Read this. Many times.

A Note To Student Art Directors by Hal Curtis.

Copywriters, you should read this, too.

Words of Wallace

This is the best author you've never heard of:

His name is Wallace Stegner. He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who's written such books as Angle of Repose, Crossing to Safety, and Big Rock Candy Mountain. He was a professor at Stanford for years and his students include Larry McMurtry (author of Lonesome Dove and co-screenwriter of Brokeback Mountain), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Edward Abbey (The Monkeywrench Gang), and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Ken Kesey once said learning to write under Wallace Stegner was like playing football under Vince Lombardi.

Stegner has a more robust vocabulary and greater command of the English language than anyone I've ever read, with Shakespeare as the one exception. I've stressed over and over than you should only be focusing on the annuals right now. But if you ignore that instruction and decide to read Big Rock Candy Mountain, you'll be forgiven.

But what I want you to remember about Wallace Stegner is this: Time and time again, he instructed his students that they must never think of themselves as writers. They must simply write.

You are not copywriters and art directors. You are not students. You are not fledgling advertising professionals.

Just go and make ads. Lots of them.

Tools (So Far)

Okay. Let's review a few of the ways we've discussed to come up with ideas.

Start by listing 20 product benefits to your product. If you were doing an ad for a new Sprint phone, you could begin with, "Let's me play mp3s...Let's me record my own voice...Looks cool...Has cool games I can play while I'm waiting in line at the DMV..." I'd make a list of at least 20, because, as you can seen, the first few you come up with may not always be the absolute best benefits. Once you've got your list, do 2 or 3 ads for each benefit. See which area is the most fertile. Then do some more ads in those areas.

Take 15 minutes and list as many descriptions of your product as you can. If you're assignment is Legos, you first few descriptions may be simple adjectives like "fun...colorful...blocky...stackable..." Don't think too much about it. Just write and write and write. Keep your hand moving. After several minutes you'll discover that your descriptions become a little more detailed. You might write something like "the antidote to video games...building blocks for my child's mind...infinite own imagination, not someone else's..." Those richer descriptions are going to lead you to some interesting areas. Do ads of them.

Sometimes, you'll have an idea that you love and no one else understands. If you really have heart for it, if you really believe there's something there, it may be you're just not being clear. Take that ad off the wall, and on the back write, "What I mean by this ad is..." Write until you've filled up the entire page. Don't stop to analyze what you're writing. Just write. Then go back and read what you wrote. There's a good chance, if your idea really is valid, you've figured it out within the first few lines. Revise your ad accordingly.

Advertising is about persuading. The best advertising persuades in surprising and interesting and beautiful ways. Start by writing a letter to your mom, or a sibling, or a best friend, or a teacher, or anyone relevant to the product, explaining to them why they should use whatever it is you're advertising. Make it personal. Don't advertise to them. Just talk to them. This helps you realize that you're talking to someone. You're communicating. Not just doing something you think might be cool. Write a 3-4 page letter. Then go back and read what you wrote. There are probably some interesting ideas in there.


If your product were a celebrity, who would it be? Apple was right to choose Jeff Goldblum to do its advertising a few years ago. Lowe's doesn't do good advertising, but Gene Hackman as their voiceover makes perfect sense. Pick someone whose voice you know well. And try to do ads as if you were that person. Use their voice. Their attitude. Their style. (I shouldn't have to tell you I am in no way encouraging you to insert celebrities into your ads. Just the style of their voice. I would say you could write some decent Economist ads using Dennis Miller's voice, and never tell anyone who you're channeling.)

So. You've got 5 ways to begin any assignment you're given. I'll give you many more over the coming weeks. These are not magic formulas. They're not a step-by-step process to writing great ads. They're simply tools to use to keep you from staring at a blank piece of paper thinking, "What would be cool...?"

Remember, art is about putting something down. Not thinking something up. Write. Work. Keep your hand moving. If you get in a groove, never walk away from a hot sketchbook.

The Rule of 100

Sally Hogshead tells the story of writing headlines for a BWM motorcycle campaign.

Check out the 800 she wrote. Some of them might have been lines you or I would have brought in to class and been proud of. But those were the ones she let die.


What? No ladies in the Heroes post? Just eight dudes?

