Summer Internships

For those of you doing summer internships, I present the Seven Rules* For Creative Interns:
  1. Find out who the hardest working person in the agency is and try to match them.
  2. Ask for additional projects from as many creative directors as you can.
  3. Show your student book to every creative director, art director, copywriter and recruiter in the agency. No matter how rough it is. Get as many opinions as you can.
  4. Talk to people. Don't slink off into your cubicle to concept. You're not Gollum.
  5. Explore. Particularly if you're in a new city.
  6. Find out what you can expense. Don't burn any bridges. But you can always ask.
  7. Find out who would be the best person to truthfully answer the question, "What do I need to do to eventually get a full-time job here?" Then go ask.
Good luck. (By the way, these are the same rules for non-intern creatives who have full-time jobs. The only modification is the #7: recplace "get a full-time job" with "become a creative director/get more responsibility/get a raise/run a project/fill in your own blank.")

* There are more than seven. What ones did I forget?


When you look for a job, are you going to look as a team? Some people do, and there can be big advantages to this:

1) You presumably know, like, and work well with person with whom you're job-hunting. So you won't go into your first gig and get partnered up with a douchebag.

2) It's easier for an agency looking to fill a team position to just hire a good team, rather than hiring an art director and copywriter separately and just hoping they work well together.

3) If you're looking to get a job overseas, it's much easier to get a job as a team in most countries. It's a legal thing, but basically boils down to this: In most countries, to hire a foreigner, the employer must successfully argue that the foreigner provides a service or skill that no citizen of the country possesses. This is easier to argue with a team.

If you are searching for a job as a team, it makes sense to market yourself as a team. Create a team book, and get a team website ( It's okay if not all the work was done by both team members, but be clear and upfront about who did what.

A good creative team is like a good marriage. It's a hard partnership to come by, sometimes a lot of work to keep together, but really excellent when it works out.

Taking Yourself Out of the Game?

Every year I speak with a student or two who's offered a job somewhere and then begins wondering whether or not they should take it. Often, it's because it's their first offer, and they feel like they might be taking themselves out of the game too soon.

I recently exchanged some emails with a really talented student who was contemplating a job. She said she was getting mild interest from a lot of places and didn't want to make herself unavailable.

I told her interest isn't good enough. At this stage of the game, only offers matter. A few years ago, one agency showed interest in me for a long time, waiting for a hiring freeze to thaw. In the meantime I lost interest. That was a luxury for me because I already had a job. But if you're a student waiting for interest to mature into a solid offer, the delay only gives the agency time to find someone they like more or who will work for less.

The same student said she was afraid that if she took the offer she'd be taking herself out of the game too soon. She forgot that taking yourself out of the game to take a great job is called "winning the game." You've got to put yourself in a position to start doing great creative as soon as possible.

It's a fantasy every portfolio school graduate has to be courted by multiple agencies who get in a bidding war over them offering more and more lucrative opportunities. But the reality is it's incredibly tough to get a job at a top-tier agency. The best thing you can do is have your 5 Criteria for choosing an agency and stick to it.

That art director, by the way, took the job. And I'm very excited to see the work she starts turning out.

Go. Fight. Win.

Summer Reading

I am always reluctant to recommend portfolio school students read anything other than the annuals (One Show, CA, D&AD, etc.) for a couple of reasons:
  1. You can never study the annuals too much. Especially at this stage of your career. There's always new, fresh work to see, and you can learn a ton from work that was done 10 years ago.
  2. Advertising isn't theory. You learn to make good ads by making lots and lots of them. Not by reading about them.
That said, Jim and I have a new sidebar on the homepage for books we recommend. If you're looking for some industry-related summer reading, check it out. If you have questions or want more details on any of the books listed, post a comment and we'll respond.

We're also curious to know which books you've found most helpful in your pursuit of the perfect portfolio. So there's a new poll on the homepage you should check out. Leave comments, too. We'd love to know which books you've found useful and why. If you've got some good suggestions, we'll probably read them, too.


The other day, I came across this doodle from ad school, and things started to really make sense. The Jerry pictured is Jerry Torchia, one of the best teachers I ever had.

Start Working On Your Other Portfolio

Here's another thing you won't learn in portfolio school:

As soon as you land your first job, begin investing immediately in your 401(k).

This is a big enough deal that I think it's worth breaking format to mention on a blog about advertising and putting your book together. At the risk of sounding like a banker, here's a brief explanation (don't wade through Wikipedia on this one):
  • A 401(k) is a retirement plan held by your company. Usually through someone like Fidelity or Vanguard.
  • You choose a certain amount from your paycheck to be deposited into your 401(k).
  • That money is invested into a collection of stocks, bonds and mutual funds of your choosing from a list of options within the company's plan.
  • Most companies will match your contribution to a certain extent (usually 5%).
  • That means if you're making $30,000, and putting 5% ($1500) in your 401(k), you're getting an extra $1500 a year from your company. Free money!
So when you're filling out the ream of paperwork HR will give you on your first day, indicate that you'd like to contribute to a 401(k). Find out how much the company will match and have at least that much of your paycheck put into the account. (And I recommend anytime you receive a raise, increase your contributions by at least 1%.)

