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As part of that freeze, all job offers that were extended, but not accepted had to be rescinded.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A former student of mine recently told me he'd received two offers from very good shops which had been rescinded because of cutbacks.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 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?