David Droga on Courage

I’m not interested in building a boutique, but to have the courage to do what I think is right, as opposed to what I think will facilitate a good meeting. And I want to work with people that challenge what we do. I don’t think agencies challenge themselves as much.
-David Droga

Technology and Storytelling

The tools have changed, the storytelling hasn’t. But technology has had a tremendous impact on the storytelling process…If you don’t understand technology and the impact on communications and design and creativity, I really think you’re going to get left on the sidelines going forward.
- Bob Greenberg

Noam Murro on Storytelling

Every time I thought I’m going out to do something great, it turned out to be shit. And vice versa. I think that it starts with these guys (gesturing to the creatives), you know? If on the page it’s good, most likely it’ll be OK when you shoot it. You cannot take a piece of crap and make it great; throw money at it, put a great director on it. It really is as good as the page is. There is so much talk about evolution and I feel like I’m in business at a grocery store actually versus everything else that has been said here. Essentially I don’t really care what it’s going to be played on. At the end of the day it all culminates to this human experience – “Can I relate to whatever has been presented to me or not?” And I think that there’s so much talk about digital – digital schmigital. Amazon came out with the Kindle, right? But it’s still the same Anna Karenina on it. And it’s still pretty damn good.
-Noam Murro

The Year in Review

Here's a pretty cool review of the year's trends and highlights from Contagious Magazine.

Download the pdf.

Impossible is nothing.

I just got word that a former student of mine was just offered a job at a very cool shop in Chicago. He starts January 5th.

It's proof that diligence, patience, and a very good book are still adequate artillery in a troubled economy.

Congrats to Perry. Keep on keepin' on.

David Droga on Compromising

It’s a weird thing, sometime you start out with something that you love, but when it does get compromised along the way, you’re so in love with it you’re blinded to how much it’s been compromised along the way and you just want to see it through. You have to have the courage as an agency to say, we understand your issues and we’ll take this off the table and come back with something new.
-David Droga

Why I Am Strong

As has been written before, it’s a lie that the client is the enemy. Most clients are smart, thoughtful, and want great work because they want their brand to be great.

That said, as a holiday treat, here are a few of my favorite client quotes I’ve collected over the years.

  • I would not aim for solving the problems we have to solve.
  • It’s one thing to show a towel. It’s another thing to celebrate its essence.
  • I don’t want to use the word “improved” because it will make our new product look better than our old product.
  • We don’t have time to tell stories.
  • I hate it. I think it’s crap.
  • Oh, I wish I had the guts to run that.
  • You know I’m not a lesbian, don’t you?

Bob Greenberg on getting a job

You have to be relentless, that’s the only way you’ll get in. And once you’re in you have to learn as much as you can and either grow with that organization or take what you have and move to another. Get experience, one way or another.

-Bob Greenberg

Great Article You Should Read

If you have any doubt as to how our industry is changing in good and exciting ways (or even if you don't have any doubt), you should read this article on CP+B.

Gerry Graf on getting a job

After getting a portfolio, it took about two years before I got a job. I went back and looked at that portfolio and it was horrible. If I brought me that book I’d kick me out of my office. The only reason I got a job was because I didn’t stop. I called everybody, I didn’t care if I annoyed them. You won’t get a job if you stop trying to get a job. You will get a job if you don’t stop trying.
-Gerry Graf

I Wish I'd Known

"Basically, the biggest problem I struggled with was the loss of control. In ad school, you choose the idea you work on. You write it, you design it. You make it work. In an agency, you have none of this control. Even if it's your idea, and you were concepting on it from the beginning. The idea's on a path, and no matter how hard you struggle or push, the idea will go where it's going. So just relax and have faith in the people above you."
-copywriter, San Francisco

What is this?

Portfolio School Lies to You, Part 5

When I was in portfolio school, one thing was drilled into me over and over and over:

It's all about the big idea.

Okay, it's not a lie. But it is only a half-truth. Because having brilliant ideas does not mean the client is going to buy them. As Seth Godin pointed out in a recent post, "Selling ideas is a fundamentally different business than having ideas."

He also writes, "The quality of ideas is not a factor in whether or not you will be in a position to have a chance to sell those ideas."

In other words, you can have a Titanium Lion-quality idea get killed in a client meeting because you thought you'd wing your presentation. Or because your account team, creative director or president doesn't recognize it as a Titanium Lion-quality idea.

You need to be concerned with having big ideas. But it's not all about the big idea. You have to have the skills, the team, and the perseverance to sell them.

Make sure you're at an agency that will champion big ideas. If the client needs to be challenged, make sure you're at an agency that will do so diplomatically, but thoroughly. And make sure you either develop the presentation skills you need to sell your work, or have someone you completely trust to do so for you.

Happy Holidays

My agency holiday party is tomorrow. In that spirit...

I Wish I'd Known

"I guess I would have liked for someone to tell me to take up a hobby after I graduate. Putting a book together for 10 hours a day, seven days a week, 90 days in a row is the easy part. You're brain is occupied. It's when you have nothing to do but wait on replies from emails and phone calls that is the hard part. An hour goes by infinitely slower for the unemployed compared to those with jobs. Be patient. Get used to it. Take up knitting. Or chess."
-copywriter, San Francisco

What is this?

Photoshoots Worth Your While

Typically, writers won’t go on a photoshoot. Not that they can’t. Sometimes the client won’t pay for the whole team to be there. Sometimes the copywriter uses “not my area of expertise” as an excuse for getting out of a full day of shooting packaged goods against green screen. But if it’s a really great photoshoot, wouldn’t you want to be there for it no matter what title’s on your business card?

So for the next assignment you’re given, ask yourself this question:

"Would I want to go on this photoshoot?"

If the answer is no, maybe you need a better ad.

Flipping through the 2000 CA Annual, I found a few photoshoots I would have loved to have been on:

CMYK Contest

Enter CMYK's Best of the Web Contest. Entry fee is $25. Categories include web sites, ecomerce sites, banners, blogs and integrated campaigns.

Long Copy Class Assignment #6: Take It Apart, Put It Back Together

I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the sixth in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignments. Let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.