Yes, paying off debt and student loans is important. Yes, the economy is awful right now. But you absolutely need to do this. Just because you're a creative type doesn't mean you can't be smart about your own future.

I recommend the following books to anyone starting out on a career who knows absolutely nothing about money:

Personal Finance for Dummies
by Eric Tyson

Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach

You may also want to check out this, this, and this.

SXSW I: Convergence & Divergence

A couple months ago, I was fortunate enough to be sent by my agency to the South By Southwest Music/Film/Interactive Festival in Austin. There were a lot of really cool ideas floating around, and I'm going to do a series of posts on some of the relevant ideas I encountered.

My first post on SXSW is from a talk called "11 Tips to Managing a Creative Environment." The speakers compiled the list after interviewing people who a) work in a creative environment, b) had to work as part of a team and c) had hard deadlines to meet. Some of these groups included entertainers (comedy troupes, theater groups, symphonies), media (print and online magazines), writers groups, restaurants, and a few others. Much of it applied to simply working in a creative environment, regardless of whether or not you had any authority.

One of the points they made was about the steps of the creative process and making sure everyone's on the same page in terms of what step you're at. This is critical in a creative department, but also important with a CW-AD team.

There are two phases in any creative process: divergence and convergence. Divergence is the brainstorming part. Churning out as many ideas as you possibly can. It doesn't matter if they're good yet. This phase is all about quantity. And the key here is to not judge. Don't kill ANYTHING. Don't say why you can't do it, why the client won't buy it, how it won't fit the budget. We all know this is the golden rule of brainstorming, even though we sometimes forget.

An important step to making sure everyone's on the same page is that, when you're done with phase 1, make sure everyone knows you are. End the meeting, or say "Okay, now let's look at everything we've got." One of the comedy troupes marked the turning point with a smoke break. When they came back from the smoke break, everyone knew they were in phase 2.

Phase 2 is the convergence phase. This is when the ideas are culled down, refined, combined and, yes, killed. You have to edit here. Be ruthless. Only keep the great ideas.

Now, the point I want to emphasize is that in this second phase, the golden rule is you're not coming up with completely new directions. This is about getting to a single solution, not creating more potential solutions--if you did your job in phase 1, you should have plenty. We've all been in meetings where we're trying to brainstorm and someone is shooting ideas down. It's frustrating, and it's harmful to the process. But just as harmful is to be throwing out new ideas when you're in the convergence phase. This is the time to improve the ideas that you have. A constant stream of new ideas in this phase can lead to chaos and frustration.

In an agency, young teams often fall into the trap of spending all their time in the divergence phase, then try to converge an hour before they're supposed to present their work. I'd say it should be closer to 60/40, depending on your creative director. Most will like to see a few ideas. None want to see ALL of your ideas. Make sure you spend time fleshing your ideas out. Give them the time and refinement they deserve.


Some of you may know I'm transferring from Y&R Chicago to Y&R Geneva, Switzerland for a couple years. We're expected to make the move sometime at the end of this month.

I'll still continue to contribute to the Makin' Ads blog with Jim, but I'd like to invite you to check out my new one: Great Creative. Neutral Country.

It's not going to be a travelogue or a place to post pictures of my trip to Lucerne. It's still about advertising. Set your RSS feeds to burn, add it to your Google Reader, and if you visit the main page, click liberally on the Google Ads. I've got to make ends meet somehow in a city this expensive.


One thing you probably won't learn in portfolio school is how to use vendors. Why would you? You're either pulling stock photography or using your own amateur pictures and illustrations. Once you get a job, that will change.

Vendors include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Directors
  • Editors
  • Recording studios
  • Music houses
  • Illustrators
  • Photographers
  • Retouchers
When you get a job, I'd encourage you to familiarize yourself with the vendors your agency uses. But also ask about the local and regional vendors the agency doesn't use, and why they don't use them. It could be because of quality, price, or maybe that's just they way they've been doing them. In any event, it's good to know.

You need to be a strong conceptual thinker. You need to know your own craft. But if you're a copywriter, you also need to know which sound engineer you prefer. And if you're an art director, you should have a list of illustrators you'd love to work with.

Here are just a few of my favorites I've worked with over the years:

White House
Red Car

Oink Ink

Directors/Production Companies:

Beta Petrol

Voice Talent:
Tom Kane
Harlan Hogan
Bill Rohlfing

Webby Stuff:
Imaginary Forces

Never worked with but would like to:
Asche & Spencer (music)
Olivo Barbieri (photography)
Rocky Schenck (photography)

(The nice thing about vendors is if you're a frequent user, they usually send you some nice swag around the holidays. Of the four iPods I've owned, three have come from vendors.)


A lot of people will be willing to sit down and look at your book even though the agency isn't hiring. That shouldn't discourage you from meeting with them. You get feedback, facetime, and a connection. That could make a huge difference down the road.

When you go to an agency to meet with someone (unless you've been brought in by their invitation) don't refrain from asking for additional contacts - even outside the agency. This isn't insulting. We all understand how difficult landing a job can be and most of us are eager to help. Simply ask, "Is there anyone else in town you can recommend I meet with?" I've never turned anyone down on this and would be surprised if anyone else did.