Avoid This Phrase

"It's good. For what it is."

For example, if you've done an okay pharmaceutical ad, you're saying it's good, considering the majority of pharmaceutical ads are awful.

But that's just being a giant in a company of dwarves.

And the scariest thing about this phrase is that, used too frequently, it can easily be applied to your career.

"I haven't won many awards. I haven't really built any brands or even my own company. And I haven't really created anything of value. But my career's good. For what it is."


What's On Your Agency's Walls?

What's on your agency's walls? Ads? Art? Post-Its? Scuff marks?

How does that affect the creative? The clients? The culture?

My friend Brian (AD at the Martin Agency and author of stackingchairs.com) has a pretty cool project going on. (It's where I stole the quote for the last post.) Send pictures of your agency's walls to him at stackingchairs@gmail.com to contribute.

He's got a few cool ones from W+K, Crispin and Creature up already.

(If you're working the days before Christmas, it's probably pretty quiet and this will give you something to do. Otherwise, bookmark Brian's page and send pics in January.)

Framed ads

When I walk into an agency and don't see any work on the walls, I suspect it's because their work is mediocre, and they're not really that proud of it. (And often, I'm right.) But this bit forwarded by stackingchairs is worth noting.

Although it’s not uncommon for agencies to have framed ads decorating their hallways and lobbies, we don’t have any. The reason is simple: by the time we got around to framing an ad, we would already have newer ads, and since you’re only as good as the most recent thing you’ve done, the framed ad would not represent our “best” work. And so, according to the law of infinite regression, our best work would, by definition, be impossible to display. If you want to see good work, don’t look in the hallway, look on your desk. Hopefully you’ll see some there. If not, look on a desk near you.

-From the Employee Handbook of Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Enjoy the holidays / working

It's mid-December. And you're about to go on break. If you're a student, you'll be leaving school. If you're a professional, your office is probably closed. Enjoy your time off.

But don't get soft. Don't come back in January with creative love-handles. Spend a little time every day writing. Or art directing. Or making something. Doesn't have to be advertising. But it has to keep you sharp.

Your work shouldn't be something you long to get away from. School, yes. The office, sure. But not your work.

Essential vs. Extra Credit, Revised

Here's a revision of an earlier post. I beefed it up for an internal presentation. I debated putting it on makinads.com since it's not 100% for portfolio students or junior creatives. But whatever. Enjoy.

Elevator Pitch, Part 4: The Interview

Granted, you have more than 30-seconds to make an impression in an interview. In fact, if you've come this far, your work speaks for itself. Usually, agencies won't call people in for interviews unless they really like the work they've seen.

Here are a few tips to help you through that chemistry test:

1. When someone is looking at your book, resist the urge to talk. No matter how uncomfortable the silence, don't try to explain your work. It sounds Full Metal Jacket-ish, but when someone's looking at your book, don't speak unless spoken to. From the other side of the table, it's kind of annoying to try to focus on work when your mind is constantly interrupted by comments like, "Yeah, my professors really liked that one."

2. Rule of thumb: Ask more questions than you make statements. Ask about the agency. About why your interviewer took the job there. The best part and the worst part about the agency.

3. Listen. I can't remember who said it (probably Stephen Covey), but the problem with most of us is that we aren't really listening when the other person is talking. We're trying to figure out what we're going to say next. It's even more complicated in an interview because we're trying to figure out what we're going to say next that makes us sound so smart they'll hire us on the spot. Step back. And really try listening. Then answer as best you can. Keep in mind, they probably already like your work. So you've got that going for you.

What's Your Path?

An executive creative director once told me that one of the most important things she could do as a manager was to make sure she understood what each person in her department's personal goals were, then try to give them a path to those goals.

Because there's a lot of upward pressure in our industry (or maybe it just has more to do with the American psyche) the perception is often that there is one path:


The truth, however, is that a CD job isn't a good fit for everyone, either because of skills or choice. A lot of creatives would prefer to stick to what they love--actually creating the ads--and avoid the meetings, politics and other B.S. that come with a management position. There's nothing wrong with this. Your boss won't see it as lack of ambition (or at least shouldn't).

The key for you is to figure out what your goals are and to let your boss know about them. Sometimes there are official channels for this, like annual evaluations. If not, find a good time to have a meeting. Let them know what your goals are and ask them what you need to do to get there. What do you need to work on and improve? And if it's not your goal to be promoted to the next level, cool. You just need to know where you want to be in a few years, because if your boss asks you, the worst answer you can give is "I don't know."

"Am I doing anything relevant?"

Here's an Adweek interview with Jeff Goodby. Around the 2:25 mark, he points out that the current state of advertising is forcing us to ask questions like, "Am I really lending any value to anything? Am I doing anything anyone cares about? Am I doing anything relevant?"

Normally, when working on an assignment we ask ourselves, "Is this good enough to win an award?" Or "Will this get me a job at a hot agency?"