When I was in college, I worked summers in the IT department at Cincinnati Bell, mostly updating software and killing viruses. In my spare time, I dismantled and rebuilt computers at my desk (this was back when computers were simpler and their parts bigger). I didn't know that much about computers when I started, but that process of opening them up and seeing how all the parts fit together helped me understand how everything worked. Anyone who has ever taken apart an engine or alarm clock, or dissected a frog can probably relate.

When I write copy, I go through a similar process. I pull phrases apart. I dismantle sentences, writing one sentence five or six different ways, trying different ways of stringing thoughts together. I go off on tangents, and explore random thoughts and connections. There's always a point where I have the equivalent of a garage floor covered with engine parts. For one paragraph of copy, I might have 3 pages of random sentences, non-sequiturs and half thoughts. Then I can start going through and fitting together the best versions, most elegant transitions and essential ideas, discarding the other junk. To me, this is the best way to learn not just how to write copy, but how copy works.

For this assignment, you will need a partner copywriter. Swap pieces of long copy (at least a paragraph). Take your partner's copy, pull it apart, rewrite it, and then put it back together. It probably won't look the same (maybe not at all). You may have a few leftover screws. You probably tweaked some transitions, reordered some thoughts, or maybe strengthened some of the language and cut some of the fat. Now swap back and compare. Take note of the decisions your partner made. Do you agree with any of them?

If a brave soul would like to post a piece of copy here, we can try this experiment and all rewrite it different ways.

How to Get a Job Overseas

If you're interested in getting work overseas, my friend Claire Chen-Carter has some very good advice on my other blog, here. (Forgive the cross-pollination.)

It's not an easy route, especially as a student coming out of portfolio school. But Claire did it. And ended up winning a gold Lion at Cannes for her Ikea spot while she was in Singapore.

How to Read an Awards Annual

You've probably already gone through the CA Advertising Annual and preordered your copy of the One Show. (If not, why haven't you?)

It's easy enough to go through these books page by page, thinking "Cool...Cool...How'd that get in?...Cool...I had that idea..."

But if you're serious about understanding what makes an award-winning ad, you can't just flip through the annuals. You have to study them. Yes, study.

One of the best techniques I know came from my old copywriting professor, Coz Cotzias. Here's what you do...
  1. Sit down with an annual and a pack of Post-It notes.
  2. Go through the book flagging every ad you totally dig as a creative.
  3. Put the book down. Go see a movie. Read a book. Whatever. Just step away.
  4. Come back to the book, but this time, viewing only the executions you tagged as a creative, look at them as a consumer. Tag the ones you dig as someone who might actually buy whatever it is that's being advertised.

These are the ads you want to aspire to. Why? Because they're not just clever. They're smart. They're effective. They're the ones that are rooted in a strategy. The ones that are really solving the client's problem creatively.

For extra credit, go through all of these ads and see if you can figure out what the strategy was and who specifically they were trying to talk to. This isn't to turn you into planners. It's to make you better creatives.

I'll leave you with this quote from Gary Goldsmith...

We all pay less attention to the process than we should. If doctors and scientists operated in the same manner that we do, it’d be a scary world. What they do is creative, too, in its own way. They’ve devoted a lot of thought to the way in which they arrive at a diagnosis, and the way in which they treat it. But with us, it’s almost like we have this thing in our head, we don’t need to do that, we should just sit down and come up with ideas.

Long Copy Class Assignment #5: Listen To Your Copy

I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the fifth in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignments. Let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.

You know how your copy is supposed to sound. You wrote it. But is that really how it sounds? To a certain degree, any piece of copy will be influenced by the reader. They'll hear a particular voice, and read it a certain way. But there are also things you can do to give your copy the sense of urgency, or the right emphasis, or the right tone, no matter who reads it.

For this assignment, give your copy to someone else. Don't tell them how it's supposed to sound, or what their motivation is. Just have them take a look at it, then read it aloud to you. Listen to where they pause, what they emphasize and what tone they assume as they read. Do they read it like you want them to? Why or why not? Is there something you can change to get them closer to how you want them to read it?

I Wish I'd Known

For the first couple years after I graduated from ad school and had been working, whenever my classmates and I would get together, the conversation would eventually turn to how disillusioned we were with the advertising industry. "God, if only someone had told us there'd be clients!" "Why did they make us think we'd be able to do anything we put our mind to?" "What? There are budgets?" "You want your logo on this? That's not cool."

It was a pretty common theme--we weren't in ad school anymore. But hey, we were getting paid. We were (some of us) getting sleep. And as we talked, we began to realize it was the same pretty much everywhere. Clients, politics, the FCC. Meetings, real briefs, real budgets.

A couple weeks ago, I sent an email out to my former student email list--a few years' worth of students who have since graduated ad school. I asked them to answer one simple question: "WHAT DO YOU WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD YOU IN AD SCHOOL?"

I plan to do a series of posts with these anonymous bits of wisdom, passed down from those who have learned. And so, to kick it off:

"Think hard about your own definition of Success and make sure it really fits you. Is it winning pencils? Working from your laptop on a Thai beach? Using your skills to empower others? Armani suits? Whatever it is, fine. Just make sure you know what you are working towards."

Suggested Reading: Business Stuff

Along with my regular diet of reading, I try to throw in some occasional work-related books. Sometimes my definition of "work-related" can be pretty broad. The pop idea books, like The Tipping Point, Freakonomics, and The Wisdom of Crowds can all be really interesting, and the ideas can be applied to what we do. Then there are the specifically advertising/marketing books, like Brand Hijack and Take a Stand For Your Brand (and, of course, the instructional books like Hey Whipple).

But every once in awhile I like to wander into the business section of the bookstore and see what the brand managers and CEOs and MBAs and all the other acronyms are reading. It's not always fun reading, but it's a good way to get a better understanding of how companies (including agencies) work. Last week, I read Good to Great, a study of companies that made dramatic transitions from goodness to greatnes.

