Adman Philip Taffs (BA(Hons) 1986) had a light bulb moment in Monash’s audio library when he was an English literature student in the 1980s.
Listening to music and reading a Time magazine article about author John Irving and learning about the famous American’s life of running and writing, Mr Taffs says, “something went off in my head: that’s the sort of life I want. Not that I’ve got there – yet.”
The Melburnian is finally making inroads into that lifestyle: after more than 20 years as an advertising copywriter, and 11 years since starting the book, Mr Taffs had his first novel published late last year by Quercus, UK, famous for publishing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
The Evil Inside is a psycho-thriller loosely based on Mr Taffs own experience of working in New York City as an adman during the dotcom era.
He describes the book as “Mad Men meets The Shining with a Fight Club twist.”
One chapter is based on a short story that won him a PEN International Award.
The thick skin he acquired during his advertising work — withstanding rejection of his creative concepts — stood him in good stead for dealing with publishers.
More than 70 publishers across Australia, America and the UK rejected The Evil Inside.
Mr Taffs decided to self-publish, and although he didn’t sell many copies, it meant he could submit his book for review to America’s Kirkus Reviews.
“It’s very well respected, and usually they’re very harsh. My agent in America says they hate everything, but by some miracle they liked my book. It was a fantastic review, and I used that to approach a new batch of UK publishers.”
He is currently working on his second novel whilst running his own creative consultancy in Melbourne, which he established in 2004 after his one-year stint in New York.
He has worked across print, radio and TV and his major brand experience includes Honda, Australia Post, Sealy Posturepedic and Mazda.
He worked for mid-level Melbourne agency Sanford Vick (now The Sanford Partnership) for 10 years, starting as a junior copywriter and finishing as joint creative director.
“Probably the most fun you could’ve had in advertising was up until the year 2000. When I came back from the US, it had gone quiet — the fun, banter and excesses had become more politically correct.”
But he remains keen to nurture advertising talent. He taught copywriting at RMIT for one semester and has sound advice for aspiring creatives.
“Develop a portfolio – that’s the main way to get into advertising, and hawk it around agencies and get feedback. Attending the AWARD [Australian Writers and Art Directors Association] School is another way of getting into the industry.”
And watch a certain TV show to know what you’re getting yourself into: “Mad Men is probably the best depiction of advertising life I’ve seen.”