And to answer those questions we start comparing our work to what we see in the most recent One Show: My print ad looks like this award-winning print ad, so I'm on the right track.

But if we're asking questions like "What can I do that's relevant?" or "What can I do that will be valuable to my book/client/career?" our thinking starts to get a little bigger, and less concerned with what's already won awards.

Try asking yourself questions like Goodby's. Then try answering them.

The Work Makes the King

Hugh Mcleod drew this. It appears in Seth Godin's book The Dip. And it's very true.

Except in advertising. At least the creative side. At least in agencies that care more about producing great work than about politics.

Creative advertising really is a meritocracy. If you have the best ideas, you get recognized. And the more you're recognized, the more control you have over where you work, with whom, and on what accounts. That's not to say you get a blank check, and can call your clients idiots. But being in demand gives you a little more control over your destiny.

So if you find yourself in this king/pawn situation, it's probably because someone isn't focused on the work.

The virtue of working fast

Ryan Ebner is a very good copywriter and director (that's his Boba Fett spot at the bottom of the post). I’ve worked with him peripherally, but I can’t say I really know him. But I’d been around him enough to mention it when I met his old boss Mike Shine. Mike had a lot of good things to say about Ryan. But there was one thing he said that really stayed with me:

“He works fast.”

It had never occurred to me that working fast would be something to shoot for.

But think about it.

How often do you stare at your screen waiting for inspiration to arrive?

How long to you stare at your blank notepad, waiting for something to happen?

How many times have you idly surfed the web because the deadline was a couple weeks away?

My guess is Ryan doesn’t do any of those things. My guess is Ryan works fast because he works.

So get to work. Fast.


The Eurobest Festival doesn't get as much publicity as worldwide shows like Cannes and the One Show. But it does a great job of showing the best of the best within Europe.

Winners were announced last week. You can see the work here. Definitely worth checking out.

Are you one of the Top 100 creatives?

CMYK is charging only $45 to submit up to 15 entries in their Top 100 New Creatives contest. That's the most inexpensive, high-profile contest you're likely to see in your career.

Definitely worth checking out here.

We get nothing from CMYK for mentioning this. But if you're in the Top 100, and a regular Makin' Ads reader, let us know and we'll give you a shout out.

Radio Lessons from a Young Creative

When I was a young creative, I wrote a radio spot that had my CDs and our clients laughing out loud. What made it funny was the way I read it. When we went into production, we tried to find an actor who could read it as well as I did. We found a guy who was pretty close. But it wasn’t exactly how I read it. And it just wasn’t as funny.

If you’re the best person for a spot, jump in the studio after the talent has left and try it yourself. I wish I had. And I’m sure Andy Azula is glad he did.

Working with that talent, he began to read the client information with a kind of newscaster feel. This wasn’t the intention at all. But it was something the client picked up on, and urged us get more of. I was a very young and eager-to-please creative. But we ended up with a radio spot that sounded nothing like the one I’d originally presented.

Stay true to what you want. Don’t let clients or even your own producer steer you in a direction you know you don’t want to go. You want a director or a producer to plus the script – to give you something cool you weren’t expecting or even asking for. But if you don’t know exactly what you want going in, you’re probably not going to get your best stuff.

When this spot was finally produced, the client was very happy. But I wasn’t. And even though he didn’t say anything, I don’t think my CD was, either.

My art director partner – who was involved in the concept, but not in the production – told my CD, “It wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.” In a kind, mentoring way, my CD told her, “Then maybe you didn’t do your job.”

Radio doesn’t need to be a writer’s-only club. Radio is visual. You can’t tell me art directors have a roll to play. Here is one of my favorite radio spots – co-written by an art director.

The Gang Bang

If you work in a big agency, you might hear about "gang bangs" from time to time (probably too often). This unfortunate nickname refers to throwing multiple teams at an assignment (the number of teams might be as high as 15, but I'd say 5+ teams qualifies it as an official gang bang).

Although they can be potentially detrimental to the morale of the creative department (lots of wheels spinning, increased competitiveness, paranoia about other teams stealing ideas, etc), the gang bang persists because it can generate a lot of varied ideas in varied directions in a very short time. And because the quantity of ideas is so important in the initial stage of the creative process, agencies are usually willing to make this trade-off.

So if you're one of a dozen creative teams in a gang bang, what should your strategy be? Here are a few thoughts:

1) Try not to be intimidated. For young teams especially, the gang bang can be super stressful. I remember sitting in gang bang briefings as a junior, looking around the room at all the agency's all-star teams, and thinking, "Holy shit. That's our competition? We don't stand a chance." On top of that, you may be presenting work to an Executive Creative Director, a Chief Creative Officer, or the Chief Creative God of the Universe who you've never had any contact with. You're the underdog. You have nothing to lose. Be organized, professional, and bring your best thinking. Nobody's expecting the junior team to have the big idea in these things, so if you do...Poof! Rock stars. And view the experience of presenting to the ECD/CCO/VP/Gods as an opportunity to make a good impression.