My point is not to recommend this book specifically, though it is good. What I'm suggesting is that you every once in awhile read something about business, or management, or brand strategy. Because advertising is first and formost a business. And although your primary focus should be your portfolio, knowing about the business side (and understanding how your client thinks) can't hurt. And if you ever aspire to management or even running an agency, you'll have to know how to be a smart leader.

Pandora's Pink Slip

Erik Proulx has a very interesting blog called Please Feed the Animals, chronicling his post-lay-off life in the ad world.

I think when Pandora opened her box, I think some of the specifics that escaped were lay-offs, bad economies, budget cuts and hiring freezes.

Move forward. Concentrate on the portfolio that you can control and not on the craziness all around you that you can't. It's important to remember that hope and things like Please Feed the Animals are still in that box.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Troy and Tracey

Here's a shoutout to Troy Burrows and Tracey Yuen, two former students of mine. Their campaign for the Chicago Blackhawks is featured in CMYK.

Congratulations to both of them.

An Argument for Manifestos

Just a follow-up to Jim’s assignment.

You could argue that writing manifestos is a waste of effort. They can be time consuming, and there’s no manifestos category at Cannes or the One Show. Much better to just sit down and start coming up with ideas, right?

Maybe. But here’s my argument for writing manifestos.

It used to take me a long time to write one. Then I realized that a manifesto doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to do three things…

  1. Crystalize the direction (not just for you, but for everyone else involved in the project).
  2. Get the client excited.
  3. Serve as a springboard for future ideas.

Manifestos are a great way to open a presentation. It’s far more exciting to open a meeting with a battle cry than to say, “Okay, let’s look at some work.” Once, I even read a manifesto with some accompanying music.

I’ve had the account team internally and clients during a presentation applaud a manifesto. I promise you, you’re going to have a much easier time selling the real work if you can get people applauding BEFORE you even show it to them.

Lastly, if you’re a writer, you need to be able to write. That means you need to have a sense of language. It means you have to be able to simultaneously clarify and dramatize an idea. Headlines are a great way to do this. But a manifesto is an even broader canvas.

One caveat about manifestos: Clients tend to love them because they can say everything and nothing at the same time. The more specific you can be in your manifesto, the better chance you have of selling the work that you came to show. Don’t hesitate to go back and retrofit your manifesto to sell the work.

Long Copy Class Assignment #4: The Manifesto

I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the fourth in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignments. Let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.

Awhile back, I posted about the Manifesto. This assignment is to write one. It's a great way to establish a voice. And it's surprising how many ad ideas you come up with when you're fired up about your brand. When you read your manifesto, read it out loud. And stand up while you read, preferably using a megaphone in a city square.

Be Uncomfortable

I'm reading Seth Godin's Tribes. He's got a lot of good things to say about leadership, which relates to anyone putting their book together. Why? Two reasons:
  1. No matter what product we're working on, we're trying to create a leader. Don't confuse that with trying to create a behemoth megabrand like Coke and Microsoft. Small niche brands also need to lead to be successful. On a brief, the Who are we trying to communicate with? section may as well read Who are we trying to lead?
  2. Not to get all Tony Robbins on you, but you need to see yourself as a leader, too. Whether it's because you're an aspiring ACD with longterm CCO goals, or you're simply trying to win a client's trust and respect, to be successful, you need to lead.
So with that in mind, let me share something Seth wrote (page 55) that's really stuck with me:

"If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader."

When you're given your next assignment, what are you going to do to make yourself uncomfortable?

(Disclaimer: If you're still fresh and putting your book together, there are more important books to be reading than Tribes. As much as I'm a fan of Seth, don't even think of picking up one of his books if you haven't read Hey, Whipple a couple times through a spend every spare moment flipping through the annuals. Once you've done that, if you really want to read something by Seth Godin, I recommend The Dip for these reasons.)


I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the third in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignments. Let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.

If you were writing novels, you could get away with developing one strong voice—your voice. But, as it is, you’re going to be writers of advertising, meaning that you’ll have to write in many voices. You might have an assignment to write an ad for gym shoes one day, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes the next and tampons the next. The voice for those brands is probably not the same voice.

There are two parts to this first assignment. The first is to pull three pieces of writing that you love. It doesn’t matter what they are—articles from The Onion, Poe, poetry, Public Enemy lyrics, whatever makes you wish you’d written it. Three pieces that have fairly different tones and styles. Read them carefully and pay attention to what distinguishes the voice in what you’ve picked. Look how the author constructs his sentences. Pay attention to the complexity of the language. The pacing. Does he or she write with long, meandering sentences or short succinct ones? Is it a mix? If so, what is the rhythm? What sort of descriptors does the author use? Adjectives? Metaphors? Why do you like it?

What writers turn you on? Expose us to something new.

For the second part, in class I hand out a classic David Ogilvy ad. Your assignmet is to re-write the copy three times in the voices of the three writing samples you’ve pulled. If you pulled a Richard Brautigan story, rewrite the ad as if Richard Brautigan were writing it. Rather than using an old David Ogilvy ad, use something you've written. Write three versions of it, in your three styles.

Advice: From Leslie Buker

Answering the question "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your job-seeking student self?" is Leslie Buker, an art director at Publicis in the West and is the author of Bukes.

Love it, because there will always be a reason to hate it.

That's what I'd tell myself of yesteryear. Back in ad school, the industry looked like a far-off golden land. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. All I had to do was get there. But once arriving, I quickly realized the gold did not shine so brightly. Some days, clients are impossible. Other days, CDs are impossible. And most days, producing good work is impossible. This can leave the new arrival feeling slightly disillusioned.

But even in a slightly tarnished golden land, everything is still golden. Sometimes, you just have to look for the shiny parts. At an agency, you're surrounded by decades of knowledge and people waiting to share it with you. Chances are, you also have a few new tricks up your sleeves to share in return. And even in doomed projects, there are small triumphs to be collected on the way - maybe they don't like your headline, but the subhead sticks. Or they hate your layout, but couldn't be more delighted with your choice of colors. These moments are the gems that make it worth it. Remember to focus on these each day as you make your move into the industry, and it will start to look like the golden land you thought it'd be.

