Radio Thursday 4/30

The better radio commercials have ideas in the scripts and whether you put sound effects with them or not, they’d work because there’s an idea.

Mining Fast Company

As a student, you rarely get to choose your own assignments. On the off chance you do (or if you're a junior looking for a side project) here's a recommendation:

Pick up an issue of Fast Company. I guarantee you'll discover at least three cool, innovative businesses you've never heard of that are just begging for a new campaign.

A Big Fat Lesson In Perseverance

Maybe you remember the original Jared Fogel ad from Subway. This spot didn’t win any major awards. And you probably aspire to much more creative work. But the fact that you remember Jared shows that the campaign (now, almost a decade old) was crazy successful. And there are several important lessons from the Jared campaign that are worth noting:
  • Subway’s marketing director wasn’t impressed with Jared's story. He thought fast foods couldn’t do healthy. He wanted to do a campaign based on taste.
  • The health campaign Subway did want to run was called “7 Under 6,” which talked about the seven sandwiches they had that were under 6 grams of fat. (No matter what you think of Jared, you've got to admit he's more interesting than "7 Under 6.")
  • The Jared spot made Subway’s lawyers very nervous. They were afraid it would appear like a medical claim. In their lawyer wisdom, they advised against running it.
  • Even though the national Subway office vetoed the Jared campaign, some franchisees showed some interest in running it using regional ad money.
  • With no national funding to cover production, Hal Riney’s president, Barry Krause decided to make the spots for free. Production would come out of the agency's pocket.
  • The original spot ran on January 1, 2000.
  • Within three days, Hal Riney had received calls from USA Today, ABC, Fox News and Oprah.
  • A few days later, Subway’s national office called, asking if the ads could be aired nationally.
  • That year, sales jumped 18%, plus another 16% after that.
  • The campaign sold a ton of sandwiches. Jared's since become part of pop culture (He's been featured on South Park, no less.) Arguably, this story has made Subway the brand it is today.
So what does this mean for you? I’m not saying the Jared spot is worthy of a One Show Gold. But it shows that even wildly successful campaigns meet opposition. Don’t let the road blocks rile you. Don’t hate the client or the account team or creative director or partner who says “no.” One “no” doesn’t always mean the work is dead if you’re willing to fight for the work you believe in.

(The details of the Subway story can be found in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.)


It's that time of year when most of you will be looking for a job soon (if you're not already).

If you have any specific questions, post them as comments. We're happy to weigh in. We may not be right, but we're free advice.

Here are a few past posts that may help:

You can also browse "Getting a Job" in the labels list.

A Crisis of Credit

Our job is communication. In the communications model that you probably saw in chapter 1 of your advertising class, there are four parts to the communication process. The sender sends. The receiver receives. The receiver decodes (the fourth part is interference, but that doesn't apply here).

Without all of this happening, communication doesn't happen. Which is why it's critical that the receiver not only gets the message, but "gets" it. Can decode it.

A buddy of mine passed this on to me. A really nice way to decode the credit crisis, an incredibly complicated mess, for all of us non-investment-banker-types.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

This was created by Jonathan Jarvis, a grad student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. His site for this can be found here.

Don't Be That Guy (or Gal) #2

I feel like I shouldn't even have to post this. Maybe it's not a lack of common sense but just naive misunderstanding of how "laid back" and "cool" the ad industry is. When you're looking for a job, or applying for a job, or interviewing for a job, or heck, anytime--don't be an idiot online. Almost every company will do a background check on you, by which I mean Google your name. And while ad agencies might be more forgiving of those wild party pics on your Facebook profile, why chance it?

If you're going to blow a job opportunity, do it the old fashioned way--in the interview. Set your profiles to private while you're looking. Or better yet, don't put anything on any site ever that makes you seem like an idiot. If a friend of yours tags a photo of your bare ass hanging out in their "Fun Times At Albany Bowl Sat Night" album, kindly ask them to pull it down. This goes for interns too. When you work at an agency and become BFF on FB with all the folks there, then return to school, a year's worth of drunken photos and mobile status updates about how wasted you are at In 'n Out can start to undo a summer of responsible hard work. Just the way it is.

Here's a fine example. Job offer --> Stupid Tweet --> Poof! No job offer anymore.

Creative Depression II - Another Take

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the effect a down economy has on a client's willingness to buy what they perceive as "risky" (you might refer to as "good") creative work.

For another take on the same thing, check out this post on Please Feed the Animals. He's reporting on a New Yorker article from James Surowiecki (author of The Wisdom of Crowds). All these are good reads and provide more context for what's going on and how, managed right, the depression can provide an opportunity.

All a-Twitter

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast of Slate magazine's Culture Gabfest. The three hosts were talking about their experiences with Twitter. Basically, they were all skeptical of the site/app/lifestyle, but given that Twitter has really taken off (14 million users, 2.25 million tweets a day, 700% increase in visitors in the past year), they felt obligated to try it. And they were all surprised how much they liked it.

