Palak Kapadia Ain't Slowin' Down
Three internships, dozens of awards, and several major copywriting roles are just the tip of the iceberg for this copywriter.
I’m staring at six books about copywriting on my desk. There’s apple juice seeping into the pages of one, another that’s buried under a mound of dust bunnies, and another four I just can’t be bothered to open again after spending weeks looking for answers in them that just weren’t there. Their pages are gum trappers, wood pulp basketballs, and makeshift Cheeto napkins now.
30 minutes. That was the length of my recent Zoom talk with Palak Kapadia — a star copywriter with just a few years under her belt, who’s more open about the craft of putting syllables together than any of the self-professed word warlocks making a living off of decades of old memories in advertising.
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In the length of a SpongeBob Squarepants episode (complete with commercials), I’ve learned more about what it takes to be a successful writer from her thanks to her love for the work and genuine interest in writing. Our conversation is as smart and refreshing as her work. It’s no wonder that she and her partner Catarina Barcala won a Young Lions award at Cannes this year thanks to an amazing video about creative careers that comes from one hell of an insight.
“We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase that even if you don't think you can be Rihanna, you can absolutely be her social media manager, photographer, video designer, copywriter or brand strategist,” Kapadia says with gusto. “All of these positions have as much of a role in creating one of her iconic moments as Rihanna does herself.”
Kapadia bleeds ink. In elementary school, teachers read her essays to her peers during story time. She decided she’d be a writer before she even knew what else writers could do. “The only problem for me, though, was that I wasn’t aware of any legitimate way to make a career out of it — save for focusing on journalism,” she says.
Advertising practically fell into her lap thanks to…sickness. In college, she was a part of a competing team that took part in different kinds of competitions. When a copywriting competition came up, she took someone’s spot on her team to attend since they’d gotten sick. She had to be coaxed to go because she didn’t have a clue about copywriting. But once she got there, that’s when the light bulb came on. The relationship started. “Round after round of different challenges to write headlines and make our ideas into scripts made me fall in love,” she says. “I ended up winning and my prize was a summer internship with Mullen Lowe and the rest is history. I never turned back from there.”
That couldn’t have been a better decision, because Kapadia’s had a legendary start that only keeps getting better. She started off with three internships and during the course of her career so far, winning a slew of awards like the Gold Pencil at One Club’s Young Ones and the Future Impact Pencil at the D&AD’s, she’s had stops at places like Wieden + Kennedy and YouTube. Now, she’s at Amazon, ready to keep going with a personal mission we all can get behind.
“I think the top goal for me has always been to create work that I'm proud of, and I hope to keep doing that,” she says.
Here’s Kapadia on inspirational advertising, tips for being a good writer, and more.
Alright, so the first question that I have for you is what initially drew you to the world of advertising?
For starters, I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. I loved putting words to paper as a kid, and my teachers used to read my essays out loud in English class. The only problem for me, though, was that I wasn’t aware of any legitimate way to make a career out of it — save for focusing on journalism. So I made the decision to get my bachelor’s degree in mass media, with a major in journalism.
This crazy situation happened in college. We used to have competitions where different colleges would compete against each other in literary events. I participated one time and went in place of someone on my team who couldn’t make it because they were sick. The subject was copywriting — which, I didn’t know how to do, because I’d never done it before.
I remember when my team asked if I minded showing up for the event, and I wanted to decline. I told them why. They countered with the fact that the team would have to forfeit if I didn’t show up. “Just go do your thing and get eliminated in the first round — it doesn’t matter who shows up,” they told me. I decided to go participate and ended up having the time of my life. It was so much fun. Round after round of different challenges to write headlines and make our ideas into scripts made me fall in love. I ended up winning and my prize was a summer internship with Mullen Lowe and the rest is history. I never turned back from there.
That’s awesome how you practically stumbled in. So based on your experiences there, and your experiences so far, what do you think a writer needs to be good at to be successful in advertising?