2) Don't worry what everyone else is doing. Paranoia, that they're trying to take your ideas or that they have better ideas than you, is not helpful. Forget all that. Focus on your work.

3) Think sniper rifle, not shotgun. Focus on your best ideas. Whereas you might take a handful of ideas into a creative review (shotgun approach) when you're the only team working on it, the gang bang creates that range by design. Spend time generating ideas, but make sure you also spend enough time picking your best one or two and refining them. One fully realized campaign will fare better than a dozen half-baked ideas.

4) Don't overlook the obvious. Here's a pretty common experience: You have a good idea that's right on strategy, but you think it might seem a little obvious, or that all the other teams are going to have it, so you abandon it. You push on, off into the far reaches of the universe to find an idea that nobody else would ever think of. Then it turns out that another team did have your original idea, the one you abandoned, and the client buys it.
The fact that other teams are working on the assignment doesn't change your goal. Your goal is not to outsmart the other teams. It's to come up with the best concept for the brand. One that's right on strategy. Don't psyche yourself out of a spot-on idea.

5) Don't kill yourself if your idea isn't selected. Hopefully you put your best thinking forward and made a good impression internally. Offering to help contribute thinking to whatever campaign does go forward is usually a nice gesture. But whatever you do, don't get bitter or sad. Suck it up, learn something from the experience, and move on to better things.

Interview Questions to Ask

Yesterday, Ad Age reported that BBDO Detroit will be closing in January, and is laying off 485 employees. Yikes. I don't know any of them. But I feel for them.

Yes, the economy's bad. But here's the thing: BBDO Detroit is closing because is lost Chrysler. And that was its sole account. 485 jobs. Poof.

So when you start interviewing, remember: make sure you ask about the agency's current, paying clients. Not just the fun pro-bono accounts and side projects they use to enter award shows. Ask everyone who the most important clients are and why.

Even if you're winning Gold Lions, anyone who feels comfortable in a one-client shop is delusional. Even Wieden has lost part of Nike on more than one occasion.

Bogusky on student books

David sent us a link to Justin TV where Alex Bogusky talks about some of the things that make a good student portfolio. Very good stuff.

Watch live video from FearLess Q+A on Justin.tv

Einstein and Award Shows

In 1911, Albert Einstein realized part of his theory of relativity could be proven if he could measure starlight that passed near the sun. (The science is over my head, but stay with me.) But he'd have to wait until August 1914 for the next major eclipse. And he'd have to travel to Crimea in Russia to observe it.

Problem was, Einstein wasn't as famous in 1911 as he is today, and no university was willing to foot the bill. So Einstein paid for it himself. He wasn't a rich guy at the time. But he believed in his theory of relativity so much, he was willing to raise funds and pay out of his own pocket to do what he had to do.

Analogy time: Award shows are not cheap. According to this post, the average cost of a One Show entry is $358. Usually, you don't have to worry about that. You do great creative, and your agency pays for the submission fee.

But what if it didn't? What if you had to put up your own cash for your own work?

Take out whatever you're working on right now and ask yourself, "Would I pay $200 of my own money to send this to the One Show?" Maybe you're tired of award shows and think they should be boycotted. Fine. It's still a valid question. Would you pay $200 of your own money to let the world see your work? I suggest that if you're not willing to put your own money behind your own work, even hypothetically, it's not your best stuff. You need to be as excited about your current assignment as Einstein was about taking pictures of an eclipse in Russia.

Bonus Lesson: When you do great work and it isn't recognized, you haven't failed.

Twenty days before Einstein's eclipse, World War I began with Germany declaring war on Russia. The German team Einstein sent to document the eclipse was captured by the Russian army and imprisoned because all their cameras and telescopes looked like espionage equipment. And it turns out, the skies were really cloudy anyway.

Three years of anticipation and preparation killed like that. Huge setback. Devastating.

But it wasn't enough to keep Einstein from becoming Einstein.

Creating Cults Not Ads

Thanks to those of you who've taken this survey. Over 200 have responded so far. Much love and appreciation to you all.

Here's a short article worth reading from a former student, Nate Archambault. Something to keep in mind when you sit down to concept.

Please take this survey. Pretty please.

We've created a 14-question survey for portfolio school students and junior creatives.

We would really appreciate it if you would a) take it, and b) pass it on to any other students or juniors you know. We'll post the results as soon as we have them.

Click Here to take survey


An Open Letter to Dylan Lee

Hi, Dylan.

We've never met. I don’t mean to weird you out. But you're one of my heroes.

The first time I came across your name, I was a portfolio school student looking through the 1999 CA Advertising Annual. Those ads you and Monica Taylor did for Victorinox just floored me. They were gorgeous, and the copy sang. Even back then, before tweets and status updates, body copy was considered a dying art. It was nice to see someone who was still able to craft it.

