BMB creatives on teachers being their unsung heroes
The actors-turned-teachers-turned-creatives share what sparked their creativity
13 September 2023
Katie Burrell and Andy Burrell - the creative duo at BMB and the team behind the much-talked about WhatsApp drama series titled "The Chat", for Breast Cancer Now charity - discuss their creative journey and the role that School of Communication Arts played in their careers.
Billed as the first of its kind - the WhatsApp drama series included actors (and real-world friends) discussing being diagnosed with breast cancer to an initial audience of celebrities, journalists and influencers. Watching on their mobile phones, participants were then encouraged to share their experiences on social media with the public at large. The format was inspired by insights that showed that two-thirds of people diagnosed with breast cancer want more honest conversations about their experience.
With five Cannes Lions Shortlists, The Chat, brought home a Silver in Mobile Lions and a Bronze in PR Lions at the Festival this year. The dramatic series, focused on creating awareness and conversations around Breast Cancer, was also featured on BBC's Women's Hour and Good Morning Britain.
The creative couple also have three D&AD New Blood Pencils to their names - for Nike's 'Support the Girls' in 2020, GiffGaff's '5G at Sea' in 2020, and 'The giffgaffgaff' in 2019.
The Burrells started out as actors and then ran a pre-school for almost seven years. Celebrating just under three years at BMB, the duo talk about what kept them inspired during their creative journeys.
Andy & Katie brought a load of life experience to their first job. It’s no surprise that two former actors came up with The Chat for Breast Cancer Now. Their dramatic sensibilities and work ethic will stand them in good stead - and it already is, with a Silver, a Bronze and four shortlists in Cannes this year.
Matt Lever, Chief Creative Officer, BMB
Katie & Andy: They say those who can, do and those who can’t, teach.
This article is an ode to the unsung creative heroes. Teachers.
We’re Andy and Katie, a married creative team at BMB. We used to be teachers, our mums were teachers, and we’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible teachers throughout the years.
We’ve all got that one teacher we remember, right? The one that did things a bit differently. The one who knew how to tickle your nipples. Not in a ‘should be on some sort of register’ way, but in the way that they just got you. They stimulated you. Again, purely metaphorically.
We’re pretty sure we owe our creative inclinations much more to the inspiration of teachers than any kind of God-given creative genius. Neither of us is Mozart.
We wonder if we’re not so much naturally creative, as ‘nurturally’ creative.
We mentioned our mums, and without allowing this to descend into some schmaltzy, saccharine, Clinton Cards tribute, let’s just say they were the original inspirers. They laid the foundations for our creative fascinations. They gave us choices. They let us make mistakes. They didn’t let us win all the time – something that’s come in very handy when it comes to creative reviews.
Creativity starts with curiosity. And the best teachers will create the conditions for you to be endlessly curious.
At school, our respective Drama teachers were our creative heroes for doing exactly that. They unlocked something in us that Pythagoras or tectonic plates or subjunctive clauses never could. They promoted play and they celebrated stupidity.
Did you ever wonder why the ‘naughty’ kids took GCSE Drama? The cynic (or maybe the realist) would say it gave them an hour where they could dick around. But, for us, the drama studio was a place where our heads got room to breathe, to go to places they simply weren’t allowed to go in the confines of double Science.
Do you know that teacher you thought of earlier? We bet they taught a creative subject…
As ex-actors, we’ve had a million side-jobs for which we’ve had very little recognition. All except one. For eight years, in a little pocket of South West London, we were the creative heroes to about 200 toddlers. No doubt influenced by all the incredible teachers we’d had up to that point, we ended up running a pre-school for kids and their ‘grown ups’. Our classes were pure madness. In the space of an hour, we could transport kids to outer space, trek through dense jungles, or dive down into the deepest oceans, all without leaving the dank little room down the far end of a dodgy-looking shopping center corridor.
Yes, for those eight years, we got a taste of what it’s like to be creative heroes. We were imagination-based-adventure-class rockstars, although toddlers being toddlers they’ve probably all forgotten us now. Bad times. The parents will remember though. The biggest compliment we ever got from one mum was – “I can never come to your classes when I’m hanging.”
We loved the teaching part of our jobs but struggled with the minimum wage part. So we went looking for a way to turn our creativity into cash and that’s where we found our next creative heroes – inside a church that was converted into a nightclub that was converted into an ad school.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about creatively inspiring teachers without mentioning the plethora of incredible mentors at the School of Communication Arts, led by the inimitable Marc Lewis. Anyone who’s suffered 13 years of the didactic teaching style of the UK education system and then gone on to SCA will know, you spend the first 3 months there unlearning.
Marc bangs the drum for learning through doing, experiencing, and failing. Basically the opposite of almost everything you did between the ages of 5-18. The course completely rewires you, and by the end of the year you’re going into agencies with the confidence to execute 120-pixel banner ads, create social posts that will be seen by literally tens of people…and maybe win a Cannes Lion or two.
We owe Marc and the school a lot. If you’re an agency leader reading this, please support them. The industry needs places like SCA.
Teachers really are the unsung creative heroes. It takes a special kind of person to stand in front of a classroom and shape someone’s life.
Every few years our mums get a call or bump into old students out of the blue and it makes their days. Their months, actually. No doubt this little essay has made you think of one of your own teachers. If you’ve ever wondered what they’re up to now there’s only one way to find out. Call them (or hit them up on Facebook). Tell them how they inspired you. A little gesture from you could be priceless to them. And god knows they weren’t paid enough.
Andy Burrell and Katie Burrell are creatives at BMB