So I finally caved. My resistance to Twitter, I suspect like most people, was that I didn't know why anyone would need to know what I was thinking 40 times a day. Who the hell am I? And why do I need to know what everyone else it thinking? And there's something disturbing about the ego-stroking nature of it all. In the new media, we're all important. Blah blah. But I also felt an obligation.

I've been twittering now for about 36 hours, and I can't stop. What I've found most surprising is that it's not all the meaningless status updates that I was expecting. Yes, there are quite a few tweets along the lines of "Went to the toilet again; drinking sooo much water today," but the real intrigue has been the new links, articles, sits, thinkers, etc. to which you are instantly connected.

So I'm a convert. It didn't take long. Look me up if you'd like. I feel like a kid in a museum of cool stuff.
Here's a sampling of some of the things I've come across (or, mostly, people I follow have shared with me):

Samples of rad infographics.

Merlin Mann

Dmitry Maximov

Ways to Improve Type

Please Feed the Animals

65,000 people in the advertising industry have lost their jobs, according to Ad Age. That's a lot of talent out there. A lot of people making daily calls to agencies. A lot of books floating around. But Erik Proulx, just one of those 65,000, is trying to help turn this whole thing around.

Erik runs Please Feed the Animals, a blog for those laid off by the ad industry. More importantly, PFTA is recently a matchmaking site where agencies can find talent and vice versa. It's one more place that any freelancer seeking full-time employment can post their website and check back for agency job openings, of which there will be a deluge any day now.

Radio Thursday 4/23

Too many radio commercials do try to say everything – and end up communicating nothing. Each commercial should set out to achieve one main goal, not many.

Perfect Copy vs. Perfect Art Direction

When I was a student, they copywriters had an entire semester dedicated to body copy. With good reason. It’s a dying art. But one copywriters should dedicate time to learn.

I remember a friend of mine (it was the blog’s co-author, as a matter of fact) had written a very nice piece of body copy. It flowed. It had rhythm. There was a cadence to it. (Always read your copy aloud after you’ve written it.) He really crafted it.

Then he gave it to his art director. It wasn’t fitting her layout, so without him knowing she contracted all the should nots to shouldn’ts, and eliminated some of the words that seemed repetitive. Short conversational lines seemed superfluous and were eliminated.

So who was right? The copywriter who wanted the copy to be as good as possible? Or the art director who wanted to layout to be as good as possible?

R.I.P. Ernie Schenck's blog

I'm not sure what's happened, but Ernie Schenck's blog seems to no longer exist. Maybe he let his Typepad account expire. Maybe he's focusing on Twitter. Anyway, it's been removed from our blog roll.

You probably read Ernie's column in CA. And if you haven't read through his book The Houdini Solution. We tend not to recommend too many books on this blog because when you're putting your book together, you learn more about advertising by studying the annuals and actually working. 

Still, I highly recommend The Houdini Solution. Especially Chapter 10. It's a good one to have on your shelf.

How to be a creative director

You might not want to be a creative director. I've know many people who only wanted to advance from junior CW/AD to senior CW/AD to highly-paid CW/AD. Being a CD isn't for everyone. Especially if you don't like managing people, going to meetings or dealing with clients.

But, if you aspire to be a creative director, here's the simple advice Mark Figliulo gave me a couple years ago:

"Win as many awards as possible."

How To Nail An Interview

For those of you about to start looking for work, don't do some of the stuff these kids do:

Pretty true, this.

Radio Thursday 4/16

If we’ve got a tightly defined market we shouldn’t be shy about identifying them. “If you’ve got a child of two…” may not be the most creative opening to a radio spot, but it will sure get everybody with a child under two paying attention.

Art Directors and Animation

An art director friend is currently working on some animated TV spots. (There are two things most portfolio schools don’t really prepare you for: TV and animation.) He sent me the following thoughts:

More and more agencies are becoming digital and more and more digital shops are becoming AOR's. [If you doubt this, check out Fallon’s new tool Skimmer. Ad agency as a web developer? Very cool.] So, what does this mean for Art Directors? They need to understand animation, be able to talk about it, share ideas about it, understand what it looks like. You get the point. They aren't going to have to animate anything, they have developers and animators for that. Although, it wouldn't hurt. However, AD's will need to know how to talk with an animator and come up with ideas of how the animation works and what it looks like. The animator will have ideas on how something works, as well. But, it's the AD's responsibility to have the final product look like the way that they want it. This I didn't know until I got here.

So what does this mean if you're in portfolio school? Start by understanding the things you watch. Be able to communicate an idea. Don't rely on adjectives like "cool" to do the heavy lifting. So much of this job is persuading. And so much of persuading is being able to communicate clearly.

Be Like A Kid

This appeared originally on Scampblog, as a presentation presented at a WARC conference. There are some interesting thoughts in it. I'm curious to hear how it strikes other people. If you check out the original blog, it has a pretty polarized response.

Knowledge + Confidence

I'm teaching a class this quarter called STORYTELLING. I'm completely jazzed about teaching this class, and I'll probably share assignments on the blog, though they're not all ad related.

