The Five by Five creative team discuss with LBB’s Alex Reeves some of the ways that their new creative careers have been impacted by starting during a pandemic, as well as many other factors that shape their outlook
“We met on the dark web,” jokes Tom Carr about finding creative partner Luke Gray. Not quite. It was actually a rather wholesome corner of the internet known as singlecreatives.com. And it happened in the long cold winter of 2020. Tom had a profile and had just come out of “dating” someone when Luke “slid into his DMs”, so to speak. After an exchange of emails, they met up on a Saturday morning in Shoreditch. With cafes only open for takeaways and all the pubs closed, the pair walked for four hours along Great Eastern Street, past Wieden+Kennedy, before turning left up Brick Lane and further on into east London.
With another lockdown imminent, Luke and Tom then Zoom called every Saturday and went over “homework”, which normally consisted of a set of briefs. “After several weeks of better understanding how we each worked, our humour and our interests, we decided to tie the knot,” says Tom.
Today, the creative pair have been working for the agency Five by Five for around six months and they’ve seen each other virtually every day. But since that walk through Shoreditch they didn’t actually see each other physically until May 2021, when they met up with four other staff at the pub. All the staff that evening had never met before in real life. “Anticipation was high,” says Tom. “Would their voices match what we’d heard through our headphones? Would they have mannerisms we’d never caught on camera? Would they wear jeans or pyjamas on their bottom half? Would we even recognise them?”
Although Luke and Tom have only been partners since the end of 2020, their lives to this point have had parallels. Both grew up with a passion for the outdoors. Luke spent childhood weekends out on his bike, which he attributes to being part of the last generation to grow up before smartphones. Tom also loved to explore on two wheels, riding round the Warwickshire countryside “terrorising farmers”.
Without screen-based distraction they both displayed hands-on creativity from an early age. Luke recalls immersing himself in arts and crafts, especially after one year his aunt procured a big box of leftover Christmas card supplies from a manufacturer - raw materials he used for making and drawing for years to come.
Tom also loved using his hands to make things from scratch, but also had a love of reading and writing from a young age. “I had a romanticised image of becoming an explorer or author, so I suppose becoming a creative is 50% of the way there,” he says.
He’s embraced his inner explorer to a degree too though. After university Tom worked in New Zealand for eight months and travelled for four months, finishing up in India working as a guide for a camel trek company in Jaisalmer. When he eventually returned to the UK he worked for a publishing house and ran a club night with friends for several years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to teach in Colombia, and then Italy, before returning once more to the UK and working for a cryptocurrency start-up.
One of Tom’s earliest memories is of his dad playing ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ in the car and demanding it be played repeatedly. “I feel this perfectly captures how I want to live my life but also the people and artists I wish to emulate,” he says. “Through travelling, the people I’ve met along the way and the literature, art and cultures I have immersed myself in, I constantly wish to challenge myself as well as those around me, my perceptions and my understanding of the world.”
Luke’s perception of the world was largely shaped by his experience growing up gay, he has no doubt: “Being the first openly gay man in my family made me look at things differently. You have conversations in your head as to why you aren’t represented in the media you’re exposed to. Over the last few years this has gotten miles better but there's still a huge way to go, which I think is the challenge.”
Like Tom, Luke didn’t know he wanted to apply this ethos to advertising straight away. He studied for a foundation in Art & Design at Leeds Arts University and it was there that he realised becoming a creative was the right direction. He ended up on the Creative Advertising course at Buckinghamshire New University.
A high point of that course was a live brief Luke worked on with Iris for Dominos. “I remember winning a day placement and thinking it was pretty cool to have that in my first year,” he says. The course was also great for teaching creative thinking and then putting this into practice with tons of live briefs from alumni that work in agencies. One of Bucks’ biggest selling points is the connections you can make on the course, he found, especially with it being so close to London - you can jump on a train for a day full of book crits.
Tom studied English Literature at Durham University during which he co-edited a gossip-style magazine that led me to take on placements with The Quietus and Private Eye. “These experiences hinted at a creative career,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I worked as a content director for a cryptocurrency startup, making videos and campaigns from scratch, that I realised advertising was the one for me.” He made the decision to go to ad school (the famous Watford course), and once completed was determined to get a job doing what he loved.
Then came the post-graduate job hunt - a terrifying prospect for anyone. Thankfully meeting each other was soon followed by landing a spot at Five by Five. And the pair reflect on the growth they made in that process. Luke’s most enduring lesson is to “do whatever you love with your book, show off what you’re interested in and do work that you couldn’t do once you’ve been hired. People want to see fun and daring, not what could run tomorrow.”
Tom stresses that anyone looking for a creative job is bound to experience lots of rejection, especially in the current climate, but his advice is: “keep persevering. It only takes one yes.”
