A Little Post-Holiday Inspiration

Amy Markley is a copywriter at Tom, Dick & Harry. She was also one of my first students at the Chicago Portfolio School.

Here’s what I remember about Amy as a student:

  • She worked hard.
  • She asked good questions.
  • She listened.
  • She worked hard some more.

That’s about the closest any of us will ever get to a road map for a successful career.

Amy was in your shoes not too long ago - coming back to school after the holidays, trying to figure out how she was ever going to put her book together, wondering if she'd get a job after graduation.

Now, some ads Amy did with her art director, Candy Freund, are being featured in an upcoming issue of Archive.

I don’t remember all of my former students. But I do remember the hardest working ones. It’s hard not to. They’re the ones doing the best work.

Ender’s Isolation

Wow. Some really good comments on the last article, both posted and emailed to me. Burr points out that “working with others is important.” Labrot points out that isolation is more likely to lead to insanity. Stackingchairs and Miss Clairol point out the duality of the question. Those and more offered some great insights.

Here’s my argument for why isolation is essential for creativity:

In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki talks about the dangers of “groupthink.” That’s what happens when people become too collaborative and reliant on the status quo.

He points out the reason the Bay of Pigs was such a disaster was because the people involved in planning the operation were the same people who were asked to judge whether or not it would work. No differing points of opinion were welcomed. No outside judgments weighed in. Without anyone to test the integrity of the conclusion, disaster was inevitable.

In another example of groupthink, Surowiecki points to an economist at Berekley who has meticulously analyzed NFL games and concluded that coaches go for field goals way too often. He’s statistically proven that teams would benefit from playing on 4th down situations from almost every yard line on the field. But conventional wisdom says to take points when they’re available. (The one exception to this is the currently 14-0 New England Patriots.)

Finally, Surowiecki points out a phenomenon discovered in the Guyana jungle: swarms army ants moving in a huge circle, about 1200 in circumference. This happens when an ant gets lost. When that happens, it follows a simple, genetic rule: follow the ant in front of you.

What does any of this have to do with advertising?

I think the award shows we all aspire to be in are a form of groupthink.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we should all study the annuals. I think as students, you should devour them, because they’re the best way for you to really understand what makes great advertising.

But we need to be careful not to turn into Guyanan ants marching only after what’s been done before us.

In Ender’s Game, isolation was important to Ender’s creativity in strategy because he was forced to think about and question the tactics others were using. He couldn’t rely on the military dogma and inherited procedures that were all around him, because he was constantly being shifted away from them. He stepped back and thought for himself.

Isolation doesn’t mean you have all the answers on your own. It doesn't mean working without a partner, ignoring your creative director, or coming up with your ideas in solitude. But it does mean that when a person (or team) disregards convention, and does not subject themselves to groupthink, they'll usually come up with breakthrough ideas.

(For my current favorite example of this, click here.)

Ender's Game

I just finished Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's a science fiction classic I've been meaning to get to for years, and I'm glad I finally did. Before you expect me to start speaking Klingon or talking about midicholorian counts, let me say I don't read a lot of sci-fi. I like it as a genre. I just usually wait for the movies to be made.

Like all really good sci-fi, Ender's Game deals more with characters and situations than lasers and force fields (although that stuff's pretty cool, too.) In fact, I was surprised to learn the Marine Corps University at Quantico has used Ender's Game as a textbook for leadership psychology.

Hang on, this all relates to advertising.

Without spoiling anything for those of you who might want to pick it up, Ender's Game is about a group of children who are incredibly brilliant tacticians, who are being trained to fight an alien race that's twice invaded Earth. Ender is a 6-year-old who's the most promising of them all, and is therefore specifically groomed to be a battle commander. The adults who are pulling the strings, rigging everything to mold him into the commander they want him to be keep isolating him. Not putting him in solitary confinement. They just transfer him from battle group to battle group to make sure he doesn't get too close to any of his classmates. The reason:

"Isolation is essential to creativity and innovation."

Do you think that's true? Why or why not? I've got my own take on it, but I'd love to hear your first thoughts. (Preferably not in Klingon.)

Regional Differences

A couple of you have asked if there’s a regional difference between agencies:

Stackingchairs asks “What is the difference between the industry in Chicago in contrast to that of NYC, or other towns? How important is location?”

And David asks if one type of brand would work best based on where you want to send your book:

“For instance, do you think that New York (and/or Chicago) is more conservative and Creative Directors (and recruiters) would want brands in students book that are a little on the conservative side (as opposed to SF or LA)? Should I be concerned about what type of brand I have in my book?”

Both very good questions. Here’s my take:

You really can’t generalize. New York has Grey. It also has Toy. LA has Ogilvy. It also has davidandgoliath and G&M Plumbing. In almost every market, you’ll find every kind of agency – conservative, edgy, awards-driven, results-driven, corporate, boutique, etc., etc., And they’re spread out all over this country, this continent, and this planet.

The best thing you can do is create the best book you can. Someone out there will gravitate to it. You can’t anticipate what kind of book an agency is looking for. I’ve seen students with what I thought were pretty underwhelming books land jobs and places like Goodby and Fallon. I’ve seen other professionals who’ve won One Show pencils and Cannes Lions be turned down by places like Butler Shine and Crispin.

When people say “it’s all about the work,” they’re not just saying “creativity is more important than politicking.” They’re also saying, “the work is the only thing you have control over. Push yourself. Make it as good as you can. Be happy with it. And you have a better chance of a like-minded creative director picking it up.”

To Stackingchairs’ question, I think location is really only important in terms of personal preference. You can get a great job with a lot of opportunities pretty much anywhere. If you know what you’re looking for. (See the post on first job criteria for more on that.) Granted, it’s easier to jump from agency to agency in New York than it is in Austin. But that’s a decision you’ve got to make yourself.

Portfolio School Lies to You

Here is the greatest lie you will be told in portfolio school:

If you don’t get a job at one of 4 or 5 elite agencies, you have failed.

Didn’t get an interview at Wieden? You suck, obviously. Goodby sent your book back? F minus for you. You spent all that money, and all those long nights working on a book. And what did you get in return? A subpar career.

And you kind of believe it, don’t you?

It’s hard not to. Certain shops are in the books more often than others. They get more press. More of their spots run during primetime. So if you start to believe the lie, it’s understandable. But that doesn’t make it any less of a lie.

The agencies change from year to year. When I graduated, Crispin wasn’t the shop everyone prayed would hire them. Cliff Freeman was. Twenty years ago, it was probably Ammirati & Puris.

But this lie ignores two truths:

  1. What creative director you work for usually matters more than what agency you work for. (Personally, I’d rather work under Ty Montague at J. Walter Thompson, than do product brochures at Goodby.)

  2. There are great, creatively driven, career-building shops everywhere. Check out Push in Orlando. Firehouse in Dallas. Wexley School for Girls in Seattle. Zig in Chicago. Richter7 in Salt Lake City. Walrus and Toy in New York. The most recent issue of How has a great write-up on Shine in Madison, Wisconsin. If I were looking for a job, it’s one agency I’d definitely check out. And they're not all boutiques. Publicis in Seattle, Hill Holliday in Boston, and Y&R Chicago all do great work. (That last one may seem like a brazen plug, but check out the work.)

What “unknowns” have you guys been digging?

People don't read ads...