Advice: From Brian Thibodeau

Answering the question "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your job-seeking student self?" is Brian Thibodeau, an art director at the Martin Agency and author of stackingchairs.

First thing I will say is, take the time to teach your self. We expect institutions to give us far too much. The more you learn now while in school, the further ahead you will be.

Working in the interactive space seems to be one of those things that a lot of the old school guys talk about, but still struggle to lead you on. Don't get me wrong - there is nothing better than learning from the "old-school guys" just so long as you also stay up to date on what is happening in the industry. The better you understand the "old-school" the better your work will be in all instances.

The Brandcenter was great about encouraging work in the digital space. They have taken it so far as to include a new digital track. Even so, students should be proactive. It will be up to you in most instances to seek out good interactive work as well as good interactive advice. There is no substitute for hard work. My belief is the better you are at integrating your concept across all channels the better. A banner ad should never be an after thought. All brands should be participating in deep interactive experiences.

Even some agencies struggle with how to incorporate the digital space. This is good and bad. Good, because it allows you to differentiate yourself, and bad because when you graduate you still want to keep learning and feel mentored to a certain degree. So, choose an agency where you can grow.

The beautiful thing about the digital space is that it incorporates all. You can create video, or animation, or engage in great design. There is an endless array of how to engage the consumer. My first year at the brand center, Brian Collins said to me, "If you don't understand interactive, learn it." And I've been continually learning ever since.

The other thing I would say is to find the art. Michael Angelo, when referring to sculpting, would speak of releasing the image from the stone, rather than creating it. Try to approach your work the same way. What can you release from the brand that will inform your work? I often think of brands as wonderful patrons with deep pockets. Brands can offer great opportunities to create art for mass consumption.

Advice: From Daniel Case

I've asked three junior creatives I respect to answer the question "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your job-seeking student self?" Each one is at a great agency. Each one is very talented. And each one was putting their book together and looking for a job just a few months ago.

This first piece comes from Daniel Case, an art director at Y&R Chicago, and author of Monkeyama.

Making the transition from student to professional is tough. I’m still trying to figure it out. But there are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Stay humble.
There are so many beautiful, gracious people out there to meet and learn from. When you’re humble and your approach is open, it’s easier to find these people. When you’re egocentric, people will probably avoid you at all costs.

Be curious.
Once you get that job, it’s easy to act like you know everything. The difficult thing is to ask questions and admit that you’re new to this. It will be extremely awkward at first, but I find that most people are more than happy to show you how things work and give you tips on how you can be the best at what you do.

When my first print was about to go out the door, a rep from the studio came by with a proof (think of it as a $500 printout with a clear plastic sheet protecting it.) The producer, the head of studio, and the rep were all there at the table when the rep handed me a black sharpie to mark anything that needed to be cleaned up. I quickly grabbed the marker, flipped over the plastic protector and went all Madden on the original proof. The rep kindly took the marker back and made a few “proper” marks of his own – on the clear protector sheet, not the original…like you’re suppose to.

If I’d only asked a few questions first, I might have avoided looking like a turd.

Don’t forget to feed your soul.
This is one I’ve always tried to live by, but once I started working I got so busy that I almost forgot about it. As a result, negativity and unhappiness started to creep in - and negativity is the kryptonite of creativity.

So figure out what kind of things make you tick as a human being and do those things as often as possible. Find out what makes your soul come alive.

For me, it means getting a dose of nature maybe through a hike or a weekend away with my wife. Maybe for you it’s cooking, or drawing, or writing. If all you do is work, you’ll never tap into those things that keep you in tune.

Be yourself.
It sounds like an easy one, but might actually be the most difficult. You want to find an agency that appreciates you for who you are. It will make your job much more enjoyable.

Making Mistakes on Purpose

Laurie Rosenwald had a great article in the CA Interactive Annual called “How to Make Mistakes on Purpose.”

She writes, “I don’t focus on a problem to solve it. I do something careless, pointless, opposite, random. Something that has nothing to do with what you’re doing or wanting.”

Because “if I’m not surprising myself…I’m boring you” she says she doesn’t “want to just accept my mistakes. I want to make mistakes on purpose.”

It’s a great article. Pick up an issue and check it out.

Art directors vs. ad directors

A great visual and a great reminder. As Hal Curtis reminds us, we need to be art directors, not ad directors.

To view the behind-the-scenes process of this piece, click here.


I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. This is the second in a series of exercises intended for that class. I invite blog readers to share their assignment, or let me know if you found this assignment helpful or interesting.

Awhile back, Greg turned me onto a podcast called The Moth. In a nutshell, it's folks in NYC getting up on a stage and telling stories. They have no notes. They just tell them, as if they were sitting around with friends in a bar. Some are hilarious, some poignant, some terribly sad. But the thing that strikes me whenever I listen to these podcasts, is the amazing power of story to pull you in.

Whatever brand you work on, whatever medium you're working in, the two greatest ways to engage people's minds are to teach them something or tell them a story. Listen to a few of these Moth podcasts. Then get up and tell your own. Record it if you can, so you can listen to it later. It can be embarrassing to hear your own voice. Even when I'm alone, I feel uncomfortable listening to my own recorded voice. But listen anyway. There will be many times in presentations when you'll have to tell a story. Get used to it. Listen to what about your story-telling works. Do you have any quirks? Any nervous words that you throw in ("Um..." "Actually..." "Like")? Work on it. Telling a story isn't easy. Doing it in front of a client isn't any easier.

Call to Action

This is going to sound heretical, but bear with me:

When you lay out a campaign, ask yourself where you could put the web address and an 800 number.

I'm amazed at the number of student ads I see that fail to include a call to action. This isn't about making the logo bigger, or junking up the work. It's about doing the right thing.

Sometimes web addresses and 800 numbers make more sense than others. If you do an ad for a car or a brand name soda, probably not. But for a small product or service most people haven't heard of it makes sense. There are no rules. Just use your judgement.

A web address or an 800 number, tastefully added shows that you can turn commerce into art.

It shows that you know the purpose of the ad is to get people to act.

And it will make a student ad look and feel more like a professional one.