Prior to finding Luke online, a project that Tom learned a lot from was an IKEA x Virgil Abloh collaboration
piece he did for Mother. With stock expected to sell out in days, and those items to then quickly re-appear on eBay with huge price tags, he and his then partner came up with an oath to make customers promise not to re-sell any of their purchases.
As a team, the two are proud to have worked on a project for Alzheimer’s Society in their first week at Five by Five. Working together for the past few months has been fulfilling, particularly the part that Tom loves most: “Coming up with new and (hopefully) fresh ideas, and watching those ideas become fully fleshed campaigns.”
One project the pair have in their portfolio is in between the fresh and fleshed out stages. They would love to get it made but fear the legal backlash if they talk about it too much. “But if you check out our book (www.lukeandtom.com
) then you will know what we’re getting at,” says Luke. “Any publishers who wish to offer us moneys, contact us ASAP.”
One thing that makes the advertising creative life different from other jobs is having a partner to constantly bounce off. Luke loves that. “Someone who is able to understand what you’re thinking, build on the idea but also offer a different perspective. As well as always being able to jump in and help one another.”
The nebulous nature of what ‘being a creative’ actually means is something that Luke’s intrigued by, the fact that, “you’re always working, whether that be physically working on a campaign or immersing yourself in creativity and culture. It’s something that friends and family can’t come to terms with.”
There’s plenty to emotionally wrestle with as a creative team just embarking on their professional journey. Tom’s often preoccupied with the hypocrisy of companies and agencies alike “acting in response to genuine socio-political movements, and throwing in their support despite years of opportunity to act but choosing not to do so.” He was particularly disheartened by the lip service without substance many brands paid to respond to the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. “With the Qatar World Cup just a year away, you can guess what my opinion is on the FA and other organisations talking about greater equality and human rights issues whilst simultaneously supporting a regime with an appalling human rights record.”
That said, there have been upsides to such conversations in the industry getting more airtime. “Change makes me really excited,” says Luke, adding that “discussions about diversity and actually acting upon these conversations” are one thing that he finds encouraging.
In that vein, Luke’s recently been attending talks and events by Outvertising - an LGBTQ+ advocacy group for people within advertising, marketing and media. It's something he’s keen to take further. “I would love to get involved with them to drive equality and I'd recommend anyone to go check out what they’re doing.”
On a more personal level - and keeping in mind that a creative is always working - Luke considers himself a “big people person”. He loves wandering around London on the weekend with friends, working in spontaneous weekend photoshoots with his housemates. He also finds creative fuel in fashion. Tom recently teased him for buying a Jacquemus bag “that will probably only fit my left airpod in”. He follows women’s fashion more, meaning “I watch too many YouTube videos of people unboxing their new handbags… guilty.”
Luke’s main source of entertainment during the last year has been RuPaul’s Drag Race. With different series or spin offs, the creative respects that “Ru works harder than the devil.”
Twitter has also been “highly entertaining” for him. “Following LGBT+ and fashion accounts has created a big pool of inspiration and been a great way to take my mind off the current situation. I also have to mention my mild addiction to TikTok which has taken over many boring evenings in lockdown. And finally a nod to Beyonce for never starving us from content.”
Tom’s sources of inspiration have varied alongside the various stages of the UK’s coronavirus response. “Lockdown has been a roller coaster of emotions,” he says. “When the first lockdown was announced I slept like a baby for the first time in years. The world seemed to pause, and in that halcyon lockdown of April 2020, that seemed like a good thing. Yet as tedium and uncertainty have increased with time (in no part thanks to the Tory government’s piss poor handling of Covid), it’s difficult not to long for some sort of return to normal.”
He has found solace in many forms though, making videos, writing, playing football, exercising generally and indulging in one of his biggest passions: electronic music. “I knew I loved live music and clubbing, and have run a club night in the past, but the pandemic really has shined a light on how vital these spaces are. Spaces that enable people to feel free, to immerse themselves fully and feel connected. I’ve been improving on my mixing during lockdown but also love to play pretty much any sport (except for fencing).” Tom might have a club night starting up in August, which he’s excited about (if we meet Boris’s roadmap. But it’s a long way off).
Luke and Tom are a powerhouse together. Both have great expectations of what they can succeed in. “Something that drives me is definitely success, despite the pandemic, seeing my friends conquer and thrive in everything they’re achieving is so admirable,” says Luke. “But making my mum proud and my brothers jealous motivates me the most.” One day he wants to “have a crack at the fashion industry” - definitely a ‘watch this space’ situation.
Tom is of a similar temperament. “I want to make friends jealous, and be able to point to something in the street with pride and say ‘I made that.’” He’s only half joking, I suspect, when he says he aspires to one day become a Nobel laureate. And he’s definitely serious when he says “I also want to write a sitcom using puppets.”