“People don’t read ads—they read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.”
-Howard Gossage

This is one of my favorite advertising quotes because it puts what we do into perspective. We're not just competing with other brands in the category, or other ads, we're competing for mind space. If your ad isn't provocative, not just as an ad, but as a thing, nobody's going to care.

There are a couple of assignments I like to give my students to hammer this point home. One is to have them do a t-shirt for their product. I like the t-shirt assignment because it requires two things: 1) it must convey some sort of message or feeling that is consistent with the brand you're building, and 2) it has to be cool enough that someone would actually wear it. It can't just be a product message on fabric.

The other assignment I like is a little more difficult. There's no brand. No required message. The assignment is below. Over the years, I've had some really interesting responses, some really bad ones, and a lot that fall somewhere in between. What would you paint on the bridge?


Several years ago, I was on a photo shoot for an Allstate ad campaign at a lake in Northern California. We were out on a boat, cruising across the lake, and we passed under a really long bridge. As we passed by, I saw, spray-painted on the bridge, in 5-foot tall letters, a message: HEY FUCK YOU MAN

Aside from the complete disregard for punctuation, what struck me was how difficult it must have been for the author to write this message. I mean, this was in the middle of the bridge, high above the water. The person had to climb the bank, then shimmy across a ledge, paint can in pocket, all the way out to the middle. They had to hold on for dear life with one hand as they painted their message. A lot of sweat. And what inspired bit of poetry did they find worthy of such an effort? HEY FUCK YOU MAN.

It had a Zen simplicity to it, but I couldn’t help but think it was a missed opportunity. The effort was there. The placement was there. The concept was just lacking a bit.

So here’s your assignment: You’ve got a can of spray paint. You’ve got a bridge. You’ve got the cajones to climb out there. What are you going to write? Remember: if you fall, you could die. So you’d better think of something good. A hell of a lot better than HEY FUCK YOU MAN.

"The Thrill of an Escape...The Tender Warmth of a Family Reunion."

A while ago I pointed out that imitation happens. Call it coincidence, collective unconscious, bad timing, or plagiarism, there's a lot of work out there that will seem like derivations of derivations.

Troy points us to a New York Times article that shows how extensive this is. Honda and Subway using the same song. AT&T and Riverbed Technology using the same concept. Dell, Sears and WalMart all trying to own the word "wish." At least three times in my career I've produced an idea that launched at the same time a similar idea was introduced.

There's no guarantee that the brilliant idea you just came up with isn't strikingly similar to the one a team in Miami or Atlanta just came up with. That's where your craft comes in.

Look at it this way: E.T. was a hit. Mac and Me was such a flop, most of you won't even remember it.

Both movies were based on the same idea: Alien stranded on earth is befriended by a boy. I don't think Mac and Me was a blatant ripoff of E.T. It's just an easy idea for anyone to have. But it was horribly executed. Bad script. Bad effects. Bad directing. Bad actors. Bad, bad, bad.

The only way you can protect your ideas is to make them as great as possible. And the only way to do that is to keep working at them.

The Writers Strike Explained

This won't help you put your book together. But I thought it was worth posting.

Courtesy of JoshSHill.com.

Think Inside the Box

There is nothing that can give you a better idea of what makes a great ad than great ads, themselves. That's why I continually encourage you to immerse yourselves in the annuals.

That said, with the holidays coming up, I'd like to recommend a little inspiration. Pick up a copy of Ernie Schenck's The Houdini Solution. His basic premise is that thinking "outside the box" doesn't get you anywhere. You have to think inside the box - work creatively within the parameters you're given. That's where the real powerful ideas happen, because that's where they become relevant.

Chapter 10 is a list of 50 different ways to jumpstart your creative thinking. I think you'll all find them useful when you're coming up with your own ideas.

What's Up With Tiny Hands?

I have seen three unrelated pieces featuring men with tiny hands in less than 24 hours.

1. Herringbone

2. Burger King

3. A short film

That great, completely original idea you just came up with? Make sure you give the copy and the art direction the time and effort they deserve. Because some team at another portfolio school might have had that same great, completely original idea yesterday.

"The more I judge shows, the more I realize that people do come up with similar ideas. That's why the presentation of an idea can make such a difference. Because people are thinking in similar ways, it's more and more incumbent on you to execute everything to the finest detail."
-Bruce Bildsten

Pitch Time

I just got through a pretty big pitch. I worked until at least 10pm (usually later) for the past two weeks in a row. I probably would have worked over the weekend, too, but I was on production for another client (so, actually, I was working over the weekend.) The meeting was last Friday, and Saturday I did absolutely nothing, I was that spent.

I mention this because I want to make a couple points:
  1. As students, in my often-flawed opinion, you need to be pulling these kinds of hours fairly regularly. Not every night of every week. But you need to know the feeling so you won't get culture shock in front of your first creative director. If you're not working late into the night out of a passion and determination to have the absolute best book on the market, having a job isn't going to magically give you that desire or capacity.
  2. What is going to help you get through these kinds of weeks is a profound love for your job. You write, art direct, and concept, not because it's your job description, but because you'd be doing it whether you were being paid for it or not.

I posted a photo from the night before the pitch on the Drink In Hand blog. Get used to that scene. You'll become very familiar with it.

Pimp Your Book?

David asks if some brands work better based on the region where you want to send your book:

“For instance, do you think that New York (and/or Chicago) is more conservative and Creative Directors (and recruiters) would want brands in students book that are a little on the conservative side (as opposed to SF or LA)? Should I be concerned about what type of brand I have in my book and get rid of some (aside from the obvious never to work on - condoms, tattoo parlors, etc)?”

It's a valid question. My answer is you shouldn't over-think your book in that way. A great ad is a great ad whether it's for BMW or the local sandwich shop around the corner. And I don't buy that the East Coast is more conservative than the West Coast. New York has Mother and Walrus. California has Grey, JWT and Ogilvy.

I've seen students make different versions of their books for different agencies. In my opinion, that's an incredible waste of time. You can't second guess what a creative director is going to think. (I saw Dan Wieden review student books once, and I was amazed that he was drawn to such conservative work.)

Basically, do the book you want to do. The agency that appreciates it enough to hire you will be the agency that you'll be happiest with.

Awards Show Dilemma

“If you had a moratorium on awards for ten years, if you said there will be no awards for the next ten years, and said that after those ten years there will be awards for the most new and original things that had emerged, then you might find that within those years all the new ways of expressing ourselves will just come out, because there would no longer be any compulsion to impress juries who are steeped in the old, conventional ways.” – Indra Sinha

Indra's got a point here. And it would be a great experiment. If only you could get every creative in the industry to comply.

But consider the position you're in. As students, you don't really have award shows to enter. Sure, you've got CMYK, the One Show college competition, and a few regional things. But your real show is going to be your book. That's your chance to do some incredible work. If a creative director opens it to find a bunch of mimicked ads, it won't make much of an impression.

I also think it's incredibly important for you to study the annuals. Especially early in your career. I think studying the annuals is the best way for you to really understand what makes great advertising.

So here's the dilemma: You need to read the annuals to be familiar with what really great advertising is. You also don't want to simply copy the kind of great advertising that's in the annuals. How do you reconcile the two?

TV? In your book?

TV in a junior book has to be really, really, really, really good. Otherwise the reaction will be, "Why'd you do that?"

