest, and they’re just as quick to call bullshit when brands are disingenuous.
In my opinion, this only serves to make advertising better.
LBB> You’re coming to Busan, South Korea as a final judge this year. Can you tell us your impressions of AD STARS and your expectations for judging there?
Josie> I’m looking forward to world-class work and meeting very talented, driven people.
In terms of Young Stars, there’s always some pretty crazy thinking and a high level of energy you see in work from new talent that throws your preconceptions out the window. I can’t wait.