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Catherine Risbey, 26, and Isabella Novak, 25, from Canberra, studied separately at ANU before completing AWARD School. By sheer luck, they ended up in the same tutorial group and paired up as a creative team - uprooting their lives to find their dream job as a copywriter and art director at cummins&partners. Here they tell their story.




People who meet us today ask if we’re childhood best friends or even sisters. And fair enough, we get along way too well (and weirdly kind of look alike). But the former might be because we were already basically the same person when we met during AWARD School 2022. 

We were both living in Canberra at the time, both studied marketing at ANU, had both applied to AWARD School previously (and failed to get in) and were both working in adjacent and uninspiring industries. 

By sheer luck, we ended up in the same online tutorial group when we finally got into AWARD School. About halfway through the course one of our tutors added us both to a Zoom meeting, told us to pair up as a creative team, and then promptly left the call – the rest is history. 

AWARD School itself was a wild ride. Truly nothing prepares you for it. Over three increasingly intense months, you learn from the industry’s leading creatives how to construct an idea (from insight to execution) and sell the hell out of it. 

You spend every waking moment thinking about each brief, running the prop over and over again in your head. You’ll discover when ideas are most likely to strike you (Cat: while driving. Bella: during covid-fuelled lucid dreams). 

You’ll annoy your closest friends and family every day with barely legible scribbles asking do you get it? And if you’re new to ad land like we were, you’ll never be able to look at an ad the same way again. 

AWARD School is so much fun, pure creativity for creativity’s sake. But let’s be honest, it’s also exhausting and all-consuming. One thing is for sure: by the time it’s over, you’ll know whether being a creative is for you. 

We were incredibly lucky to find each other during AWARD School, and skip the awkward Copywriter/Art Director match-making thing. Still, we barely knew each other when we decided to find a job, uproot our lives, and move cities together. 

We made a joint portfolio website and set out to harass anyone who would listen. We had an excel spreadsheet of agencies/creative directors/recruiters/contacts we wanted to hit up, and would spend hours on the phone together sliding into Linkedin DMs. 

We also custom-printed t-shirts with a QR code to our website that we wore to the NSW AWARD School graduation ceremony. Within two months we’d found a job as junior creatives with cummins&partners. By November 2022 we’d packed up our lives and moved to Sydney. 

Doing a job as a pair is equal parts weird and wonderful. From going to job interviews together to spending eight hours a day talking, it’s definitely an adjustment. 

But you get used to the lack of personal space, and to introducing the other as your work “partner”, like you’re cops or cowboys (because it feels weird to say “colleague” like they’re some NPC). 

Agency life is also very different from AWARD School. As soon as you have real clients with real parameters (not to mention all the layers of approval) it becomes much harder than just having a good idea. But it’s also a tonne of fun and challenging in the best way, plus you’ve got your partner to weather it all with. 

In the past year, we’ve been lucky enough to win our first pitch, present to global CMOs, and be on set to shoot our first ads. We’ve also made a lot of digi banners but hey, that’s advertising. 

It would be apt to wrap this up with some words of wisdom. Unfortunately, we don’t have any of those. But if you’ve made it this far, here are some unsolicited tips on surviving agency-land as junior creatives: 


  • However long you think a task will take: triple it.
  • Divide and conquer, and play to your strengths (e.g. Cat does the timesheets, Bella reads the Campaign Brief comments section).
  • If you’re stuck for ideas, try drawing on the walls.
  • Move location every ~2 hours. Or better yet, go for a walk.
  • 1-2 glasses of wine is the optimum number for ideas (3+ expect diminishing returns).

And finally, if your partner really believes in an idea, you back it. Especially if you think it’s a dumb idea.


Considering applying for AWARD School this year? Tune into our free Info Night next Tuesday 6 February for all the info you need about the course and tips to ace your application. Learn more and register here -