Production quality is always going to be low. The picture's always going to be terrible – no matter what kind of camera you're able to get your hands on. There's just no comparing a $100,000 production (that’s a small one) with something you and a couple of friends did. So the idea has to rock.

I've seen a few TV spots in junior books. Only one has left an impression. It was all in the delivery. It just made me laugh. But it was accompanied by a B+ book, so we didn't hire him. Don't start working on a reel until you have an A book. (Not an A- book. The difference is huge.)

I can see TV becoming more and more common, just as a matter of competition. Some portfolio schools have the time and money to let their students dabble in it. But I think most agencies won't start looking for TV from juniors for many more years. Maybe in a decade it will become standard. And even then, if it’s going to be worth anything, it’s going to be about the idea.

What's wrong with this ad?

I posed this question to my students on the first day of class. I’d been thinking about how advertising came about. The history of it, in a nutshell, is that way back when, folks who provided services put signs out in front of their shops to let other folks know what they offered. Cobbler. Miller. Marmot boarding. That sort of thing.

Then towns became more crowded and, before you know it, some other wise guy decides to open a second marmot boarding service. Now you’ve got competition. Businesses started putting signs out further away from their shops, hoping to grab more of the business and, poof, now you’ve got advertising.

But back to corn.

Start with what’s right about this ad. It tells me what. It tells me where. It tells me how much. Arguably, that’s all I need to know, right? I want corn, I know how to get it.

Sure there are all kinds of ways to improve this ad aesthetically. Color. Mouth-watering picture of corn (client suggestion). Some really edgy distressed type. Or you could go all alt-media and tattoo the message on a dead cow by the side of the road and clear some shelf space for your One Show pencil.

Here’s my point: this ad isn’t clever, or funny, or anything. But it does the job. Your task won’t always be as simple as telling me where the corn is, but if you don’t accomplish at least that much with your ad, you’ve failed. It’s surprising how often an ad fails. Ads we put on the wall in class, ads in magazines, even ads in the books.

It’s a basic point, but one we all forget sometimes. We’re in the business of communication. So pack your ads with humor, wit, emotion, kick-ass design and some wordsmithing that’ll knock a creative director out of her chair. But don’t forget your first job. Clear communication.

So what’s wrong with the corn ad? And can you do better?

Meet Jim

Makin' Ads is moving to dual authorship. Now you'll have two points of view that may be entirely wrong.

Jim Bosiljevac is a friend of mine. In fact, he was the first person I met when I went to the VCU AdCenter. He's done some award-winning work for Leo Burnett, and currently works at DDB San Francisco.

Jim's also an instructor at the Miami Ad School, SF. Since he'll be teaching a class this term, I've invited him to post as frequently as he wants. He's a smart guy. I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say. Even though it's probably wrong.

The Death of the 30-Second Commercial (And What It Means for Students)

All the noise about the death of the 30-second commercial is just chatter. For the 30-second commercial to die you have to have more in place than just TiVo. You have to have clients who are willing to shift millions and millions of dollars from a proven and measurable medium to something that is still a little scary. Most companies (not to mention the Blue Chips that spend the most on broadcast production) are incredibly risk-averse. Even if a single huge media spender (say, WalMart or GM) decided they were going to completely eliminate their TV budget and dump all their advertising money into on-line media, that wouldn’t begin to shake the foundations of the TV commercial establishment. 30-second spots are going to be around for a long, long time. And someone’s going to have to make them. Hopefully, you.

When it was first introduced, radio was going to kill newspapers because it offered sound. Then TV came along and was going to kill radio because it offered picture. The internet was going to kill TV because it was selective and interactive and gave the viewer more control. Before we’re dead, we’re going to see something that will supposedly kill the internet. And we’ll likely read about it in the newspaper. Wedged in between a couple of small space print ads that someone will enter into the One Show.

So, in my opinion, traditional media aren’t about to die. But the way we approach ads is changing. Anyone who really studies brands and advertising knows that a brand is nothing more or less than a great story. (I highly recommend Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars. It will help you understand your job a little more.) Sometimes you tell this story in a 30-second spot. Sometimes it’s best told in a string of short :15s. Sometimes it’s better told as a print ad. And sometimes it’s better as a publicity stunt that spreads by word of mouth. If we approach advertising as storytelling, and not as scriptwriting, or layout making, we’ll be in a much better place.

Look at the Gamekillers campaign. Yeah, there are some fun :30 spots that are a part of that story. There are also some fun print pieces, too. The website is my favorite component, but it also became a TV show.

Look at Bernbach’s original Lemon ad. It’s a print piece. But it told more of a story than most campaigns tell. Would it work as well today? Hard to say. Probably not. It was disruptive for its time, and we’ve because calloused to that kind of disruption. But it still told a very human story. So while it might not work as well, I believe it would still definitely work. Clients would measure its success, and drivers would give the client money and the client would give the agency money.

So, as a student, remember that when a creative director is looking at your portfolio, he or she will be wanting to see what truths you’ve come up with. They’ll be wanting to find a human connection. They’ll want to be surprised. A slick layout and a punchy headline won’t be enough. If you’ve got a book full of print campaigns that really resonate with me, and make me think, and surprise me a little, I’ll understand that you get what it means not just to make ads, but to communicate. And I’ll assume you’ll be able to communicate in any media.


Seth Godin is getting glasses. And he makes some interesting and pertinent analogies to typefaces.

(I wonder what typeface these are.)

Every agency* can do a good campaign, but show me your last five campaigns. The challenge is to do it consistently.
– Paul Lavoie, Taxi

* The word "student" may also be used here.

What Portfolio School Didn't Teach Me About Radio

Radio wasn't emphasized when I was a student. Judging from the dearth of radio in student books, I assume nothing's changed. In a way that's fine, because I don't think anyone's going to hire you based on a student radio reel.

2007 was the year online spending surpassed radio. It might be easy to write off its importance as a medium. But as students who will hopefully have jobs within a year, it's something you can't afford to ignore. Because radio may be your first big shot at doing great work.

At most agencies, radio is the unsexy medium. The creative directors and senior teams will snatch up all the great TV opportunities. You'll get your shot at some print. But if you're a writer (and if you're not), there's no better place to shine than radio. You'll have more control over a radio spot than a TV commercial (no directors, no film crews, no teams of clients scrutinizing every frame of a story board). Usually, it's just you, your laptop, some creative direction, a client who approves it as the last item on the agenda of a meeting that's already running long.

Because it's very unlikely that you'll have the time and resources to create great radio as a student (print and ambient media are still the things that will get you a good first job), I don't recommend jumping into a study of radio just yet. But since it will likely be a big part of your career early on, here are a few things I wish I had known as a junior creative:

1. Listen to a lot of NPR. This is a great way to train your ear.
2. Pick up Jim Aitchison's book Cutting Edge Radio. It's the Hey, Whipple for radio writers.
3. Rule of thumb: A :30 spot should have a word count of about 80. You can go to 155 for a :60.
4. If it's not interesting in the first 5 seconds, you've failed.
5. Buy yourself a good stopwatch. Radio needs to be timed to the second.
6. Silly voices are a poor excuse for creative radio.
7. Some of my best radio ideas have come from my art directors.
8. It's still about telling a story.
9. The Radio Mercury Awards are the Cannes, One Show, and CA of radio. Grand prize is $100,000, but it's an honor just to be included on the reel. (SORRY, THE FOLLOWING OFFER HAS EXPIRED.) If you'd like to download several Mercury reels (for educational purposes, of course), feel free. It's the zip file called "RADIOPALOZA." Also included in the downloads is a reel from Pirate Radio in Toronto, a great company that hosts an annual radio workshop. Something you might ask your future employer to send you to.