Of course, I'd already seen that great Monster.com ad during the Superbowl that year, and when I realized you were responsible for both campaigns, I made a mental note to look for your name in the back of every annual afterwards.

A year later, I got the 2000 CA Advertising Annual. And you weren't in it. There's a Michael Lee and a Miriam Lee. But no Dylan. You had two amazing additions. And then nothing? Honestly, it was a little confusing to my portfolio school student brain. (I'm sure it bothered you more than it did me.) But you've made several appearances since. Not every year. Just most years. And that reinforced something I once heard Mike Hughes say: "Advertising isn't a sprint. It's a marathon." It was good lesson to learn early on. Thanks for that.

In school, I was lucky enough to have Ernie Schenck assigned as my pen pal/mentor. Here's what he said about you without knowing I was already a fan:

"Ever heard of Dylan Lee? Dylan got his first job with John Doyle. He later went to Pagano Schenck & Kay and later Mullen where he did all that fantastic Swiss Army stuff. Now he's at Wieden. Just a huge talent."

There were a couple more good lessons to learn early in my career: Your reputation can proceed you, and it's because of your work. And talent is usually surrounded by talent.

So why am I writing you? A couple reasons:

  1. Generally, when I have a generous thought, I try not to suppress it. Just wanted you to know I think you do great work.
  2. Since a lot of portfolio school students and junior creatives will be reading this too, I want them to understand how important it is to have heroes in this business. Heroes beyond the figurehead Boguskys, Goodbys and Hugheses. You don't have to have your name on the agency to be worth following. You just have to be doing great work.

All the best,

Bring the Brief

This might seem like a small point to post about, but I think it's important. When you go to a meeting to present creative, bring the strategic brief along. Ideally, you should set up your work using the brief, but at least have it with you.

Inevitably, the creative director, or account person or the CLIENT will ask to be reminded what the net takeaway on the brief is. It's okay to whip the brief out and read it (usually, an account person or planner will be all over this). What doesn't look so good (and believe me, I've seen this happen) is if all the creatives just look at each other, hoping that someone remembers the main thing their work is supposed to communicate. This puts a bullet in the work before it's even been presented. It says that there's a good chance your work will be off strategy, because you don't even know what the damn strategy is.

I tend to lose things easily, so I started making a 3/4-sized photocopy of the brief and pasting it in my sketchbook. That way I always know where I can find it quickly. Just in case.

In Memoriam

We don't usually post industry news on this blog. But it's a sad day in advertising.

Elevator Pitch, Part 3: Your Book

You need your own elevator pitch. In fact, you're probably working on it right now. It's called "your book."

I can't stress how narrow the window of opportunity is for your book to make an impression on a creative director. I know one award-winning CD who literally flips through student books like he would a magazine. If nothing causes him to stop, he doesn't stop. May not seem fair. But it's how he hires really talented people.

So if your book really is your 30-second elevator pitch, here are a few suggestions for making the most of it:

1. Don't introduce each campaign with a set-up page explaining the strategy. It bogs things down. I've never seen an ad in any medium that was preceded by a paragraph explaining the strategy and target market. Most agency people are smart enough to figure out a strategy from the work itself. (At least the ones you want to work for.)

2. Keep the pages as clean as possible. Just show the ads. If it's an ambient piece, or some other execution that warrants explanation, keep it to no more than a couple lines.

3. It's nice if you want to credit your AD or CW. But don't do it on every page or with every campaign. (See #2.) If you are really so full of appreciation, give a collective shout-out at the end of your book. (Although even that isn't necessary.)

4. Don't try to be cute or clever with your book. I'm not a fan of cute themes because I've seen so very few of them work. I've seen some great ones. But I've seen a mountain of them come off as mediocre arts and crafts projects.

5. Ditto for resumes. I know very few creative directors who are fans of clever resumes. Keep it simple. Save your thinking for your ads.

Elevator Pitch, Part 2: Your Agency

So elevator pitches are used to sum up a campaign or an idea. But what about an agency itself?
If you were in charge of a pitch, what would you tell a client about your agency that makes it different from the competition? What's the agency's elevator pitch? (Hint: It isn't "We are a full-service agency, dedicated to breakthrough creative marketing solutions.") If you're a student or a junior, you may be a few years away from having to answer that question. But why not ask it while you're interviewing?

Next job interview you have, ask the CDs, creative teams and account people "What's the best thing about this agency?" Or something like "What does this agency offer that others don't?" You might even ask, "If I were a client, why would I go with your agency?"

I think they're important questions because they'll tell you a lot about the agency culture. Some answers will indicate that everyone's striving to do amazing work. Others will show you they're just there to get a paycheck and be home by 5:30. Some will be able to answer without hesitation. Others will say, "Um...Do you mean like free bagels on Monday?"

Elevator Pitch, Part 1: The Work

An "elevator pitch" is a term ad folks often use to describe the condensed version of an idea. Say you're in the elevator with a potential client. What are you going to say to that person to get them interested in the 20 seconds you've got before they reach their floor.

