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D&AD Festival Speaker Interview: Mark van der Heijden

Mark van der Heijden worked in advertising in Amsterdam for seven years, including as a copywriter at LEMZ, advertising instructor at the JUNIOR* Academy, and board member of Dutch Young Creatives. In January 2014, Mark waved goodbye to his job(s) and hit the world as ‘The Backpacker Intern’, helping out agencies, brands and charities in exchange for room and board. 

This interview took place ahead of his appearance at the inaugural D&AD Festival where he spoke about his incredible journey and what he learned by saying yes.

Mark van der Heijden Wanderbrief D&AD Festival

You’ve just launched Wanderbrief, can you tell us a bit about it?

Wanderbrief is a global community where people exchange their creativity for meaningful work-life experiences abroad.

When a company is facing a challenge, we create an assignment and use our technology to curate top-notch talent. These include copywriters, designers, developers and any other role in the creative industry from our growing international community, including the award-winning creatives from you guys, since D&AD is our Global Talent Partner (Thanks for flying with us!).

We launched in beta just 3 weeks ago and already have over 4000 creatives from 45 countries who have created a profile. It's truly amazing to see how it's being picked up globally. Our first city is Amsterdam where we will put top-notch creatives to work at our Founding Partners Vodafone and Amnesty International.

In a brief period of time (2-4 weeks) the creative(s) solve problems in exchange for a flight, room, board and some pocket money to explore the city. Above all, we exist to refresh the perspective of creatives and support companies meet their business objectives through collaborative creativity while fostering global citizenship and cultural exchange. Talking about cultural exchange...I have to hurry because I'm going to pick up the first Wanderbriefer at Schiphol Airport in an hour!

When you were backpacking around the world, your experiences ranged from hanging out with Nile Rodgers, to visiting The White House, and sleeping in ice on Antarctica. If there’s one lesson you can take away from all these people and places, what would it

Think less, do more.

Nile Rogers Chic the Backpacker intern Mark van der Heijden
Mark van der Heijden with Chic's Nile Rogers

In all the advertising agencies you visited, what did you find the most common problem was? And do you have any advice for overcoming it?

Cynicism. Working in an advertising agency can be super struggling. On a daily basis you hear more "nos" than in 2 Unlimited's infamous 'No Limit'

Becoming cynical is easy. Before you know it, it affects business and people's lives. Jim Rohn once said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. With that in mind, I believe the key to overcome cynicism it is to only hire people with a positive, entrepreneurial and no-bullshit attitude. 

You’ll be speaking at the D&AD Festival. What will you be talking about?

I'm very honoured to speak at this year's festival. My talk is called: 'No Guts No Story'.

Everyone loves to tell a bold story, but not everyone dares to jump of a cliff. I took a significant risk in my life to quit my job, leave my apartment and toss my belongings in a backpack. Through trial and epic fails I found my way to travel for two years - without spending a lot of money - while gaining experience at 32 companies in 27 countries on seven continents. Back in Amsterdam I took another risk to start my own company from scratch. During D&AD Festival I will share my biggest fails and what I've learned from them. 

What are you most looking forward to about the D&AD Festival?

Having a drink with Sir Martin Sorrell.

How did you end up partnering with D&AD?

In September 2015 I was speaking at Kyoorius Designyatra, the biggest design festival in India. The moderator of the event was former D&AD President Laura Jordan-Bambach. We got along very well and she told me about the amazing work that the D&AD New Blood Programme was doing.

A few days and cocktails later she connected me to D&AD, which evolved into a partnership with Wanderbrief and Laura as one of our Global Board Members.

Why is London such an exciting place for creatives? How does it compare to all the places you’ve visited?

London has one of the most diverse ranges of people, culture and companies. There are so many nationalities that it's almost like you're on a world trip in one city. If I compare it with other cities around the world, London is definitely one of my cosmopolitan favourites. It's a vibrant mix of international communities, exotic eateries and incredible art.

The only thing I don't like about London is that it mostly takes ages to go from one place to another.

This year’s festival theme is ‘Nothing matters more’. In your view, why does creativity matter?

In the journey of life you'll encounter many challenges. The road is not always smooth but no matter what; creativity will save your ass.

Creativity will help you find new ways to keep going. Even if it means you have to take a step back.

I really like the creative way of thinking of Harvey Specter from Suits: "When you're backed against the wall, break the goddamn thing down."

The D&AD Professional Awards celebrate creativity in 27 different categories. If you have a campaign that you think deserves a D&AD Pencil why not enter it and see if our board of judges agrees.
Or, for more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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