How one self-confessed “attention seeking tosser” beat the system and got on the career ladder. Mark Bonington talks to Adam Pacitti.
“Has anyone ever told you you are the spitting image of wrestling pro Brad Maddox?” are Adam Pacitti’s first words to me.
As it turns out, no they haven’t.
And after some frantic Googling, I decide to take this as compliment.
But just like wrestling star lookalikes, Pacitti is one of a very small group. A minority of young adults who are pushed to greater and greater extremes in order to simply be noticed. Not because they, unlike many of their peers, are chasing fame or celebrity, but because they simply want a “foot in the door” of where they want to go in terms of their career.
After a long series of rejection and temporary jobs (which any graduate of the past few years, myself included, can painfully sympathise with). Pacitti decided, out of sheer desperation, to rent a billboard.
“I wanted a visually striking image,” he tells me. “Something easily shareable, but also something that people could visit. Trying to combine something physical with something that is easy to share. It creates a photo opp.”
Behind the charming bumble of his videos and the approachable geeky persona he exuded in his campaign, it seems obvious that there is an extremely sharp mind ticking behind the hipster specs. And Pacitti openly admits he was thinking about social media from the inception of his project.
“I wouldn’t have been offered my current job as a viral producer without the social media side of what I did, which made it into conventional news media. It was in every daily British national newspaper, but without the demonstration of my ability to connect with online audiences I don’t think I would have as many job offers as I did. I think it’s seen as more of a skill to make something go viral than it is just to get something in the papers.”
One irresistible question, of course, is just how exactly one “rents a billboard”?
“With great difficulty and a couple of lies!” is Pacitti’s short answer. “I had to tell them that I was an individual company. I said I was starting a website trying to find employment for young people. So, you know, it was kind of true.
“It actually didn’t cost £500, it was £540 plus VAT. But that’s just not as catchy.”
The question of how to ‘create’ viral campaigns, of course, is a murky one, and something which is hotly debated by industry experts. Campaigns which have the right elements frequently fail in the digital world, or trend due to a totally unforeseen (or detrimental) reason than the one intended. In the same vein, a simple pet picture or single tweet can begin trending round the world in a matter of minutes.
How far is it all down to luck?
“There is a certain amount of spontaneity in any kind of viral campaign” says Pacitti, but admits that you can “position something with a higher chance of going viral. You’re ticking boxes and looking for something which is emotive or funny or heart-warming. #EmployAdam was trying to tick as many of those as possible.
“I also wanted to make it multi-layered. I created the video CV, which I hoped would be spread as well. The billboard worked really well in print, the video was there so that people could be given an insight into my personality, and it worked really well on TV as they could show clips from it. So that was useful.
“Interactivity really helps, but it is incredibly tricky. I’ve found it even more tricky since I started working in the field to tick these boxes, because there are huge companies doing it now as well. Every company now has a social media manager, and it’s really difficult trying to connect with people on a level that makes them want to share your brand. Really, really tough.”
Although he claims that papers will soon become sick of reporting stories like his, and even just a quick Google will reveal a string of stories similar to Adam’s, it does seem to herald an interesting future for social media as a form of job hunting. It is also a way of helping media aspirationals, awash in a sea of wannabes, to make their creative voices heard.
When asked about where he thought social media was going in the future, Adam doesn’t even pretend to know.
“If I could predict that I’d be rich. I wish I could give you a good answer. Video and Vine are on the rise, but it’s perhaps the ability to create interactive content, and allow users to do that with limited skill sets. Perhaps. But really I have no idea.”
He admits that the social side of his campaign was largely uncontrollable, and initially a disappointment after lingering on around 10 retweets for a couple of hours. Adam began to consider whether he had made a huge mistake (and spent £540 plus VAT), but after being retweeted by a journalist friend with the right connections, it took off.
“It kind of proves a point that the people who see it initially really make or break it”, he says, “things expire very quickly on Twitter.”
After the tweets and retweets began coming in, the real work began. Determined to squeeze as much opportunity as possible from his project, Adam tried to respond to each and every person individually in order to increase interactivity. Despite the level rising to 20 tweets every minute.
“I was trying to field questions, and also provoke a bit of reaction. The only stuff I was actually retweeting when it happened were the negative comments, and there were plenty of them, because that drove people to interact with the whole idea more. It was causing arguments and discussion, and that was really important.
“An A4 CV only shows so much, and this was a visual way of demonstrating my abilities. It’s great to say you’ve done a project that got international news coverage and whatever, but I certainly value the social stuff higher than the TV coverage.”
Yet combined, his labours bore fruit. Fruit in the form of 60 job offers winging their way to Pacitti via email.
“It got to the point that companies were giving me contracts before they’d met me or interviewed me or anything. It became very apparent that those companies were looking for some cheap PR. If they hired me they’d get a few column inches and I would promote their business. But that wasn’t what I was interested in at all.”
Staying true to the founding principles of the project, Pacitti took a job with marketing, communications and design agency Seachange, where he now works (appropriately enough) as a viral producer.
“I’d applied for so many jobs and I felt so disenfranchised. All I really wanted was my foot on the ladder. And I got very lucky.”
In terms of what lessons he, and other businesses, can draw from his experience, Pacitti says that evoking emotion with your creations is key.
“People will not share something unless they can associate with it, interact with it and it touches them in some way.,” he emphasises. “You have to create that bond and that level of association. But yes, it’s very hard.”
It is true, however, that his methods do not apply to everyone. As Adam freely admits, his desired industry is one which actively promotes being “an attention-seeking tosser” and the first step is not to go out and emulate him.
“I get people emailing me saying ‘I want to be a train driver, I’m going to rent billboard!’ and it’s like, no – there’s a really linear path to being a train driver. And buying a billboard isn’t one of them.”
But in terms of entrepreneurs or graduates trying to work, he says there is no easy answer to working around the current slew of catch 22’s.
“Persevere,” is his final word. Before adding, after a pause, “that’s crap, isn’t it?”
But not a bad effort, from someone who looks like Mark Cohen in RENT.