The reason elevator pitches are important isn't so much because you'll find yourself in these situations. But because it helps you strip away all the blah blah from your idea. If it's simple and concise, chances are it's either very boring, or very powerful. And you'll probably know which.

If you watched the Luke Sullivan video, you remember the elevator pitch for E.T. was something like "lost alien befriends boy to get home." You could probably figure out the elevator pitches for Lost, True Blood, or all seven Harry Potter book. You could also figure out the elevator pitch for the Mac/PC ads, Whopper Sacrifice, and Boone Oakley's new website.

So what's the elevator pitch for the project you're currently working on? It's a worth while exercise. Before you jump into execution, and start talking layouts or photography or long copy vs. no copy, figure out what your elevator pitch is. It's not really extra work, because if it takes you longer than 5 minutes for you to crystalize your idea into a sentence or two, it's probably not an idea that's going to go very far anyway.

Illustrated by Copywriters

Sometimes it's nice when an art director can write. Sometimes it's nice when a writer can draw. A lot of writers can draw. Not all, but some.

If you're a writer, and you've ever doodled anything, good or bad, please consider submitting it to Illustrated by Copywriters. It's a little side project I'm working on.


Performing is investing is selling

Recently, Jim was writing about audiobooks, and it got me thinking.

A few years ago, I listened to Tom Wolfe's book, A Man in Full on tape. (Yes, cassette tape.) It was read by David Ogden Stiers. Great actor. Great book. But having him read it to me was a little dull. As Jim wrote, it kind of felt like cheating to be listening instead of reading.

Last week, I finished listening to another audiobook. This one was The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. A cast of actors performed for about 10 different characters. The production was complete with Foley effects from background music on the radio to doors slamming. When someone was on the phone, they sounded fuzzy. When they were in the other room, they sounded distant. When they interrupted each other, you actually heard. It less of an audiobook and more of a radio play. They weren't the best troupe of actors, but the whole experience was far superior to famous Steirs reading famous Wolfe.

The Tom Wolfe book is like the creative team that says, “This idea is so good, it speaks for itself. Feast your eyes on this brilliance.” No one’s questioning the talent or the substance. But outside of the creative team, no one’s really invested in it either.

The Goldratt production was the creative team who took a great idea, sold it, and got it produced.

(In Tom Wolfe's defense, the jacket design for A Man in Full - and just about anything else - beats the cover of the Goldratt book.)

Quotes I found in a cook book, part 2: Enthusiasm in a brave new world

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.
-Aldous Huxley

Quotes I found in a cook book, part 1

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

-Carl Jung

John Stewart on It Getting Easier

This is from "What Makes People Laugh," an interview by Carl Arnheiter with Jon Stewart. It appears in the book Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled, by Jon Friedman.

What's your take on building a joke, how does it start for you?

Jon Stewart: It's 99% perspiration and 1% love and all that...I think it's just one of those things you learn from doing it, and you know, the funny thing is even though I know how to do it in that yeoman sort of way, there is no "oh now I got it and so it now pours out." But it still takes as much effort and all that, I can do it a little quicker than I used to be able to, but the great stuff still comes in the same percentage that it ever came.

Language and Framing II

A while back, I wrote a post about the importance of language and framing, about how small changes in language can compel us to make larger shifts in the way we think about something.

I've recently gotten hooked on listening to audiobooks. I love them because they allow me to "read" while I'm driving or working in my yard. The other day, I noticed something: rather than a "Read by..." credit on the cover of the audiobook, it said "Performed by..."

I used to consider audiobooks a form of cheating. Someone was reading the book to me instead of me doing the work. It felt kind of lazy. I imagine this is one of the big hurdles for the audio book industry.

But "Performed by" frames the audiobook in a way that gets me over this hurdle. I'm not just having it read to me, I'm taking in a performance. It's as different as a play or a film. In this case, they hired actor Michael Boatman, who reads the narration and acts out the parts, giving voices to all the characters. It's a true performance. It changes how I think about the form and how I enjoy it.

In addition to how we frame things in the work we produce, the words we use to present it, particularly to our clients, can make a big difference.

We might think something is "cool," but a client might be more interested in hearing that it's "relevant to the target." Same meaning, different language. Is an idea "weird" or is it "breakthrough?" Is a design "clean," or does it "communicate more clearly?"

If someone had told me this when I was a student, I would have said, "Whatever. I want to sell my work on the strength of the ideas, man." I had much to learn.

Seth Godin on Quieting the Lizard Brain

You already know this stuff. But it's always good to hear again.

Defining Success

I don't usually link to Alex Bogusky's blog, because I assume most of you are reading it anyway.

But this post for students has to be mentioned. It's all true. And not just because Alex says so.

Essential vs. Extra Credit

More and more clients are expecting work that goes beyond what they’re asking for. If the brief calls for a new print campaign, the agency may throw in a microsite. Or an outdoor idea. Or a guy with a rickshaw. Whatever.