Portfolio school is not the beginning.

When you look back on a career, the first year isn’t the beginning; the first couple of years are the beginning. Three, four, five years of success are – if a career spans twenty-five or thirty years – the early days.

- Paul Simon (from the book Live From New York)

What Happens at Portfolio School Stays in Vegas

Glen Scott and Tony Marin are a creative team at R&R Partners in Las Vegas. If you watch TV, you've already seen some of there work. Here's their latest spot:

They also have a microsite that goes with it.

I bring Glen and Tony to your attention because they were students at the Chicago Portfolio School just a few years ago. It's really amazing to see people go from students putting their book together to being mentioned in Adweek as the team on a Spot of the Week.

Three things to remember:
  1. Glen and Tony were in a portfolio school, doing what you're doing about four or five years ago.
  2. When they were doing what you're doing, they were working extraordinarily hard.
  3. Be like Glen and Tony.

Indra Sinha and 3 Questions

“What idiot says that because it’s a paid for space, it has to be written in a paid for way, with a potato in the mouth, talking down to ‘you’? You can put absolutely anything you like in that space. You can write journalism. Neil Godfrey and I did a campaign for the Metropolitan Police. One of those was a skinhead spitting at a policeman. It won a lot of awards, but it wouldn’t have, had it been left to one of the people on the jury who is a very famous English art director, well known for being a dumb blonde, who said, this isn’t advertising, this is journalism. To which I say, thank you very much, that’s the best compliment that you could have paid me, it’s far better than that Pencil you gave me.”
Indra Sinha

1. If this ad were yours, would you put it in your book? Why or why not?
2. Do you think this ad would win awards today? Why or why not?
3. Can you explain what "a potato in the mouth" means? Why or why not?

What You Have To Look Forward To

The Hatch Awards is the regional ad show in Boston. The following is was this year's opening video. Painful. True. And what you'll all get to experience someday. Advertising is awesome.

Craft, Part III

"The more I judge shows, the more I realize that people do come up with similar ideas. That's why the presentation of an idea can make such a difference. Because people are thinking in similar ways, it's more and more incumbent on you to execute everything to the finest detail."
-Bruce Bildsten

(As a creative director at Fallon, Bruce Bildsten came up with the idea for for BMW Films. He now runs Brew in Minneapolis. He wrote a really great article for Fast Company you should read.)

The Big 5 For Radio Success

A few of you have asked about radio. While I put together a few words on that, take a look at Doug Zanger's series of essays on "The Big 5 For Radio Success."

Lies and Logos

"It's a lie that you must have a logo in the ad. If you write a letter to someone and the most interesting thing in the letter is your signature, you've wasted your time. You ought to be able to write a letter, not sign it, and everybody ought to know who it comes from because it's written in your tone of voice, your handwriting, and about the things in which you're interested. Most people could write a letter without signing it and the recipient would know who it came from. If nobody knows you, then you need to sign it." - Neil French

Craft, Part II

You cannot afford to have a B+ book. Not if you want to get into the agency of your choice. Not if you expect to be doing work that gets into the One Show. Not if you expect to beat 90% of the books you’ll be competing with.

I see B+ books all the time and they come from some of the best portfolio schools around. (It's rarely the school's fault.) Since B+ is the average, a B+ book should get you a job in an average agency. But since average agencies don’t want to be average, sometimes a B+ book isn’t enough to get you a job there either.

One of the key differences between a B+ book and an A book is in its craft. Don’t confuse that with slickness. With polish or a beautifully photoshopped layout. It’s hard for me to explain what craft is. So I’ll let Jim Aitchison do it:

“Craft really means judgment. Craft can mean subtraction as well as addition. Craft means being appropriate. Craft means knowing when an extra detail can be added, when an extra layer of technique cannot. Craft is the watchdog of clarity.”

How would you define craft?

Craft, Part I

I have a friend who is a teacher in California. She emailed to share the following piece that was presented in a training seminar:

I thought this was pretty interesting information. It made a good point. But it was a little hard to sit through. Text for six minutes? Some people just think PowerPoint is more interesting than it really is.

Now take a look at this video that was featured on the same YouTube page:

It's the same information. Not a lot of variance. But significantly more memorable and engaging.

The art directors will immediately say it's because it's more visual. But that's only partly right.

The second is much, much better because it's been crafted. Someone took the time to make this information aesthetically appealing. Someone realized that as interesting as the original facts are, the presentation could have been more compelling. And they took the time to improve it.

Everyone's striving for the Big Idea. But when your portfolio is sitting alongside another on a creative director's desk, when they both have strong concepts, when they both show that you can think and communicate in fresh, innovative ways, the tie-breaker is going to be in the craft.

Copywriters who believe you can learn Photoshop and art direct your own ads, beware. Art directors, think twice before editing the copy of your writers without consulting them.

Never forget that concept is king. But never underestimate the importance of your craft.

Ideas vs. Tactics

Something to consider when rounding out your book with alternative/ambient/guerilla/environmental media.

How We Work

I was on production in New York last week. My partner and I had one of our mornings off, so we decided to go to a diner and work on a pro bono client we’ve picked up.

We’d been working in this place for a little over an hour when we heard someone at a table a few feet away mention “Bill Bernbach” and “Butler Shine & Stern.” We thought it was kind of funny to realize we weren’t the only ad guys in the place. We wondered which agency they were from.

They were directly behind me, so I didn’t get a good look at them until they got up to leave. When they left, they walked right by our table and I realized who they were:

So after years of success, reels of innovative ads, shelves and shelves of awards, and a term as the president of the One Show, Bob Barrie still goes to coffee shops to come up with ideas with his partners.

I wish I had known it was them before they left. I would have at least wished them the best of luck.

Mike Hughes said it best: “Advertising is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” And Bob Barrie’s still running.

Avoiding Vagaries

I just read your anonymous evaluations on last quarter's class. Thank you. I’m glad so many of you enjoyed it.

Overwhelmingly, the biggest criticism was the occasional (chronic?) vagueness of my direction. More than a few of you dinged me for the all-too-familiar comment, “You’re in a good area. Keep working.” You all deserve better direction than this, so I apologize for the fuzziness. Usually what I mean by this is, “You’ve got a great insight. You’ve really hit on a truth about the product/category/consumer. You just haven’t done enough good ads to fully realize it.” I probably presumed that that was enough direction, and I can see why it wouldn’t be.

Vague direction is something you’ll face in your career. So it’s worth addressing here. What do you do when you hear the following?

“This is interesting. I wonder where it can go.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Seems like it could be a little stronger, though.”

“I’m not really sure about this. Maybe. Why don’t you play with it a bit?”

It’s a bit like playing “What’s in my pocket?” It can be a no-win situation. So how do you deal with this? Here are a few recommendations:
  1. When you’re interviewing for a job, ask the creative director what he or she thinks of some of their past work. Ask them what the agency’s best and weakest work is. Ask them why they think so. A creative director who can articulate those things will probably be able to give you very good direction.