True to the Brand

This was the home page of The New York Times two weeks ago, October 22...

Here's a close-up of the featured article...

Whether you're grieving or celebrating McCain's loss today, there's something to learn from this:

When you're communicating, consistency counts.

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to the Hedgehog and the Fox. The fox knows many things. The hedgehog knows one thing.

When the fox attacks, the hedgehog curls up into a ball with its quills protecting him. So the fox tries a different approach. But the hedgehog just curls up again. The fox tries a third time. Again the hedgehog curls up. Boring. But effective. The fox is always moving. But never successful.

When things aren't going well, it's tempting to take the fox approach. We're seeing this now with Microsoft trying to be cool and hip in their advertising. Microsoft can be hugely successful without being cool and hip. But it's not in their DNA to do both. It's like what would happen if Patagonia tried to go mainstream. It's why Paris Hilton looks even worse when she tries to act smart.

What does this mean for you when you're putting your book together?

You probably get multiple assignments each week. For each product or service, your first job needs to be to find the DNA of the brand. You have to understand who they are, and what they stand for, and where they are (or should be) going. You  can't be schizophrenic with the brand. 

Understand your brand's DNA and stick with it. That's not to say "do the same thing that's always been done." That's not to say you can't take a brand in new directions. But they have to be inline with what the brand stands for.

Who Do You Work For?

I imagine most of you already read Seth Godin’s blog. In case you don’t here’s a very good post about what you should be looking for in a job.

To apply this to art directors and copywriters, it’s a truth worth repeating that what agency you work for usually matters much less than what creative director your work for. Which is why you need to pay attention to the credits on Creativity, and the annuals.

When you’re interviewing, to get a vibe of what your bosses will be like, I recommend asking the creative department the following questions:
  • What’s it like working for [CD’s name]?
  • Do they make themselves available?
  • What would be the biggest difference if that CD left?
  • What are your clients like? Do they really hunger for great work?
  • What’s the best part about working at this agency?
If the answers to the last question are along the lines of “This is a really cool city,” or “They usually bring in free breakfasts on Friday” run in the opposite direction. Very fast.


I'm teaching a long copy class this quarter. Students will be workshopping ads for future book pieces (hopefully). In addition, I'm giving a series of exercises to help students get in the long copy mindset. I thought I'd post them here. I invite readers of the blog to participate and post whatever they come up with.

ASSIGNMENT #1: The Six-Word Memoir
Long copy does not mean that you can just write until your pen runs out of ink. Any good prose is succinct. Don’t say in eight words what can be better said in three. When writing long copy, you should focus as much on the word choice as when space is limited (like on a billboard). In that spirit, write something short. Six words, to be precise.

The Legend
Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The Project
A few years ago, SMITH Magazine re-ignited the challenge by asking readers for their own six-word memoirs. Write one for yourself. Focus on word choice. Spend some time and revise it. And consider that telling a very focused, specific story is usually more powerful than trying to encapsulate an entire life in one broad stroke.

Be Good to People

Yesterday, a friend of mine showed me an email that had been forwarded to him by a rep. It had originated with a producer at a major New York agency. That producer had the gall and poor judgment to send out to all the director reps he knew an email that was incredibly insulting and disrespectful. So insulting and disrespectful, that it was forwarded to half the industry, including the producer's boss. The producer has since been fired, and as his email is still circulating, may have trouble finding a job anytime soon.

Advertising is an industry full of big egos. It can be highly political, highly stressful and very competitive. These forces can sometimes turn people into real jerks. But remember this: advertising is a very small industry. The reputation you make for yourself may not be easily shed. And while there are the jerks, advertising also has a lot of very kind, decent people in it. Given the choice between hiring a talented nice person and a talented jerk, I know who I'd go for.

Milhaly Csikszentmihaly on Flow.

Invest 18 minutes to watch this. Then, here are a few questions worth asking...

How can you create greater flow when you're working on your book?

When you have a tough brief, or a tough product, how can you turn the apathy or anxiety into flow?

How can you have greater control over the work you do?

How to Handle A Financial Meltdown When You're Trying To Get A Job

! ! ! DOWNER ALERT ! ! !

This message contains downers. But it's not a downer message...

My agency's holding company recently announced a worldwide hiring freeze. I believe it's in effect at least until February.

As part of that freeze, all job offers that were extended, but not accepted had to be rescinded. (i.e., if, say, Y&R, Ogilvy, or JWT offered you a job a couple weeks ago, it wasn't in your best interest to ask for a day to think about it).

A former student of mine recently told me he'd received two offers from very good shops which had been rescinded because of cutbacks. (Neither shop was a part of my agency's holding company. One is an international juggernaut. The other is a small boutique. Kind of shows you the scope things.)


I left portfolio school just before the Dot Com crash. It was harder for the students the year behind me to get a job than it was for me. But they still got jobs. Some of them at hotter, higher-profile agencies.

If you really love advertising, it will show. If you have a thirst for creativity, it will shine through. If you know your destiny is to have amazingly cool ideas and put them on paper, TV, the web, and into the stratosphere, you'll stand out.

If anything, tough times weed out the people who weren't really interested in working in advertising anyway.

You can't control the economy.

You can't control the upcoming election.

You can't even get the CD's receptionist to return any of your emails.

But you can control how hard you work, and how much fun you have.

Stay focused on those two things, and you'll end up where you're supposed to be.

Strategy as a Starting Point

The summer between my first and second years of portfolio school, I interned at GSD&M. (I don’t think GSD&M has hosted interns from my school since. Make of that what you will.)

We knew the agency was involved in a high-profile pitch, so we asked if we could help out. We were given the same brief as the other four or five teams, and went to work.

At the initial internal presentation, we went first. (Whether we were over eager or being picked on, I don’t recall.) About halfway through our stack of paper the group creative director asked us to stop. He’d seen enough. We were a little off strategy.

That was more than a little crushing. But the real insult was when he went next and presented an ad that was simply the strategy statement as a headline with a relevant photo. Not everyone oohed and aahed. But a few did.

