Meet: Charlotte Cramer
London College of Communication, UAL (LCC) graduate Charlotte Cramer was working in advertising when a chance encounter made her realise that she wanted to do something more meaningful with her life outside of her job. This led to the creation of CRACK + CIDER, her award-winning non-profit which has helped over 40,000 people experiencing homelessness.
It was also the start of her interest and research into the ‘purpose myth’, the idea that what you do for income must also fulfil your life’s purpose. This idea forms the basis of her first book, ‘The Purpose Myth’. We spoke to Charlotte about her time at LCC, and what her advice was to anyone wanting to write their own book.
You studied on the BA (Hons) Advertising course at LCC, graduating in 2012. What was your time at LCC like?
The value of “a strong bias for action” defines my time at LCC. From painting zebra crossings into rainbows to sawing MDF to build hamster cages, and pretending to faint in The Tate Modern while filming bypassers reactions.
Our course leader, Jo Hodges, instilled in us that ideas are not ideas if they stay in your portfolio. “Staple your work to a tree”, Jo would preach. And so we did.
We also ate a lot of Pad Thai. A lady called Anne had a stall at Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre where an MSG fuelled, overflowing tin-foil pot cost £4. I can still taste the sweet tang of those gooey rice noodles.
What was your favourite memory of your time at University?
Many of my favourite memories of my time at University are moments where the spirit of the course leader - Jo Hodges - shone through.
Mid-lecture she’d launch into dance; her stories flowed as freely as the Student Union bar wine, and the memory of her laugh echoes through me to this day. Rest in Power, Jo.
My favourite memory of the culmination of these moments was a class trip to New York for the One Show advertising awards. I bought ridiculous outfits and waltzed around the city fulfilling my Mad Men inspired dreams.
What did you do after you graduated?
In advertising agencies, there are three key roles we were taught about: Creatives (comprised of copywriters and art directors), Account Managers, and Strategists.
Creatives live lives that consist of most of their ideas being rejected -- and I am far too fragile for that.
Account Managers take care of the business side of things, hand-holding the client as much as being a champion for the agency’s work. ‘How boring’, I thought.
Strategists, it seemed, got the best job: the opportunity to think creatively with very little oversight. To get into the minds of the customer to solve problems for the business. The challenge was -- I was told, repeatedly, that it’s not possible to get a role in strategy straight out of university.
Just like any good strategist, that was a challenge and an opportunity. After all, if everyone else was being told that they can’t get a strategy internship, I’d have less competition.
The day after handing in my dissertation at LCC I joined Mother’s Strategy team as an intern; where I would spend the next six months with some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with to this day.
Highlights included making a film about the secrets of motherhood and swimming in Shoreditch House’s mini-Olympics (it was the summer of 2012).
Sadly my six months at Mother ended in tears, rather than a job offer. Just so you know, my career hasn’t been all rosy.
You’ve recently published your first book, ‘The Purpose Myth’, which is all about why we feel unfulfilled at work, and how we can find more meaning in our 9-5 lives, a subject I’m sure many people can relate to. Was there a specific moment that led to the creation of this book, or was it created over time?
Back in 2015, a friend I met at LCC, Scarlett Montanaro, and I found ourselves in Berlin after winning a competition in a banner-ad (seriously) just the day before.
As we ventured towards a café with the top-rated oat milk flat white in the area we were stopped by a man who held out his hand and asked us for spare change. I muffled ‘no’ under my breath and went on towards the cafe.
Once we sat down the weight of the situation settled over us. We realized that we had denied someone €1 and gone on to spend €7 on a coffee.
It didn’t sit well.
As two people who lamented working in advertising and often spoke about wanting to do something more meaningful, we had actively declined to help someone who needed it.
That conversation sparked a three-year journey of creating, launching, and scaling what would become an award-winning Purpose Project, CRACK + CIDER: a shop where you could buy essential items which we would distribute to those experiencing homelessness.
Over that period we distributed over 40,000 items across four cities around the world and since have run workshops with over 1,000 teams from Egypt to Rome and Los Angeles inspiring and enabling people to start their own Purpose Projects.
This Purpose Myth is an extension of those workshops; a recounting of the personal journey I went on to get there; and my reflection on the role of a Purpose Project in the context of our current work culture. I truly believe that just as we have a fitness regime for our physical needs, a Purpose Project can serve our purpose-related needs.
How do you think this book will help people?
Our society tells us that in order for us to find our purpose we must do so in our 9-5s. I think that this is not only misguided but can be harmful -- ultimately leaving people with false expectations that inevitably go unmet and lead to a lack of fulfilment.
This book offers a critique on this work culture and a new, pragmatic perspective while also providing practical, easy-to-follow steps to create your own Purpose Project -- like CRACK + CIDER in your spare time.
If you’re caught in the ‘I don’t have work experience so I can’t get a job’ catch-22 or if you’re feeling unfulfilled at work but can’t forgo your salary to make a career-change -- this book will help.
Can you tell us a bit about the process for creating your first book; what was it like? What were the highs, and have there been any challenges?
Meditative, reflective, painful, psycho-analytical, dizzying, aggravating, confidence-building, self-destructive, embarrassing, shameful, enlightening, joyful, and an honour.
The most illuminating aspect of the process has been how small a part writing plays in the writing of a book. It’s truly more akin to launching a business than I had expected, especially having gone down the self-publishing route.
The greatest challenge -- just as with any piece of artwork -- it’s only finished when I decide it’s finished. This means that it could have had another 20 rounds of revisions and evolutions. Over the years that I was writing my ideas and values shifted and so parts of the book felt dated -- they were. It’s really difficult to know when to accept that and finally publish.
The greatest highs of writing, for me, were taking time for “deep work” as Cal Newport puts it and taking writing retreats for long periods of time. I spent three months in Mexico at the start of writing which was one of the most joyful times of my life.
Publication day was another high that I’m still riding on: the best part of the whole process is now, getting emails filled with kind words from strangers who are reading the book. My ego also quite liked this Forbes piece on the book.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first book?
If you’re not trained in storytelling or writing, as I’m not, I would highly recommend investing in learning about the structure of the story. I worked with Story Grid editor, Parul Bavishi, two years into my writing. Parul drastically helped shape the 50,000 words into something that feels and reads like a book.
Plot out the structure of your book incredibly rigorously before getting started with the writing. You’ll save a lot of time -- and heartache -- later on, I promise.
Before publishing, I wrote this piece on “how not to write a (nonfiction) book” which might be helpful.
- Find out more about Charlotte on her website: charlottecramer.com
- Hear Charlotte talk about her book on fellow LCC graduate Auste Skrupskyte's podcast, What do people do? You can listen on Apple and Spotify
- The UAL Enterprising Alumni Association supports creative leaders. The programme is designed to help answer your questions and provide inspiration for each other’s creative businesses.