  2. When you’re interviewing, ask the art directors and writers about their creative director. You’ll never hear them say, “He’s a dork. He couldn’t art direct himself out of a paper bag.” But a comment like “He’s amazing,” will be better than, “He’s pretty cool.” (You know all this. It’s just like dating.)

  3. When you’re receiving direction - in class or in a job - ask questions. When I (or any other CD) tells you to keep working, and you’re not sure how, ask. Make it less of a presentation with feedback, and more of a conversation. You may both come up with some pretty cool ideas on the spot.

  4. Keep studying the annuals. Know what makes a great ad. Discuss them with your classmates and co-workers. Be able to articulate it yourself. Knowing what makes a great ad will help you make more of them.
What ideas do you have? How can you avoid receiving vague direction from a creative director? Please post your comments.

Thank you, Makin' Ads readers / Google Analytics

In addition to the posted comments, I've received several emails encouraging me to continue the Makin' Ads blog. I also attached Google Analytics to the page so I could see how many people were actually viewing it. That was a flattering eye-opener, and I'd like to give a special shout-out to the readers in Virginia, New York and Texas. Bless your hearts.

I've really enjoyed the last few months of posts. Sorting some of these thoughts has made me a better creative, and if you're getting something from them, too, we're all better off. Advertising's supposed to be fun. If I can contribute a little to the joyride, I'm honored.

So bookmark the site. Share it with your friends. Email me or post comments, questions or requests. And thanks again for your support and interest. New posts are on their way.


Final Post...?

You've completed our first quarter of the program. Congratulations. Most of you have multiple campaigns and the beginnings of a solid book. Double congratulations on that.

I've really enjoyed teaching this quarter. Again, I will say that there are more talented people in this class than I have ever seen in a single course at the Chicago Portfolio School. There's still a bell curve to this industry, but it looks like more of you are fighting your way to the winning end. Keep that up, because the competition (in Richmond, Miami, Atlanta, and even your own school) is not going to let up.

Please remember to send Troy your comments by this Thursday (9/20) so he can forward them to me. I'd like to know what you think I do well and what I can do better. While I welcome comments on class structure, I'm especially interested in how I can be a better creative director.

I've enjoyed keeping this blog. I'm willing to keep it up, provided there are sufficient numbers interested in it. If you'd like to continue to see posts, please drop me your comments. (Even if you're not in the Chicago Portfolio School.)

Lastly, if you haven't already, please check out my other blog, Archimedes' Tub. The basic premise is every month or so I interview an interesting person who's solved an unusual problem and see how we can apply that to our everyday lives. Bookmark it. Subscribe to it. Post comments on it. Tell you friends and family about it.

All the best. Enjoy the work. And work hard.


You Want to Win Awards...Right?

To be a success in this industry, you have to win awards. You have to win Pencils and Lions. You have to appear in CA and Archive and the One Show and (as a student) in CMYK. It's how you get noticed. It's your press agent.

I know you've all spent the weekend trying to win your Royal Rumble. Someone "won." The rest of you "lost." But you've all created some ads.

With this in mind, consider this quote from the man who's won the Academy Award for best director and best picture:

"The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t."

- Woody Allen


A quote on copy revisions from the life of Thomas Jefferson:

“Congress took up the wording of the Declaration; it made several major changes and excised about one-quarter of the text. During the debate Jefferson sat silently and sullenly, regarding each proposed revision as another defacement. Franklin sat next to him and tried to soothe his obvious pain with the story of a sign painter commissioned by a hatter, who kept requesting more concise language for his sign until nothing was left on the sign but a picture of a hat.”

- from The American Sphinx by Joseph J. Ellis

Words of Ernie, Part III: Juggling

Since you've got your assignment from my class, a handful of campaigns to be fleshed out and comped up, plus your Royal Rumble for this weekend, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. If you honestly, sincerely, whole-heartedly want to get a job in advertising, get used to the feeling. Learn to thrive on it.

Here's another email from Ernie Schenck. When I received this, I was were you are, juggling so many assignments I didn't know which ones to pursue and which to drop. Here's what he had to say:


I think you're absolutely doing the right thing taking on as many projects as you can. There is no question that the more shots you give yourself, the better your chances of some of them making it through into daylight. Great work is really a study in survival. There are so many pitfalls. Agency bureaucracy. Small minded clients. Hundreds. Terrible analogy I suppose but it's a bit like sperm. There's millions of these guys swimming up stream, you know, but only a few have a shot in hell if making it all the way. That's why it's so important that every opportunity you get, you make it great, you make it fantastic.

As for myself, I used to handle 6 maybe 8 clients at a time. That was a long time ago. Now, I prefer to focus on no more than two or three projects at once. But you should absolutely be doing what you're doing. And have a great Thanksgiving yourself.

Ernie Schenck

By the way, if you haven't read Luke Sullivan's "Hey, Whipple! Squeeze This!" you've got a nice little break coming up. Don't let yourself enter the second quarter not having read it.

If you have read it, I'd recommend Ernie's book "The Houdini Solution." I'd pay particular attention to Chapter 10.

What's Your Tipping Point?

I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. It’s always good to recharge your batteries. With that in mind, I’d like you to seriously consider an exchange between Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, and Bill Simmons, a sports writer from ESPN.com. The following was part of a feature called Curious Guy, which is a correspondence with famous people through e-mail. I’ve highlighted the parts that really stood out to me, and I’d like you to weigh them against your current work ethic.

Gladwell when asked by Bill why he writes so well responds:

"As for your (very kind) question about my writing, I'm not sure I can answer that either, except to say that I really love writing, in a totally uncomplicated way. When I was in high school, I ran track and in the beginning I thought of training as a kind of necessary evil on the way to racing. But then, the more I ran, the more I realized that what I loved was running, and it didn't much matter to me whether it came in the training form or the racing form. I feel the same way about writing. I'm happy writing anywhere and under any circumstances and in fact I'm now to the point where I'm suspicious of people who don't love what they do in the same way. I was watching golf, before Christmas, and the announcer said of Phil Mickelson that the tournament was the first time he'd picked up a golf club in five weeks. Assuming that's true, isn't that profoundly weird? How can you be one of the top two or three golfers of your generation and go five weeks without doing the thing you love? Did Mickelson also not have sex with his wife for five weeks? Did he give up chocolate for five weeks? Is this some weird golfer's version of Lent that I'm unaware of? They say that Wayne Gretzky, as a 2-year-old, would cry when the Saturday night hockey game on TV was over, because it seemed to him at that age unbearably sad that something he loved so much had to come to end, and I've always thought that was the simplest explanation for why Gretzky was Gretzky. And surely it's the explanation as well for why Mickelson will never be Tiger Woods."

Bill in response:

"On Mickelson and Sports Lent, I remember watching one of those 20/20-Dateline-type pieces about him once, and he was adamant about remaining a family man, taking breaks from golf and never letting the sport consume him ... and I remember thinking to myself, "Right now Tiger is watching this and thinking, 'I got him. Cross Phil off the list. This guy will never pass me.'" The great ones aren't just great, they enjoy what they're doing -- that's why MJ's first retirement always seemed genuine to me. He had pretty much mastered his craft, and the media was wearing him down, and then his father was murdered, and for the first time in his life, basketball was looming as a chore for him. And he was smart enough to get away and recharge his batteries. I always respected him for that. Well, unless the real reason he "retired" was because of his gambling problems and an ominous "You screwed up, you're gonna walk away for 18 months, and we're gonna pretend this entire discussion never happened" ultimatum from commissioner Stern.

