By Al Navarro, Chief Creative Officer
Source: The Great British Baking Show / PBS

If you haven’t heard of it, there’s a very popular baking show in the UK called “The Great British Bake Off”. It’s shown on PBS (renamed “The Great British Baking Show” due to a trademark issue with the phrase “Bake Off”), and three seasons are available on Netflix. I caught a portion of an episode on PBS, and quickly binged my way through the episodes.

For me, a lot of the appeal of the show is that they don’t seem to take pleasure in the failure of the participants — which I feel most televised American cooking (and singing, and ninja-ing, and pretty anything-ing) competitions do. Bad bakes don’t get torn to shreds by the judges. It’s generally more about celebrating the successes. Additionally, unlike the popular Food Network show “Chopped”, the competitors are not given ridiculous combinations of ingredients. Generally speaking the tasks are simply to cook the best version of classic (though occasionally obscure) cakes, breads, pies, and pastries.

Each episode has a theme (like “Bread”) and the following format: Round 1 — Signature Challenge, which involves baking something in the given theme that they have made before; Round 2 — Technical Challenge, where all the bakers are given the same minimal recipe for a baked good (which is where the obscure part sometimes comes into play); and Round 3 — Showstopper Challenge, in which bakers are given more time and expected to bake and decorate to impress. At the end of each episode until the finals, one baker is named “Star Baker” while another is eliminated based on their performance across the three challenges.

But in addition to entertainment value, I think The Great British Baking Show offers a simple snapshot into what it takes to succeed in another field: Advertising.

Here are just 3 great lessons you can learn from GBBS:

1. Have a plan before you start any project

For the most part, the competitors on GBBS are very experienced bakers — even the teenaged ones. But even a seasoned baker can go off-course when they deviate from their original plan. For advertising, one could consider the brief the plan. If your work doesn’t meet the brief, you’re probably not going to get very far with the client.

2. Always be aware of time/schedules — as well as of your abilities/strengths/weaknesses

Most often, the sub-optimal bakes were due to a competitor running out of time. So their cake didn’t cool enough before icing or perhaps a custard never fully set. These errors were avoidable if only the baker had paid more attention to his/her schedule. When it comes to advertising, deadlines matter. In my 20+ years in advertising, being able to meet a deadline consistently is what separates the great from the good.
It helps a lot if one has a healthy amount of self-awareness. Starting with knowing how long certain tasks take you. If you know that you’re slower at writing headlines than most, then you need to allot more time to that task. If you know you’re a procrastinator, then give yourself self-imposed deadlines well before the actual due date. Knowing your strength and weaknesses also helps because you can do things that highlight your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses. To use a baking example, if you know that you’re really not great at icing, then by all means practice, practice, practice. And then, when you’re actually making a cake for the competition, err on the side of simplicity with your icing instead of having an overly ambitious vision.

3. Know your craft

For me, it was amazing to watch the GBBS competitors knock out various baked goods that spanned a truly wide range: from the everyday to the outré. I mean, do you even know what a Religieuse a l’ancienne is? Or a Mokatine? Both were items that the bakers had to make. In the advertising world, it’s the same. I’ll share a story of a junior writer at Mint from a few years ago. I assigned this writer a project writing about “estate planning” for a financial service client. When I asked to see where the writer was at a few days later, I chuckled when I saw that they had written about care of a mansion and grounds and NOT about the assets of an individual. Shame on me for not being explicit enough in the briefing. Shame on the writer for not knowing which estate was in question.