We brought in a ream of envelope-pushing ideas, and you just art direct the brief?! Geez, I’ll be a GCD if that’s all you have to do.

I learned two things from this experience:
  1. Anything art directed is going to have more impact than something drawn with a Sharpie. In group presentations, quality is going to beat quantity. (That said, don’t waste your time laying out concepts when you should be thinking.)
  2. The strategy as a headline is actually a great place to start. And in retrospect, I think that was what the GCD was trying to do. It keeps you from veering off course. And when you're able to root the execution in strategic thinking, it becomes substantially more sellable internally, to the client, and to the public. (That said, don't use the strategy statement as a headline as anything but a jumping off point.)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Here is a brief excerpt from an interview with Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman.

It has nothing and everything to do with advertising...

Marcel Wanders Flunks Out

The October issue of Fast Company featured a profile on designer, Marcel Wanders, founder of Moooi. Pretty fascinating guy.

When he was 17 he was admitted to the Netherland’s most prestigious design school, the Design Academy Eindhoven. And after his first year, he flunked out. As Fast Company writes, “It was a fall from grace from which a lesser ego might have never recovered. But Wanders was determined. He vowed that for every assignment [once he enrolled in a smaller school for jewelers and craftspeople], he’d double the work – one version the teacher would like and one reflecting his own interpretation of the project.”

Now he’s one of the most celebrated designers in the world, and claims, “This is not because I’m talented. It’s because I push hard, and I never, ever give up.”

Unless you've flunked out, too, you probably have a better start to your career than Marcel Wanders did. So what are you doing do stay on top?

At Least Learn To Fake It

Hal Curtis makes the point that art directors should know how to draw. In days past, this was a given. But you find more and more art directors these days who can't draw. Hal's point, and it's a good one, is that drawing is something that can be learned. It's not hard to do.

What I find, more and more, is that no matter how much we preach that it's about the idea, it's also about presentation. It's hard to convince anyone, especially a client, that a rad executional idea will be rad if it looks like crap on paper.

A super-talented art director I work with, Lance, has made somewhat of an artform out of compiling relevant images on a light box and then tracing them to build his comps. They're clear. They look professional. And they're not hard to do. If you're an art director who can't draw, and you don't have the time or inclination to learn, I highly recommend you at least get yourself a light box and learn to trace.

The drawing above is Lance. I traced it on a light box.

Extra Bold Portfolio School

I've just learned about a new portfolio school in Madison, Wisconsin. It's called Extra Bold. Here's a Madison news story on it:

Exciting stuff. If you're a student at Extra Bold, best of luck. If you're a student at another school, you've just put some faces to your competition. Which is always a good thing.

Personal Projects

Just because you're at an agency doesn't mean that your book has to be full of clients you've worked on. I love to see books come through that have personal projects and side gigs as well. A good buddy of ours and incredibly talented art director, Steve Yee, has Christmas cards on his website that he makes every year. And just today, he (and I think a friend of his) launched the website palinaspresident.com. It launched at 10am and by 4:00pm had 36,000 hits. Pretty impressive, and just another way Steve shows his talents.

[UPDATE: I chatted with Steve, and wanted to give credit to the other two guys he worked with: Sean Ohlenkamp and Forrest Boleyn. Steve said he and Forrest had the idea, then approached Sean who brought it to life. As of the morning of 10/15, it has over a half million hits.]

Follow this blog?

Blogspot added this new feature where, if you follow this blog regularly, you can click on it to the right. We'd love to know who's out there. And as always, feel free to join in the conversation. If you have specific questions you'd like us to address, let us know. Thanks!

Presenting Ambient Pieces

A guerilla piece (alternative, ambient, whatever you want to call it) has already become an essential part of any book worth reviewing. And for good reason.

But I see a wide variety of how those pieces are presented in student books. I've seen very good ideas presented very poorly. Some examples of common mistakes would be:
  • Overly and needlessly art directed boards.
  • Little / no / unclear explanation of what the piece is about.
  • Too much explanation of what the idea is about. It needs to be clear, but not belabored.
If you need clarification, look at how these types of ideas are presented in the annuals. Or pick up a copy of Advertising is Dead, Long Live Advertising. Or just write a sentence or two as if you were explaining the idea to your parents.

When does marketing become just another product?

And when do products become marketing? Click on the image for a couple really cool ideas.

What To Do When You Hit A Wall

Every so often you’re going to hit the wall. No ideas. No hope. No motivation.

There are tons of reasons this happens.

Maybe you’ve worked for days with nothing to show for it...
Or you’ve been incredibly productive, but none of your ideas were accepted internally...
Or you’ve worked for weeks, but none of your ideas were accepted by the client...
Or you don’t believe the brief...
Or you don’t believe in the product...
Or you’re distracted by something else going on in your life.

Whatever the reason, when you hit the wall, you really have two options:
  1. Stop working.
  2. Keep working.

It’s as simple as that. And honestly, either one may be right.

If you’re not cracking it, you’re not cracking it. And sometimes it’s best to step back and let your subconscious hammer things out. Go on a walk. See a movie. Read a book. Just step away from the problem. This has worked for me a number of times.

On the other hand, Phil Dusenberry used to say that when it’s 10:00 PM, and you haven’t had any ideas all day, and you feel like you may as well go home, get some rest and start fresh tomorrow, that’s when you should keep working for just a half hour more. Because you never know. This has also worked for me a number of times.

Reese's Campaign

About two years ago, Laura Casner was a student of mine. Here’s a campaign she recently produced for Arnold.

I’m posting this just to remind you students that within a couple short years of graduation you can have a national, award-winning campaign under your belts. If you're willing to work for it, success is not that far away.

Leave Your Creative Rut

Don't use the same method for coming up with ideas over and over and over again. Even a good rut is still a rut.

In the habit of approaching problems visually? Try writing headlines instead. Even if the idea doesn't require them.

Like to work directly with your partner? Try spending an hour or two on your own before coming back together to share ideas.

Do you normally write your ideas on a laptop or a notebook? Try using a stack of index cards and a Sharpie.