Problem is, while more and more clients are expecting this, and love to be surprised by additional work, these ideas rarely come to life. They get placed on the back-burner while the real (i.e., urgent, expected, and sometimes less-exciting) assignments are produced.

A few years ago, I was part of a team that helped create a giant snow globe in Times Square with live actors inside. I recently asked my old CD, Chris Hunter, how he sold that idea. (Giant snow globes are never something the client asks for in the original brief.) There’s a huge insight in his answer. Here’s what Chris told me…

I've found the way to move forward [beyond-the-brief work] is to link each idea to some kind of measurable engagement in order to demonstrate the value they add to a program.

In the snow globe's case, it had to do with NY being a media city and getting PR from that. These days I don't know if I'd recommend the Giant Snow Globe as an investment for the client because the return seems pretty low outside of Times Square. But tying online engagement / participation to a real-world installation -- and then incentivizing participation -- can start to demonstrate returns for a client, especially if the engagement aspect of the creative drives pass-along behavior. A snow globe that was web-cammed that would allow viewers to control what the actors did inside it, for example, would start to get at that (not a very creative example but you get what I mean).

Also, it's best to build in engagement programs (be they online, in a real location, or both) at the start of the brief development. This turns the extra thinking into a real assignment vs. a time-wasting exercise. If the client isn't disciplined enough to do this, then at the very least bundle your extra idea firmly to original assignment -- print in this case -- so that the two play off one another and are co-dependent. This starts to turn what was once a print assignment into something richer and more programmatic. And by this, I mean make it so that one cannot really exist without the other.

I guess what I'm suggesting is, eliminate the 'lucky-strike-extra' sensibility from your mindset and theirs. It will help make your engagement concepts seem more core and essential vs. extra credit.

(Chris Hunter helped his team win a Bronze Lion at Cannes this year, so he knows what he’s talking about.)

Another CMYK Contest

If you're a student, or you've graduated within the last nine months, you should seriously consider submitting work to CMYK's Top 100 New Creatives Contest.

Forty-five bucks to submit 15 pieces doesn't really prepare you for the $250-per-piece entry fees of the One Show. But it's a great deal when you've been living off Top Ramen and Red Bull for the last few months.

Deadline is this Sunday. Good luck, all.

Know Your Agency's Pitch

This is going to sound business-y, but stay with me. It relates to your job as a creative.

I'm quoting from Chip and Dan Heath's book Made to Stick, who are quoting from Stephen Covey's book The 8th Habit. Covey describes a poll of 23,000 employees with the following results:

  • Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.
  • Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organization’s goals.
  • Only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.
  • Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.
  • Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.

The Brothers Heath write, "As sobering as those statistics are, they’re very abstract. But Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics and says, 'If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.'"

Now here's how this applies to you:

You've got to know what your agency's goals are, what they're doing to achieve them, and who they're using. Because if they're not as dedicated to creative work as you are, it will be a problem for you in the long run.

It's the reason portfolio students send their books to places like Goodby and Crispin and Boone/Oakley and not to...well, I won't name names. But you know who your last ditch agencies would be.

How I got the jobs I got and why I chose to leave them

As many of you may be looking for your first job, I thought it might be helpful to see how I landed the jobs I had, and what made me leave. Forgive me if this is too biographical. It’s just my experience.

If you want the Cliffs Notes, here are a couple things that stand out to me:

  1. Every job I’ve ever taken came as a result of some connection I had. Even my first job came because my school notified me. Yes, a great book is the price of admission, and you can't charm your way into a job without solid work. But I owe a lot to my network of friends.
  2. I always stayed when the agency was dedicated to creative work, and I felt challenged.
  3. Every time I chose to leave a job, I tried to do it while I was on top, doing my best work. It’s a move patterned after Seinfeld ending his show before he got bad. I got frustrated at a few places, but I never wanted to leave a job out of spite.

Job #1

What took me there: I received an email from my school job board that this agency was looking for junior creatives. I sent my work and got an interview. It fit my 5 criteria.

What kept me there: It was an agency dedicated to creative work, with really talented people. In my first six months I got into the One Show and produced a TV campaign.

What made me leave: Layoffs from the post-dot com bubble.

Job #2

What took me there: After being laid off, my art director started freelancing at an agency where her old CD had taken a job as ECD. She needed a partner, so I rode her coattails there.

What kept me there: It was just a stop-gap freelance gig. I was offered a job, but it wasn’t really a creative powerhouse, so I kept interviewing. I made a ton of money freelancing, but was pretty unhappy with the opportunities.

What made me leave: Interviewing elsewhere paid off, and I took a job at a much more creative shop.

Job #3

What took me there: My old bosses who were laid off from my original job started up a new agency. So I just went back to work for the same people I was working for to begin with.

What kept me there: Great creative opportunities, great people dedicated to creative work, and a culture focused on making our friends jealous of how great our jobs really were.