But I think there's a certain amount of professionalism that needs to be there, as well, because there will always be days when you don't feel like doing your job, and those are always the true tests. Halberstam has a great quote about this: "Being a professional is doing your job on the days you don't feel like doing it." I love that quote and mutter it to myself every time I don't feel like writing because my allergies are bothering me, or my back hurts, or my head hurts, or there's some random dog barking, or any of the other excuses I use when I'm procrastinating from pumping out something."

Gladwell again:

"This is actually a question I'm obsessed with: Why don't people work hard when it's in their best interest to do so? Why does Eddy Curry come to camp every year overweight? The (short) answer is that it's really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn't work hard. It's a form of self-protection. I swear that's why Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I'll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience. Most of the psychological research on this is focused on why some kids don't study for tests -- which is a much more serious version of the same problem. If you get drunk the night before an exam instead of studying and you fail, then the problem is that you got drunk. If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you're stupid -- and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence. The point is that it is far more psychologically dangerous and difficult to prepare for a task than not to prepare. People think that Tiger is tougher than Mickelson because he works harder. Wrong: Tiger is tougher than Mickelson and because of that he works harder."

Words of Ernie, Part II: Big vs. Small Agencies

Here's another Ernie Schenck e-mail. This one was in response to my question about big vs. small agencies. It's a question I'm sure you'll face sometime. Do you want to go to a small place under the assumption that you'll get more opportunities? Or will a bigger shop let you do national work sooner? There's no right answer. Either way, it all comes down to the work. Here's how Ernie put it:

Here's the thing. Yes, there are some terrific small shops out there obviously. I'm really heartened to hear you mention Vitro/Robertson. I love those guys. I met Vitro in Maui for the One Show and told him so. There are others like them. Now, on the one hand, if you're really good, those little shops might want to grab you. Especially if you're willing to work for next to nothing and put in the time. They don't have much to pay, you see. Or do they? At your stage, just getting a chance to do some great work and win some awards is payment enough. If it were me, I'd be willing to work for nothing if I knew I could build an awesome book with a hot shop. It's kind of the browser model, you know? I mean, you give it away for free knowing the rewards will come later. Ever heard of Dylan Lee? Dylan got his first job with John Doyle. He later went to Pagano Schenck & Kay and later Mullen where he did all that fantastic Swiss Army stuff [see the CA 1999 Ad Annual]. Now he's at Wieden. Just a huge talent. On the other hand, you can go the big agency route. Not such a bad move depending on the agency. You'll make more money. But you will have to accept a lot of shit work for a time. What you'll need to do is be visible and be great. Get in the line of fire of the CD's. I don't mean politics. That'll kill you. I mean keep your head down and focus on the work. You'll get what you want eventually. Don't whine. Don't bitch and moan. Just do whatever's thrown at you. Look at every job as an opportunity. Turn it into something. I'm telling you, there's opportunity in everything. Will you get noticed faster in a small shop? Yes, of course. Look at Kara Goodrich. Kara spent a lot of time at Leonard Monahan. While she was there, she was more productive than any creative I've ever known. Turned out one incredible ad after another. So, again, if you are really good, you can really accomplish a lot in a little place, but the place has to be wonderful, too. Really, if you've got the talent of a Dylan Lee or a Kara Goodrich, you're going to be a star in ANY agency. If you're not quite that good, well then, you need to give it some thought. Of course, in your case, you're in the former group, correct? Anyway, that's my take.

--Ernie Schenck

A Little Practice

Copywriters, here is an excellent way for you to practice writing headlines on a weekly basis.

It won't get you into CMYK or the One Show. But it is a great way to hone your craft.

Things To Look Forward To...

I was cleaning out some old files when I stumbled upon these. A couple years ago, we shot a few commercials for Sears that required some giant props. They were created by the Stan Winston Studios in LA - the same company that created all the creatures for some pretty cool movies. These self-portraits were taken by me in their boardroom.

I thought I'd share them to show you want a fun business this is if you're willing to stick with it. This kind of stuff doesn't happen in banks and law firms.

The work comes first. And second. And third. And fourth...

Don’t be distracted by anything. The work is what counts. There are a lot of things that can get in your way, that take up your time and your emotional and intellectual energy; none of them account for anything. They mean nothing. The only thing, in the final analysis, at this stage of the game, that really counts, is the work. The work is everything. The years that I spent in advertising I saw an awful lot of people who had the potential to be good lose a lot of their ability to distraction. To politics, to fear, and to who has the bigger office. You’ll get the bigger office, you’ll make the money. Anything you want will happen, but sometimes it’s hard for people to see that when they’re in the middle of it. It looks like it’s incredibly complicated. Well, it’s not complicated at all. In fact, it’s so uncomplicated it’s amazing. All it is about is the work. Finally, if you do the work people will notice and you will get what you want. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.

– Tom McElligott

Things Not To Do: A Recap

Common mistakes from last week's assignment:

1. Mistaking a product benefit for a line of copy.
An ad for Metra cannot have "We get you there on time" as a headline with only a picture of a train and a logo to supplement it. It's like an ad for Nike showing a picture of someone jogging with "Very comfortable shoes" as the headline. Do not expect facts to speak for themselves. It's your job to use facts as a tool to evoke an emotion - to persuade.

2. Repetition of headlines.
If you write a headline, please don't submit five other ads with the same headline slightly reworded.

If you're going to reword a headline, don't submit 5 other versions of it.

Submitting 5 other version of a headline won't make me like it better.

Don't reword a headline five times and submit it as five different ads.

Please refrain from rewriting 5 different headlines, only to repeat them multiple times in your ads.

Same goes for layouts.

3. Not recognizing / exploring a fertile area.
Most of you touched on some very interesting ideas. But then you let them die by not exploring other executions. If you think you've found an interesting voice, a unique perspective, or a big, unexpected idea, you have to chase it. That means doing multiple executions. That means doing a lot of work.

4. Not thinking in campaigns.
Seldom will you have an ad that works better as a one-off than as a campaign. You need to start thinking in 3's and 4's and 5's. You should try to group your ads in terms of campaigns. If an ad isn't working as a campaign, chances are it isn't a big idea to begin with.

5. Working as individuals instead of as teams.
If you're going to work in teams (which you are for this week's assignment) you need to make a united effort. Most of what I saw last week looked like two individuals who just happened to clip their work together. Think together. Communicate with each other. Execute together.

Words of Ernie, Part I: There Are No Uninteresting Products?

When I was a student, the school gave us each a mentor. Because I was very good in a previous life, I got Ernie Schenck. If you're not familiar with him, you're not spending enough time with the annuals.

I still have all the e-mails we traded over the course of a few months. I'd like to share one of them with you. It was given in response to my question about how to approach a product that isn't all that interesting. He'd done some incredibly cool ads for a bottled water company called Akva, and I wanted to know how he approached such a seemingly dull assignment. How many of you would be thrilled if I assigned you a bottled water company this week? Not an energy drink. Not bottled water with vitamin supplements. Just bottled water. Pretty dull, right? Here's Ernie's ad (for a better view click, or just go to the 1993 CA Annual):

So how do you do an ad for an uninteresting product? Ernie says:


Actually, there are no uninteresting products. Only uninteresting ways of doings ads for them. I'm serious. When I was at Leonard Monahan, we had an account that made baby nipples. Baby nipples. Talk about boring. But those ads, at the time, with huge winners because the creative team was able to get beyond their blind spot about boring baby nipples and get into the head of young mothers, who as it turned out, had a huge appetite for learning about stuff like this. What's more, these were long copy ads. But they spent a lot of time talking about babies and how soft their mouths are and how important it is that a nipple be designed to accommodate their mouths, etc. Essentially, a lot of that copy was educational about babies and their oral anatomy as much as it was about the product.