There are a bunch of ways you can approach a problem. And you should use all of them. Even if it means sitting in a different chair than you're used to.

When you find a method that works really well, you should use it as a tool, not a crutch. Don't let yourself think, "This is the way to come up with ads," because it won't be.

Ad Blogs

I can only take so much of ad blogs, but here's a good list of ad blogs worth checking out.

Call For Aspiring Creatives

Students: CMYK is holding their Call for Aspiring Creatives Contest.

Deadline is Monday, October, 20th.

That's soon. But you can do it. Click for details.

The Power of Suggestion

As much as I'd love to keep politics out of this blog, the different messaging tactics of the campaigns and their supporters are fascinating (and sometimes scary).

Here's one of my favorites. Soft sell. Make sure you click on the site several times. It changes with each click.

I'd love to know what people think. Is this garbage? Does it affect you in any way? How do you feel about it?

The Privilege of Being Invited

A while ago, I was traveling back from a client meeting with two senior people in our planning department. I asked them what they liked most about their jobs. Sue Mizera, the director of Young & Rubicam Business Consultants gave an amazing answer that's really stuck with me. Here it is:

"It's a privilege to be invited into someone's house to work on something that is very important to them."

Product Benefit Exercise

In the event you're not working off a brief (i.e., you're a student, you're doing pro bono work, or you're trying to beef up your book on your own), here's an exercise worth trying.

Take whatever it is you're working on, and brainstorm 20 product benefits. Say you're working on Legos. Here are 20...

  1. Fun
  2. Make you smart
  3. imaginative
  4. indestructable
  5. timeless
  6. appeal to all ages
  7. no language barrier
  8. teach kids about connections
  9. you can lose track of time
  10. they keep your kids quiet
  11. interactive
  12. so much better than watching TV or playing video games
  13. MIT has a Lego Lab
  14. colorful
  15. They're a step-up from Duplo
  16. Variety of sets (space/medieval/town/Star Wars)
  17. Not hard to find
  18. Play that doesn't make you dirty
  19. Always enough to share
  20. You can build with as much or as little as you like.

Once you have your list of 20 product benefits, start doing ads for each area. For this, do some ads about how Legos appeal to all ages. See how far you can go with that. Then do some ads about how you can add to the sets. Or how, unlike other toys, they're still fun when you lose a couple pieces. Obviously, some benefits will be better than others. I'm not sure how many people ever bought Legos because they're "colorful." Still, do three ads per benefit, and suddenly you've got 60 ideas. Keep doing ads off every benefit until you realize which area is the most fertile. Then go do more ads in that direction.

You may not always have a brief. But you should always be working off a strategy. This is just one simple way of finding out what that might be.

By the way, don't do ads for Legos. Too studenty.

(Much love to Coz Cotzias who showed me how to do this a decade ago.)

production Rules, Part Two

I found this in some of my digital files. (Sorry I don't have the credits.) Click to enlarge.

Answers to Questions

A couple posts back, Bukes asked two really good questions.

Q: As a junior, how realistic is it to get to work on anything other than the "bill paying" projects?

Greg says: That depends on the size of the agency. If you’re in a small shop with only a few teams, you’ll work on pretty much everything. If you join a larger shop, the chances diminish. That’s why you’ll hear the mantra, “Take advantage of every opportunity.” You only get to work on tray liners? Make them tray liners worth entering into the One Show. You’ve only got a table tent? Make it more than a table tent.

Jim says: I wholeheartedly agree. Every project counts. And if it's a tray liner, do the best tray liner anyone has ever seen. Then bring ideas for posters and napkins and in-store posters and anything else you can think of. I was offered my very first job because of an assignment to re-design the McDonald's employee application during an internship. My partner and I wanted more stuff for our books, so we did in-store posters, drive-thru posters, menu signs and, yes, tray liners. The creative was okay, but the creative directors were just impressed that we took the initiative.

As a junior, you want to prove that you're a source of great ideas. And nobody's going to fault you if you say, "I know the assignment didn't call for stunts, but we had this idea we thought could be really cool." Just MAKE SURE YOU DO THE ASSIGNMENT first. It's not "We didn't want to do tray liners so we did a spot." It's "We did these tray liners AND had this other idea."

Q: How long should you do that before you can expect to start building your professional book?

Greg says: You start building your professional book the day you start earning a paycheck. Not feeling like you’re getting enough great creative? You’ve got two choices: 1) quit and find another job, 2) start doing great creative. Give the clients something more than they asked for. If it’s good enough, most agencies will pay to run and enter it. Or go out and get a pro bono client. I shortlisted at Cannes this year with a client that I went out and found on my own. I had some great creative directors and producers help bring it to life. But if I hadn’t made the cold call, I wouldn’t have it on my reel.

Jim says: Keep in mind, high-profile assignments aren't always all they're cracked up to be. There's a lot to be said about the tiny assignment nobody cares about. As a writer, I LOVE to do radio because (and shhhh, this is a secret), nobody gives a shit about radio. Creative directors nod along and check their blackberries when you present it, then it's usually a junior client approving it. Compared with political, high-profile projects where you might have 9 creative reviews before the work even leaves the agency, assignments that nobody else cares about can be rewarding in more ways than one.

Work > Talking About Work

"Do you think a headline would help?"
"Do you think a different layout would make more sense?"
"Do you think it needs a line?"

I hear these questions a lot from students when I look through their portfolios. And my answer is always the same:

"I don't know. Go find out."

It's impossible to tell if a headline would clarify the ad until you've written tons and tons of headlines. There's no way to know if there's a better layout until you've done several so there's some comparison.

You can't talk theoretically about advertising. It's like saying, "If I had a killer headline and an awesome visual, would that make a good ad?"

If you have an ad you're not sure about, play with it. Write some headlines. Or taglines. Or body copy. You may find out it's exactly what you need. Or you may find out why it's perfect without them.
If you've laid it out one way and you're not 100% convinced, lay it out 10 different ways.

You've got to work. You cannot theorize.

Julia Cameron said it best:
"Art is not about thinking something up. It's about putting something down."

