Thursday, April 10, 2014

Don't phone it in.

I'm going to talk about voice overs first. Then I'm going to talk about student portfolios. Walk with me.

I just listened to about 190 voice over auditions. That's not an exaggeration. It's not the most glamorous part of being a creative. But it is necessary.

Here's the thing: voice over auditions have grown much sloppier over the years. Here are some major glitches I heard in this last round of 190:


  • Echo in the room.
  • Talent flubs a line and doesn't bother to re-record.
  • I can tell the talent has a cheap mic.
  • I can tell the talent is recording with their iPhone.
  • Volume is mixed way too low.
  • Volume is mixed way too high.
  • Talent didn't read the casting specs I wrote (e.g., an energetic 20-year-old guy auditioning for the role of a laid-back 50-year-old.) 
  • I hear the mic stand wiggling in the background.
  • Sounds like talent was on a plane. Maybe it was just someone vacuuming in the background.


There's one reason why voice over auditions have grown sloppier: technology. Mics are less expensive. Garageband. Apps. It's easier to set up a home studio. It used to be VO talent would go into a professional studio and record their takes where nothing was left to chance. I'm all for home studios and convenience. But not when it allows you to be lazy.

If the talent's voice is exceptional, I can overlook poor quality. It's just an audition, after all. But if there's even a question (and with 190 voices to choose from, there always is), I go with quality. Because quality shows me that the talent cares. They care about their career, this particular opportunity, their craft, and my script.

Now, here's how this applies to student portfolios: technology can make you lazy, too.

Art directors can search Getty Images and plug in cheap stock. Copywriters can use a Microsoft Word thesaurus. Creative teams can use nicely designed printouts and Keynote presentations to sell an okay idea without really pushing it as far as it can go conceptually.

Whether you're a student trying to get your portfolio on a creative director's desk or a creative director trying to win a pitch, quality and craft can be the difference between a win and a loss. As Sally Hogshead says, "The difference between an A- book and an A+ book is all the difference in the world."

This is your career we're talking about. Don't phone it in.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Writers, Be a Word Nerd


My mother corrects my grammar. Still. If I send an email and incorrectly use I as an object, she will let me know (I did the other day, and she let me know about it).

Odds are, you don't have my mother. But hopefully you have someone who has instilled in you the importance of understanding how to write well. (I'm speaking primarily to writers here, but art directors who can write are awesome.)

Great art directors know their craft inside and out. They get off on serifs and kerning and leading, and it irritates them if you use the words "font" and "typeface" interchangeably. But for some reason, a lot of writers place less importance on their wordsmithing. "I suck at drawing" is a terrible reason to become a copywriter.

You have to love words.

You should get all giddy when you hear a great line of dialogue.

You should actually enjoy reading books like the one above and not feel like it's torture.

If you see a word that you don't know, you should look it up.

You should write. A lot.

You should have favorite authors, favorite books, favorite sentences.

When you read and you come across a great sentence, you should stop and consider what makes it a great sentence. How is it constructed? What is the author doing? What choices did he/she make in writing the sentence that way?

I'm not saying you have to be able to diagram a sentence (though it can't hurt). And I'm not saying that everything you write needs to be grammatically correct. But like design, there are mechanics to writing. There are reasons a sentence is strong--conscious decisions that are made in its construction. If you want to be a decent writer, you need to have, at the very least, a working knowledge of these things. Ideally, you obsess over them.

Be a word nerd. We like nerds.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pitching Yourself: Leah the Lego Intern

There are two schools of thought on presenting yourself to a potential employer.

1. Do something creative so they know you're creative.
2. Let your work speak for itself.

Normally, I recommend the latter (that's #2). I think it's better to spend your time coming up with great ideas you can put in your book than working on clever ways to introduce yourself. I've also seen very, very few students successfully pull off the former (that's #1).

This, however, is someone who got it right. Great idea. And because she's looking for a gig in account services, it's even more impressive/necessary. (And it doesn't hurt that her idea was picked up by Adweek.)





Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Side Project: yearbnb

My friend and former boss Kevin Lynch is currently the executive creative director of BBDO South China. Here's his pecha kucha presentation of a full-time side project: using airbnb to stay in different rooms throughout Hong Kong for a full year.


Yearbnb at Pecha Kucha from fifteen ideas on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Elmore Leonard on Writing

He's talking about fiction. But still applies to advertising. (The video's choppy, but worth listening to.)


