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?