Never Present The Boss

A few things I didn't learn in portfolio school:

  1. Bruce Springsteen will not license his music for commercial use. Never present a storyboard that uses one of his songs. It ain't gonna happen.
  2. R.E.M. won't license their music either. (Although a couple of their songs have been covered by others and used commercially. No idea how this happened.)
  3. Don't touch any of Disney's property - mouse ears, "When You Wish Upon A Star," references to any of their theme parks, etc. The only thing they protect more vigilantly than their copyrighted material is Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen head, which is kept in a vault under Space Mountain.

Don't present to a client something that can't be sold. Don't present to a creative director something that makes you look naive.

Side note: I know from personal experience that Travis will not license their music either.

Is An Agency Being Honest With Itself?

A buddy of mine recently emailed me with a topic he thought would be good for the blog. It's something to consider when you're interviewing with agencies: How much of the agency's work is good work?

Every agency, even the ones that are all over the award show annuals, have that work that they kind of sweep under the carpet. It's not the work that makes the annuals. It's not the work they put on their website or show when they give talks at schools. But it is work that pays the bills. For most agencies, that's the bulk of the work.

So the thing to figure out when you're looking at an agency is:
1) What is the ratio of good work (i.e. the work they feature) to other work? Sometimes you can get an idea of this just by looking at the client roster.
2) Who gets to work on the good stuff? Are there a few privileged teams, or is it spread around? Even if the good assignments are agency-wide gang bangs with 12 other teams working on them, at least you'll get a shot.

The buddy who emailed me has an interesting way of looking at it as well:
"What portion of an agency's work would get someone hired at that agency? It's kind of a talk/walk ratio. I'd say that if 20% of an agency's work is good enough to get the writer/AD hired there, that's pretty good. Or at least, a pretty honest agency."

That's a great point. Most agencies know what great work is. They want to hire people with great portfolios. But can you build a great portfolio working at that agency? That should always be your biggest priority.

Award Shows and Priorities

Here's a post from earlier this year. Please allow me to share it again.

Let's all do good work.

Production Rules, Part One

No matter how great a director is, the work will suffer if he doesn’t “get it.”

A couple of years ago, our team was faced with two directors on a spot. One was a cool, music-video director with one of the best production houses in the country. He was young, hip and eager. The other sounded like a slick ad-guy, saying all the right things, and buttering us up in all the expected ways.

But even though his schmoozy, unctuous over-sell made us roll our eyes, one thing was obvious: he got it. He knew what the essence of the spot was. The cool, hip guy kept talking about props and set design.

We went with the cool, hip guy, thinking we could help him get our vision. Boy, were we wrong. He obsessed about shots that had nothing to do with the story, wardrobe, and motivation for wardrobe, tiles and wall color. I want my directors to have this attention to detail. But only after they give detail to the shot that really matters.

No surprise, the spot (which I originally had a lot of heart for) was awful. The client hated it. And we ended up recutting it, removing the dialogue and replacing it with supers. All because we thought we could eventually bring him around.

I read once that Steven Spielberg wrote a treatment for the first Harry Potter movie. He deviated from J.K. Rowling’s vision in several ways, most notably by suggesting Hogwarts be an American school. And he wanted Haley Joel Osmet to play Harry Potter. I love Spielberg’s movies. He’s a brilliant director when he’s on his game. But as far as Harry Potter, he did not “get it.”

World's Best Presentations

Slideshare.net has announced the winners of their "World's Best Presentation" contest. You can view the winner and the runners up below.

The first and third presentations are potentially complicated messages that could have harbored a trove of tangents. Instead, they're clear, simple, and very engaging.

Next time you're mocking up your ads, ask yourself if they do as good a job as these presentations do at communicating. Don't confuse that with minimalism. Done correctly, long copy can be crystal clear and very engaging. But if your ad isn't as lucid and as smart as these presentations, try peeling back a few more layers.
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: design crisis)

Foot Notes
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: design inspirational)

Zimbabwe in Crisis
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: refugee hyperinflation)

The Manifesto

When I'm trying to wrap my head around a brand, I'll often write a manifesto. I give this assignment to my classes a lot as well, and they've always found it pretty useful.

The manifesto is just a paragraph or two that answers a very simple question: What do we stand for? Part of this may be what we're against. But basically, you want some very concrete language that defines the brand in an impassioned way. If you read it out loud, you should feel it. It should be something that deserves background music. Something you want to stand up and salute.

If the brief is the intellectual foundation for a brand, the manifesto is its emotional foundation. Often, you'll be able to pick through your manifesto and find great headline fodder, or thoughts that can lead to other ads. And they're great to read in client meetings before you present the creative, because they fire everyone up and set up the work.

Here are a couple of examples of good manifestos:


And this one below was written by one of my former students (an art director!) for Ford Mustang.

FORD MUSTANG. A little Detroit exists in all of us, whether we admit it or not. If you’re a tax accountant in San Jose or a 3rd grade teacher in Macon, Georgia, you wish, at least a little, that you were from Detroit. Then you’d have some of the attitude, the swagger, the trigger middle finger and the grizzly-bear-like resistance to winter that we have. The only reason we need hipsters and yuppies is to rob them. This is Detroit. Rock City. Motor City. We helped end the nightmarish disco era and gave you Techno and Motown. This is Hockey Town. Not Golf Town. Not Niketown. Not US Open Town. The only tennis players you’ll find here are the ones dating our hockey players. We have an insatiable desire to live off sliders and donuts and we’re riotous fans of the flagrant foul and the dirty pick-and-roll up high. We wanted to jump Ron Artest in the parking lot, sleep with his sister and then run from the cops. We breed loudmouth white guys with nasty demeanors and questionable music which we bump in our 10s. And deep down you realize you’re one of us too. But your inner 313 is still stuck in the closet, unsatisfied, waiting to shout “don’t fuck with me after 9pm.” You’re stuck in a cul-de-sac or a cubicle with a cup of decaf coffee, and you can’t stomach Schlitz and you order your wings mild. You’ve been resisting, but now it’s time to indulge. Finally say what you’ve been secretly dying to say all these years: Move, bitch. Get out of the way.