What made me leave: After three years, it was just time to move on. It’s not like I was going to get a huge raise or be promoted to CD at such a small shop, and I needed some new challenges.

Job #4

What took me there: Once again, my art director took the job first, and I followed her a couple weeks later.

What kept me there: The first two years were hard, creatively, and I continued to interview around the country. Just as I was getting ready to bail, some clients began to demand more creative work. I was partnered with a more senior art director, given a raise, and used in more pitches and client presentations. I went from a junior creative to ACD within about 5 years.

What made me leave: Again, I kind of hit a glass ceiling. I became a go-to-guy my CDs could count on, which was an important step. But after a few years, it occurred to me that as long as I was the Go-To Guy, I wouldn’t be The Guy. So I began to look for more challenging opportunities.

Job #5

What took me here: Through my agency network, I found an opening at one of our offices overseas. I was eager for experience on international accounts and an opportunity to prove myself abroad.

What’s keeping me here: Still feeling pretty new. Haven’t reached the top of my game yet.

What's going to make me leave: TBD

Get Schooled

Years ago, Nate Archambault was a student of mine. He's since done some pretty fantastic work, including this project he helped develop for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation while he was with @radical.media. Creativity picked it up here.

Always inspiring to see people I knew as students putting spec work together to get a job now hitting the ball out of the park as professionals.

Three questions. Thanks.

We've posted three questions as a survey on our main page. It's kind of a public research project.

As a favor to us, would you please take a sec and click on your answers?

And if you know any other students, please pass it along to them.

Thanks a lot.

You and Your Target Market

On the right is Mary Beth O'Neil. Lives outside of Indianapolis. Single mom. Two kids. Works at a real estate office. Drives a Ford Explorer. Likes Celine Dion.

On the left is you. Fixed-gear bikes, skinny jeans, PBR. You live in the city, take the subway to work. Really into the Arctic Monkeys right now. Working on a coffee table book of photos of broken coffee tables. So hip that your portrait is spray paint.

Okay, so maybe I'm stereotyping a little. You don't like PBR. My point is, this is you and your target. For most of the projects you work on in your career, you will not be your target audience. Not even close. Remember that. You should like your ads, but it's more important that your ads connect with her than amuse you. This sounds straightforward, yet time and again, I see work in student books, or have creatives pitch ideas that are obviously meant to entertain people like themselves.

Before I get too far, let me stop and be clear. I am not:
1) Disrespecting Mary Beth in any way. And when you're thinking about your target, neither should you.
2) Saying that you should do lame advertising, or ads that you think suck.

What I am saying is that Mary Beth probably won't get the irony of obscure German house music over visuals of robots in the style of old Japanese monster movies in her Tuna Helper commercial. Honestly, these are the kinds of decisions I see sometimes. Usually executional things. Weird for the sake of being weird. The kind of stuff that drives clients nuts.

Just consider your audience, is all I'm saying. If you get the chance, go to focus groups and listen to them talk about their lives for a few hours. Then come up with something great that connects with them.

Rejection and the Freedom to Fail

I'm reading a book called Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped and Canceled, in which various funny people recall not getting it quite right. As I was reading, it struck me how big a role rejection plays in what we do. Our job is basically a stream of rejection, punctuated by the very occasional stepping stone of success. Our partners reject our ideas. Our creative directors reject our ideas. Our clients reject our ideas. Heck, we even reject most of our own ideas. And success in our careers is determined less by how many successes we have, but more by how we handle all the rejections.

I also heard an interview with the book's author, Jon Friedman, on The Sound of Young America. He hosts "The Rejection Show," more or less a live version of his book. And in the interview, he explained how once he started doing the show, he became much bolder in his ideas. Because no longer were his failed ideas simply failures. Now they were material for his show. Having the show released him from fear and gave him greater freedom to just go for it.

The point is that you need to be able to take risks and put yourself out there. You need to have the freedom to fail. You want to work at an agency that allows it as part of its culture. An agency that celebrates the spectacular failures. Even more so, you need to give yourself permission to fail. And when you do fail, when you are rejected, get right the hell back up and fail again.

How Multi-Media Campaigns Fit in Your Student Book

This guest post comes from our friend Peter Carnevale, at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners:

I love multi-media campaigns.

There are few things as inspiring when looking through the awards shows than amazing ideas executed in ways you've never seen before. The Mini launch is a great example of creative media executions. There are countless others that are newer.

These campaigns often include complex installations and things that have never been done before, so a lot of explanation is often required. Fortunately for agencies, they have the means to produce submission videos to award shows to demonstrate the breadth, creativity and sound business results to accompany these innovative campaigns in a clear, comprehensive manner. My agency actually has several people dedicated to this job.

You don't.

You have your book. 

The target audience for your book is a busy group of people. Campaign after campaign of lengthy description multi-media onslaughts may not always be the best approach.

