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.