As for Akva, yeah, water is water. But that campaign wasn't really about water, was it? It was really about Iceland. And that, I'm telling you, is a very interesting place. I won't get into it if you've seen the ads. But the point is that when you're confronted with what seems like a parity product, you have to come at it from some wholly different angle. It could be a country, Could be a baby's anatomy. I refer you to John Hancock. Wretched product, insurance and mutual funds. Bottom line-- don't take everything at face value. Not every product is a Porsche or a snowboard or ESPN. You've just got to work harder to drill down beneath the obvious dull stuff.

--Ernie Schenck

To Team or Not to Team

In response to an Open Forum question, let me talk about teams in terms of your job search.

Should you try to get a job as a team or an individual? Frankly, there’s no right answer. And you’ll hear a lot of conflicting advice on this because everyone has a different experience.

Y&R hires both individuals and teams, neither with more frequency than the other. I’ve seen people apply as teams only to have the agency extend an offer to one of them.

Every agency I’ve ever worked for hired me as an individual. My first job hired me because they only needed a single copywriter. I followed my old partner to Y&R, and having worked with her before made me an easy candidate. But they could have easily hired someone else.

But I once missed out on a job I really wanted because the agency decided it was safer to hire a team who’d already proven they can work together than gamble on hiring a writer and art director that had never met.

Every team I’ve ever interviewed has made it clear that they are applying as a team, but are okay if their partner gets an offer and they don’t.

So the only team advice I can really give is this: Never apply as a team because you think it makes you more marketable. Apply as a team because you genuinely like your partner and you get your best work done together.

If you have any questions or issues you’d like to see me address, please put them in the comments section of the Open Forums post.

Open Forum

Is there anything specific you'd like me to address on this blog?

Post your questions in the comments section, and we'll get to it.

5 Criteria

What do you want from a job? This may be a little early in the asking, since you're still in your first quarter, and you're just starting to make ads. Then again, it's never too early to start thinking about your future.

Between now and your graduation, I encourage you to come up with 5 criteria for the perfect job. They may change as you get closer to actually shopping your book around. That's fine. As long as you go into the market with your 5 criteria.

Let me give you some examples:
  • I want a job at an agency that has demonstrated a commitment to great creative work.
  • I want a job at an agency where I can work under a great creative director who will mentor me.
  • I want a job where I will have an opportunity to do television.
  • I want a job on the West Coast / on the East coast / in a cool city.
  • I want a job at an agency that has fewer than 100 employees.
  • I want a job that let's me work on national accounts.
I'm not saying these are all good things, or characteristics of "the perfect job." They're just examples of what you might be looking for.

You need to know what you're looking for in a job because 1) it will help you recognize the right job when you see it, and 2) it will help you work toward that job right now.

After I left school, I took the first job that was offered to me. Not because I was desperate. Or because I was nervous. I took it because it fit my 5 criteria. I didn't see the point in waiting around to see if I'd get any other offers once they were met.

Conversely, I've known people who've gone from interview to interview turning down offer after offer because the place just "didn't feel right." I won't diminish the importance of gut feelings. But I also believe these people were turning down jobs because they didn't know what they were looking for in the first place.

You've got time. But start thinking about your 5 criteria.

And let me leave you with these caveats:

  1. If you're serious about getting a great job, you must write your criteria down.

  2. If you're serious about getting a great job, money cannot - repeat, cannot - be one of them.

Ad of da Month

Ad of da Month is a new forum for viewing interesting work.

Pros: It's free, unlike Creativity.com (formerly Adcritic). And it's judged by industry leaders.

Cons: Some of the work that gets posted can be a year or so old. And not everything on there is worth emulation.

Still, it might give you some good inspiration.

Put this on your calendar.

Actually, there's no date yet. But I'd encourage you to all start putting a little money aside so you can attend the 2008 One Club Student Workshop next May.

As part of the One Show festivities, the One Club holds a student exhibition and workshop each year. While it may have changed over the years, here's what I remember about it:

Students from ad schools all over the country meet in the One Club's small lecture hall and are treated to a series of speakers. My first year, we heard from Mike Shine and Jamie Barrett. My second year, we heard from Bob Barrie and Eric Silver. Not bad people to listen to if you're trying to put your book together.

Following the lectures is a portfolio review. And it's with some of the biggest names in advertising (they've all come to town to pick up their pencils at the One Show). The very first person to review my student book was Mike Shine. Kind of intimidating. And a great thrill when he pointed to a couple campaigns he really liked.

The review lasts from the afternoon into the evening. Both years I attended, I probably showed my book to at least 30 different professionals.

Some people walk away from the review with job offers. I think that's pretty rare. But the real reason to attend is to show your work to some of the biggest names in the industry and hear what they have to say.

My first year, I had one campaign that I loved and one that I thought was pretty okay. At the end of the day (sometime around 9 pm), I'd heard over 30 people tell me the campaign I loved really wasn't that good. And the one I thought was pretty okay was very, very good. I believe you should trust your gut. But I also believe that that many top-tier people can't be far wrong.

The event cost me about $100. Maybe the price has gone up. The bus ticket from Richmond to New York was probably another $100. Except for the really big lady who sat next to me on the bus, who smelled like KFC and whose love handles robbed me of my armrest for the entire 7-hour ride, it was absolutely worth it.

Next May, you'll probably have your book together. Now would be a good time to start investing in its debut.


For those of you who'd asked, I'll reiterate my belief that 1999 and 2000 were exceptional years for the CA Advertising Annual. Both are replete with very good headlines and really tasty layouts.

That's not to say focus solely on these two. But in my opinion they were very good years for advertising.

The Mike Hughes Challenge.

This is Mike Hughes. He's president of the Martin Agency. They do some pretty great advertising. You'd do well to get a job there.

Mike Hughes tells the story of his first job in advertising. For his first assignment, he took out his typewriter (yes, a typewriter), and wrote 1000 headlines in one night.


I guess that's just one of the reasons why he's the president of one of the most awarded agencies in the country today. Fast Company did an article on them last month.

Do you think you could do that? Without the typewriter, I mean.

My friend Jim tried to when we were first semester advertising students. He actually numbered them. I'm not sure if he ever made it to 1000. I don't number my headlines. But if I were to take a guess, I'd say I average 500 per assignment. I could do much better. I don't think I've ever broken 1000.

So do you think you could do the Mike Hughes challenge? Art directors, you can play, too. Just do them in layouts.

We won't be checking this in class. But let me know if you ever reach 1000.

Process > End Result

Dear Class,

There seems to be some confusion as to the nature of this week's assignment.

Your grocery store ads were to be done off the concept Jeff highlighted on those write-ups you did. (They're your concepts. Not Jeff's. All he did was locate the concept you already established, and point it out to you.)