To be clear, I think it's fantastic to see blown-out campaigns. Assuming they're great campaigns and blowing them out makes sense. (Times Square installations and transit dominations probably don't make sense for small start-up companies. Keep the realities of a brand's budget somewhat based in reality. Somewhat.)

But sometimes, I just want to know you can knock out some killer print ads or OOH or posters or something I can look at for 10 seconds and think, "That's cool," and doesn't have a gazillion moving parts.

And please know that blowing out your campaign doesn't make it good. As a recruiter at my agency recently said to me, "Just because you've done an  iPhone app for your idea doesn't make it a good idea."

So what's the solution?

Before you blow out every single campaign in your book, make sure it calls for it. Make sure your book needs another blown out campaign. (I'd say two is the maximum amount I have the ability to fully take in.) Above all, make sure the ideas are great. 

Show you can do something with legs. Show you can do things no one's ever seen before. Show you'll bring something invaluable to an agency.

But make sure you also, in easily digestible format, show that you can make a traditional ad campaign. Because once you start working, you'll have to make good old fashioned ads.

Give Peter some love (or disagree with him) in the comments section. You can also get in touch with him at peter_carnevale@gspsf.com.

A few lessons from Spike Jonze

The New York Times has a great article on Spike Jonze. It's worth reading, because as a creative in advertising, you probably have (or should try to have) a lot in common with him. Here are some excerpts:

Spike is described as chatty but not particularly forthcoming, asking nearly as many questions as he answered.

When he was just starting out, He was always experimenting...climbing on top of something high or hanging out the door of a van or lighting a fire or wrapping somebody in tinfoil and shooting him with flashes.

He didn't cave into success: Movie offers began pouring in, mostly for studio comedies like a sequel to “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” but Jonze rejected them one after another.

And Spike knows what it's like to have a project compromised: TriStar had been pressuring him to make the [Harold and the Purple Crayon] script jokier, he said, and he’d given in to the point where he barely recognized his own work. “I realized only then that it happens millimeter by millimeter,” he told me. “If you compromise what you’re trying to do just a little bit, you’ll end up compromising a little more the next day or the next week, and when you lift your head you’re suddenly really far away from where you’re trying to go.

And ultimately killed: Two months before principal photography was scheduled to start [on Harold and the Purple Crayon], TriStar pulled out...There’d been a regime change at the studio and Jonze’s vision was a bit too 'bold' for the new executives.

Let the wild rumpus start.

Your Career in a Pontiac Aztek

In 2001, Pontiac introduced the Pontiac Aztek - an SUV crossover with a built-in tent that would later become one of Time's 50 Worst Cars of All Time. The article claims, "This car could not have been more instantly hated if it had a Swastika tattoo on its forehead."

It continues, "The Aztek design had been fiddled with, fussed over, cost-shaved and otherwise compromised until the tough, cool-looking concept had been reduced to a bulky, plastic-clad mess. A classic case of losing the plot...The shame is, under all that ugliness, there was a useful competent crossover."

Sound familiar?

But the fact that the original Aztek design was pecked to death by ducks isn't the only parallel to advertising. The pits the Aztek designers fell into are still out there.

Danger 1: Accepting too many compromises
Did the Aztek's designers fight to keep their original idea? My guess was they were so happy to actually be producing something they justified a few compromises. David Droga has said, "It’s a weird thing – sometimes 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, 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."

Danger 2: Believing creativity is gravy
The fact that "under all that ugliness, there was a useful competent crossover" makes me think that Pontiac justified messing with the design because it was still a crossover and fit the parameters of what Pontiac wanted to launch. That's like saying, "It answers the brief, so it must be a great ad." A great campaign does more than give the client what they asked for in the briefing meeting. Great design, great art direction, great writing aren't just artsy-fartsy bells and whistles.

Danger 3: Staying in the wrong culture
I may be going out on a limb, but I don't think Pontiac had a culture that championed truly great, innovative ideas. Toyota? Sure. Honda? You bet. But Pontiac? And yet, they must have had some talented and ambitious designers there. Ron Mather has said, "You are more likely to come up with a great idea in a great agency than in a mediocre agency. I think it’s the atmosphere. Being around very good people in an environment that promotes great creative thinking.”

And if you realize you're working for a Pontiac-style ad agency, have the courage to follow Ernie Schenck's advice: "If things are working out and you're getting your needs met, and you know what those are at this point, then great. If not, though, don't wait to jump ship. Trust me on this inertia thing. The longer people stay in one place the harder it is for them to leave."

Danger 4: Lowering the bar
Despite all the time and money Pontiac put into developing the Aztek, they failed to realize that people were going to hate it. My guess is they were talking to themselves. Groupthink and high standards rarely co-exist. If you lower the bar of your own creative integrity because you think it will help you get something produced, make your CD happy, enter an award show, or simply because it's your duty and you need to be a good solider, watch out. There will be times in your career when, for various reasons, you will be required to deliver work that is below your standards. Just don't make them too frequent. And never kid yourself that meeting such low expectations is an accomplishment to celebrate.