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 firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute.
He's got a few cool ones from W+K, Crispin and Creature up already.
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
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:
JR CW/AD >> CW/AD >> ACD >> CD >> GCD >> ECD >> CCO >> PRESIDENT >> JR DEITY >> DEITY
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."
Hugh Mcleod drew this. It appears in Seth Godin's book The Dip. And it's very true.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
We've never met. I don’t mean to weird you out. But you're one of my heroes.
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:
- Generally, when I have a generous thought, I try not to suppress it. Just wanted you to know I think you do great work.
- 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,
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
- 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.'"
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.
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:
- 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.
- I always stayed when the agency was dedicated to creative work, and I felt challenged.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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 email@example.com.