If you did your ads on another concept, I suppose that's fine. But it seems like it would have been busy work. You have your direction on your write-up. Coming up with a new area when you could be coming up with ads is risky. Sure, it could pay off. Yeah, you could discover a much more fertile, viable area. But to completely ignore your initial direction in this class or in an actual job would be folly.

Ultimately, I'm interested in your ability to make ads that will go into your book and get you great jobs. But here's a quote from Tim Delany:

“The strategy comes first. I can’t think of anything until I know the area in which I’m writing. The premise has got to be right. If the issue seems muddled or plain wrong, then I can’t start. So the first thing I do is sort out what I’m going to say, and check on it, and believe in it, and make sure that it’s what everybody wants me to say.”

Lastly, a few of you who've brought this to my attention have mentioned that you've already done your ads in a certain area. Already done? What does that mean? Please remember this:

There is no finish line. You will never be done. When you've completed an assignment, there will be revisions. When you've laid out your ads, there will be revisions. When your student book is put together and mailed out to 30 different agencies, you will still need to be coming up with ads (it's much better to send new work to a prospective employer than just calling up and asking if any positions have opened up since you last sent your book). When you have a job, you will need to keep coming up with ads because clients and creative directors will want revisions. The best creatives still want to make revisions to their work when it's appeared in the One Show.

You do, however, have deadlines. Yours is this Thursday at 6:00pm. And I would encourage you to keep coming up with ideas until that point.

I repeat: There is no finish line. Turkeys are done. Pot roasts are done. You are never done. That's what's so great about being a creative person. Learn to love the process more than the end result and you will be a great success.

See you all tomorrow.

“After an assignment is over, stop and think about it. What happened when you did good ads? What did you do differently than the times when you did bad ads? Then think about how you’ve got to do those things more often than not, like an athlete. If great athletes could only perform that way occasionally, it’d be terrible.”

– Gary Goldsmith

Right now, you are either asleep or having fun.

It's 11:22 p.m.

On a Friday night.

We have a big meeting on Monday we're trying to get ready for. It's a pitch. And I want to win the business.

I'm in my office waiting for my partner to finish comping up an idea so we can talk about it.

Every year, Optimus, a local editing house has an awesome block party.

I've had to work during the Optimus block party for the past 4 years.

Today, made it five.

While my partner and I have been working, we've seen other co-workers come back to the office after hanging out at Lollapalooza.

While I get to have breakfast with them in the morning, I haven't been able to put my kids to bed once this week.

It's not like this all the time.

But sometimes it is.

So I have three rhetorical questions for you:

1. Is this really the career you want to have? (I'm not on a downer. I enjoy my job very much. In fact, I enjoy my job a great deal more than most of my friends enjoy theirs. But it is a question you need to ask yourself.)

2. What is it about advertising that will help you get through times like these?

3. If you're not putting in these kinds of hours now, as a student trying to put his or her book together, how can you possibly expect things to be different when you have a job?

Something for the Weekend

It's a few years old, but this article from David Baldwin is worth reading.

How Nice are the CPS Softball Uniforms?

More words of wisdom from Sally Hogshead. She wrote this for one.a magazine a few years ago.

“The agency with the best softball team does the worst creative.”
By Sally Hogshead

I heard this one in the hallway. It was late, around 11 pm. We were in a pitch against an agency with an exceptionally good softball team.

I’ve learned a lot in agency hallways, bits of wisdom mentioned in passing while eating microwave popcorn. (This is especially true when you’re sharing the popcorn with Luke Sullivan or Jean Robaire.) Here are some of the more memorable words of advice I’ve heard, standing in line for the copier.

When pursuing a job, don’t send a fake foot to “get your foot in the door.”

Secretaries know more about what’s going on than we do.

It doesn’t necessarily matter if people say they don’t like an ad you’re working on. But think carefully if they say they don’t get it.

The wacky creative with noserings rarely does the coolest ads.

Brilliant ideas are fragile. They won’t get produced unless everyone in the agency is dedicated to helping them through.

The small space magazine category in the One Show has the least entries.

There are 5 elements to an ad. Headline, visual, body copy, logo, tagline. The more elements you can get rid of, the better the ad will be.

Warning: everyone’s seen too many fake warning labels.

Which agency you work for usually matters less than which accounts and creative director you work for.

It usually takes a hundred headlines to come up with one great one.

When a prospective employer makes all sorts of promises, remember that your salary agreement is the only promise they can’t flake out on.

That being said, don’t go for the money.

Most creatives can come up with a great idea. But the really successful ones keep coming up with them, over and over, as often as the client kills them.

Shock value only works if it’s tied to the product benefit.

In general, layouts look better when designed on paper first.

Don’t take anything into a presentation you wouldn’t want to produce. If we don’t present bad ads, we won’t do bad ads.

Concepts we’ve all used (proof of our collective unconscious?): Fake classifieds and Help Wanted ads... bugs smacking into windshields... Just Do It parodies... far-fetched comparisons to ancient cultures... fingerprints... long lines of people waiting to use a single public phone... anything to do with condoms or S & M.

Advertising people are the last great folk artists. Everything we do is anonymous, disposable, and useful.

Resist the urge to explain ads while someone’s looking at your portfolio.

A rule of thumb: The most interesting part of a headline goes at the end.

There’s an enormous difference between A- and A+.

It’s usually obvious in the first couple of weeks whether a new job is going to work out. Don’t wait around too long, hoping things will get better.

Donate your copy of Ogilvy on Advertising to Goodwill.

It’s almost always less expensive to give a creative more money than to try and replace him.

Don’t work for someone whose taste you don't respect.

Gangbangs ruin morale.

Agencies do not “turn themselves around.” The kind of work an agency does is an integral part of their culture. A freshly painted lobby, a big motivational speech, a new creative director can only do so much.

Scientific research has proven that good visual thinkers are bad spellers.

Repay the favor that someone once did for you. Meet with a junior.

Okay, we’ve all done it. But if you do an ad for a “freebie” client, it’s better to find something that sounds legit, instead of a veterinary acupuncturist.

Bill Westbrook’s concepting timeline: First, creatives come up with every pun and easy joke and really they have nothing. Second, they realize they have nothing and feel like hacks. Third, epiphany, a good idea.

Great radio spots are engaging within the first five seconds.

Politics happen when employees feel like they can’t let their work speak for itself.

Seek out the hidden emotions or insecurities that most people have, and few admit to.

So few people in this business use common courtesy. It’s always appreciated and remembered.

Smart beats clever.

When an agency is not totally committed to doing killer work, even talented and ambitious creatives have a tough time producing killer work.

Trust your gut, it’s smarter than you are.

Creatives usually come up with better work on the second or third rounds. (Don’t tell clients.)

Finally, we’re not all starting headlines with “finally.” Other headline formats to use with caution:
Think of it as a _(clever noun) .
If _(person or thing)_ had a __(noun)_ , this would be it.
It's like a _(noun) for your (noun) .

While we’re on the subject, fonts to consider packing away along with collarless shirts and Adam Ant CDs:
Caslon Openface
And the other trendy grungy fonts. (Yes, I know this one’s difficult, but it’s time. Let it go.)

Being a good partner is half of being a good creative.

It wasn’t any easier in the good ol’ days.

An agency’s quality of life is usually inversely proportional to the quality of work it does. Unfortunately.

The kid who’s book you crap on could be interviewing you one day. Go easy.

Sooner or later, people end up where they belong.

Send more thank-you notes.

Pick out a last name that people can make fun of.