Maybe you noticed. I was hoping someone would point it out.

Here are three extraordinary creatives who just happen to be women. They are Kara Goodrich, Sally Hogshead, and Jureeporn Thaidumrong.

I do think women are underrepresented in advertising. If you’re a woman and want to change this, go ahead. Now’s the time to start.

Creative Skirts is a great blog that strives to highlight women in advertising. (Men are welcome, too.) If you're looking for more heroes, it's almost as good as devouring the annuals. Almost.

Ads and Pots

Eons ago, when humankind first started making containers to store their water, they looked something like this.

They did exactly what they were supposed to do. Very functional. Innovations were made, but they were very functional innovations.

Somewhere along the line, someone decided to make them not only functional but decorative.

Form and function began to co-exist. But some artisans began to forget why they were making water containers. They began to focus more and more on the art.

People may have bought these. But not the people who needed to store water.

If you're going to make ads, they have to work. Yes, your ads can be beautiful. Yes, they can and should be creative. Yes, they can be art. But your ads have to be functional. Advertising has to do its job. Otherwise, it's not really advertising.

When you understand the function, you're free to experiment with the form. And that's when you can come up with something that's beautiful and surprising.


Here are 8 of my heroes. I could have shown you many more. But I chose these guys.

How many do you know? (Extra credit for those of you who can name them all.)

They didn't make names for themselves off a single, successful campaign. They knock it out of the park over and over and over again for multiple and varied clients.

It's important to have heroes in this business. They're the people who inspire us. The people you want to work for. The people you want to emulate.

Turn to the annuals. And start figuring out who your heroes are.

Your Reading List

The One Show Annual

Communication Arts Advertising Annual

"Hey Whipple, Squeeze This" by Luke Sullivan

These are your textbooks. At this stage of your career, don't busy yourself with anything else.

You cannot read the Communication Arts Advertising Annual once through. Same with the One Show. You have to devour them. I would dare say you need to memorize them. To be creators of great advertising, you have to be students of great advertising. And you need to be familiar with not only the ads, but their creators. They're the people who you're going to want to work for.

(I am always floored when I hear students say they want to work for Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, and admit they don't know who Andrew Keller is. I guarantee you, none of those students ever even got an interview.)

It will not be enough to flip through the 2006 and 2005 issues. You have to be as familiar with the work from the 1990's and 1980's as well. Even though they look dated, the thinking is still fresh. Learn from it.

As for Mr. Sullivan's book, buy your own copy. You'll refer to it frequently. Read it twice through before the year is over and you'll be in pretty good shape.

Temporary Reel

My website is currently under construction. In the meantime, you can view my reel and I'll bring my print work to class.

Questions or comments? Feel free to post them. Or e-mail me at

What are you here for?

Welcome to the Chicago Portfolio School.

I've taught several quarters here. Maybe 8 or 9. I forget.

I've seen a lot of students. Some very, very good. Others, completely forgettable. I wonder which you are.

I’ve had former students get jobs at Crispin and Cutwater. I’ve seen them appear on and listed in Adweek’s Ads of the Month. I’ve bumped into them at award shows. A couple of former students do the “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas” work. I’m proud of them. And I stay in touch with them. They left this school with really, really, really good books.

I’ve also had students who give up. They take jobs at direct mail agencies designing junk mail. Or write small copy for sales brochures. Or leave the industry altogether and get into real estate. They wanted to work at Wieden or Goodby. They wanted to win One Show gold pencils and appear in Creativity. But they left this school with books that wouldn’t get them those positions.

The difference? Here it is:

The one’s who succeeded worked harder.

They came to class with 30 great ideas instead of four. They wrote 100 fresh headlines instead of rewording the same one over and over. They tried new layouts instead of falling in love with their first idea. They listened to their professors instead of trying to drum up rationale for an idea that was killed in class.

They listened. And they worked.

Your competition isn’t just in your class. They’re in ad schools in Richmond and Atlanta and Miami and New York and LA and Minneapolis. They’re working hard. Are you? When your portfolio sits alongside theirs on a creative director’s desk, which one’s going to win?

This is the time for your to work. And work hard.

Because if you don’t put in all the effort now, when will you?

So go to work. That’s what you’re here for.