I feel like everyone's so different. Honestly, I've never met two ad writers who have the same process. But for me, I feel like resilience and tenacity go a long way. Most people that I know get into creative careers for the love of it — especially writing. But writing because you like to do it and then writing for a brand are often two very different things. It takes a certain amount of resilience to keep coming back to the drawing board and just stay energized and excited about the briefs that you're working on after several rounds of feedback.
Is there a single piece of advertising that you think has been the most inspirational to you in your career?
It's hard to pick one. The “Like A Girl” campaign by Always is one that I really love. The work that Billie has been doing when it comes to normalizing body hair is amazing. I love work about tough subjects because I feel like we have a creative responsibility to start the harder conversations. When brands step up and do so, it’s very inspiring to me.
You won the Young Lions Award at Cannes for this awesome film about creative careers. What inspired it? I would love to know about that process.
I wanted to essentially create something that could speak to 15-year-old Palak in high school who knew she could write well, but didn't really know what to do about it. So me and my partner decided to lead with a moment in culture that's something everyone would know about and relate to: The Super Bowl. It was an interesting place to start because, not only is it a big deal for the ad industry, it’s something that millions of people tune in and are aware of. We started brainstorming about what the best ad in the Super Bowl was and obviously, it was one for Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty!
It was so iconic and that wasn't even really an ad— which made it so much better because a lot of the time when you think about creative careers and why they feel so inaccessible, it’s because I automatically think you have to be someone like Rihanna. That feels very out of reach for most normal people, and it doesn’t seem like odds of that happening are very high — so you can’t blame people for not even trying. We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase that even if you don't think you can be Rihanna, you can absolutely be her social media manager, photographer, video designer, copywriter or brand strategist. All of these positions have as much of a role in creating one of her iconic moments as Rihanna does herself. We thought that this would be an interesting way in that could make all of this feel more relatable.
That’s a spectacular insight and idea — which leads me to my next question. You’ve had some amazing successes in your career, so I wanted to ask about imposter syndrome. Do you ever deal with it? How do you kick its ass?
Constantly. I second guess myself from time to time. But I think the one thing that I have realized is that when you have moments when you can't really believe in yourself, you can turn to other people like mentors and other creatives who can help you feel better. I feel like you need a community of people who would be brutally honest with you. It goes both ways. If you’re messing up, you need a community of people who can tell you that. On the flip side, you also need people around that you trust and give reassurance to tell you how you’re feeling is just in your head. I'm lucky to have a lot of wonderful people who honestly believe in me way more than I do in myself.
So I think that support system is nice, especially when you're trying to make big career moves and shoot your shot for opportunities that you don’t feel 100% confident that you’ll get or be good at. And then there's this theory that I read about and I try to put into practice, which is called earning it backwards. So let's assume the voice in your head is right – it's a total fluke that you ended up in this place and you got this opportunity you absolutely do not deserve it, but somehow, by some miracle you're here. You now owe it to yourself to feel like you’re good enough for the opportunity. That means maybe learning new skills, talking to new people, and doing things that you do not feel 100% confident about until you do. I think that helps. And then once you had that journey of earning it backwards, I feel that you also owe it to other people to pay it forward because whatever fluke was that held the door open for you, just become that for someone else.
You’ve already accomplished what’s on most people’s vision boards in advertising. What’s yours look like now?
I think the top goal for me has always been to create work that I'm proud of, and I hope to keep doing that. It's so hard for me to do some concrete goal setting right now honestly because, knock on wood, I feel like the last few years have been such a whirlwind for me that if you asked me a year ago, what would your goals be for the next year, I wouldn't even have listed all of these wonderful things that I've been lucky enough to be a part of. I like to leave that space for life to surprise me a little bit. But I think the one constant is to just to keep making work that I'm proud of and to help create opportunities for other people who may not have the easiest access to the industry.
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