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here's Why Talented Creatives Are Leaving Your Agency

We don't often repost articles on this blog. But I thought this one on Digiday was worth sharing. It's a London-based product designer's take on why agencies are bleeding young talent while startups are picking them up. The author's litany of condemnation for big agencies:

1. You won't stop taking on shit work.
2. You don't innovate, even though you say you do.
3. You keep hiring dead weight (and do nothing about it).
4. You don't stop taking on projects that can't be delivered unless we work 12-hour days.
5. You don't give staff any credit.
6. You don't buy us decent equipment.

Not all large agencies fit this dire mold. But I've worked at one or two that did. It's good to recognize the bad  out there so you can avoid it. And it's go to recognize the good, so you can run towards it. Read the full article here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Look for Opportunities

I heard this interview on NPR last night about how the City of Omaha is taking advantage of Peyton Manning's relentless use of their name on the field.



Omaha's tourism department is busy scheduling media interviews. Omaha bakeries are selling Go Broncos cupcakes. Omaha breweries are crafting and labeling special Manning beers. Even one of the new penguins in the Omaha Zoo was named Peyton.

I love that so many people in Omaha began thinking, "How can we make this work for us?"

How are you taking advantage of popular culture? What are you doing with what's right in front of your face?





Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy Accidents

I don't usually post my own work on this site. But this one comes with a point, and a good cause.

About a year ago, I began doing work for Volunteers of America. They're a 117-year-old national charity that had never advertised before.

We ended up producing print, online, outdoor, and TV for them. But my favorite spot was never scripted, never presented, never even concepted. It was just a happy accident.

While we were shooting in Los Angeles, our director wanted to get some extra footage. So he rolled down Skid Row with his camera hanging out of the van door. Then his producer ran back down the street and gave some cash to have the people he filmed sign release waivers, just in case. Some of this footage made it into our final spots.

But when we were in the editing studio we were looking at that shot, and thought it was kind of amazing. We wondered how could we share it?  So we started playing around with it. We slowed it down. Wrote some copy to serve as supers. And sampled a few demo tracks. (We ended up recording Jennifer Perryman to sing an original track.) We showed it to the client, and were lucky enough to have them approve it. Here's the finished piece:



Gold Lion at Cannes? Nah. But does it help the client get their name out there? Yep. Am I proud to have it on my reel? Absolutely.

So be open to happy accidents. Find a way to make them work. Play with them. Get them in front or your clients and champion them. And everyone will be a little better off.

(If you'd like to donate anything to Volunteers of America, please click here. They're amazing people who do amazing work.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Importance of Editing

In "A Note to Student Art Directors" by Hal Curtis (originally published in CA), he gives this piece of advice:

Become a closet editor. Other than music, it's the single most effective way to impact a piece of film.

Last month, Variety published "Why Editing Nominations Predict the Best Picture Oscar" with some of these interesting factoids:

Only 9 films have won best picture without at least a nomination for editing.
Of the 61 films that have won Best Picture, 32 have won Best Editing.

Jay Cassidy who co-edited American Hustle says, "There's no such thing as a good scene in a bad movie...If filmgoers are moved by the story and emotion in the film then it's probably well-edited."

If you're not familiar with how editing works, or why it's important, start learning. Here's one of my favorite scenes from The Social Network, for which Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won the Oscar. Notice how the edits begin to match the pace of the athletes. The cuts almost become their heartbeats. That's not just a happy accident.


The Social Network "Henley Sequence" from a52 on Vimeo.

Of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, here are the trailers for the five Best Editing Nominees (but don't confuse film editing with trailer editing - they're done by different people):










Monday, January 13, 2014

The Many Tellings of a Story


When you have a story to tell, you usually just tell it. But in advertising, you have to tell it multiple times—to your partner, to your team, to your client, to your director—before you finally tell it to your real audience.

If those first tellings don’t go well, that final telling will never happen. So don’t overlook those first tellings. Give a lot of thought to how you’re going to bring the story to life for your client, in particular. They should be as engaged by your telling of the story as they will be by the final execution.

Too often I see ideas that could be great fall flat in meetings because nobody gave any thought to how to present the idea. Or maybe they didn’t think the idea needed anything more than to be read from a paper. Ideas do not sell themselves. Stories sell ideas. So tell a good story, each time you tell it.