Anyway, as I was typing up the syllabus, describing the workshop format of the class and encouraging students to be honest and critical without being a dick, it struck me that there are two things that help one grow in this business. KNOWLEDGE and CONFIDENCE.

Someone with all the knowledge (some might call this "talent") in the world, but no confidence to share their brilliant ideas isn't very valuable. And someone with tons of confidence but no knowledge, well, we've probably all met those kinds of people.

But here's the cool thing: You learn from your mistakes and you gain confidence from your successes. So either way, you're growing. The important thing is that you're creating.

Creative Depression

If you're fortunate enough to have a job during this economic downturn, or if you've watched TV during it, you may have observed one of the laws of advertising economics: When the economy heads south, so does the creative.

It happens with every depression. The budgets get tighter, brand managers get nervous, executives and bean counters get more involved in the day-to-day creative product (never a good thing) and everyone demands really hard-hitting (i.e. straightforward) advertising. You see TV spots with CEOs talking to camera. You see brands jumping through hoops to deliver a "value message," (e.g. our paper towels cost a little more, but they last longer). And because clients become overly fearful of missteps, they rely more heavily on focus groups and testing to cover their butts (also never a good thing).

Yes, there are some clients who are brave enough to still put out good work, who see the competitor's timidity as an opportunity. But for the most part, expect smaller budgets and smaller risks.

Inaugural Radio Thursday

I just finished re-reading Jim Aitchison’s Cutting Edge Radio. Such a helpful book.

So for the next several weeks, Thursdays at Makin’ Ads will be Radio Thursday, and I’ll post a quote I think may be helpful for young creatives. (Art directors, you should learn radio, too. It will help you be a better creative director later on.) We’ll keep it up until I run out of quotes.

So here’s the inaugural Radio Thursday quote:

Silly voices are another hallmark of poor radio. [It shows creatives] can’t think of an idea. They don’t put any effort into being creative.

Note: There are so many quotes in Cutting Edge Radio, I’m not going to attribute them all to their rightful owners. Just know they’re all from Aitchison’s book.

How To Succeed in Portfolio School

Poster by Matt Jones. Available here.

Avoiding Groupthink

Here's a personal anecdote. Maybe you can learn something from it.

I once did work for a client that had very strict marketing guidelines. Most of them were very poorly thought out, in my opinion. All their print work had to include the following:
  • A key visual taken from the client library.
  • A frame on at least two sides of the key visual.
  • The frame had to be one of six pre-approved colors patterns.
  • Supporting copy in bullet points, just like these.
Very restrictive. I'm not sure if I've ever seen an ad with bullet pointed copy in an awards show. (If you know of one, I'd love to see how they pulled it off.)

Every time we went to the client, we'd bring in ads that adhered to their guidelines, and some better ones that didn't.

They'd usually appreciate the more creative ones. But they'd always fall back on their guidelines, because they were, after all, guidelines. (Emerson has some words about this.)

It became apparent that no matter how brilliant the idea, we weren't going to do any award-winning print for them. Realizing this was pretty crushing. And I spent the better part of a morning researching other agencies I might work for.

But then I realized that their guidelines only applied to print. No one had written guidelines for ambient media. Or webisodes. Or PR stunts. Or bus wraps. Or a ton of other media they probably hadn't considered and might benefit from.

Sometimes even the best clients and the most creative creatives get trapped in their own Groupthink. Where everything is done a certain way because it just is.

And sometimes coming up with a big idea is figuring out a better way to come up with a big idea.

...But networks aren't everything.

Fast Company recently published a small piece on UpMo, a career tracking path. I took it for a test-drive and was told I need to spend more time building my network. Sage advice.


Creative advertising is too unique an industry for this thinking to really apply. As we wrote yesterday, networking's a good thing. But you can't network your way into an agency if your book is just so-so.

You can't get promoted to ACD or CD or ECD purely based on your network. At least not at an agency that values creativity.

And there are no categories in the One Show or Cannes for most connections on LinkedIn.

Once you're in the business, your network grows because of your reputation. And your reputation grows because of your work.

If you're a student or a junior, feel free to network. Join LinkedIn. Plot your career on UpMo. But realize that none of that matters if your book isn't absolutely amazing.

Your real asset

I left portfolio school with what I think was a pretty solid book. But the real asset I left with was the network of my peers.

People I used to go to movies with and make waffles with and go to karaoke bars with and laugh really hard with and stay up really late trying to do better ads while downing a box of Krispy Kremes with now work in almost every major market in America at places like Goodby, GSD&M, DDB, Fallon, Publics, david&goliath, Burnett, BBDO, Chiat/Day, Crispin and Vitro/Robertson. Most hold leadership positions, and I'm pretty sure collectively, we've won every major award out there. It's good company.

If you haven't decided whether or not portfolio school is for you, consider the fact that I haven't needed my student book in almost a decade. But I keep in touch with these people very frequently.

Save Your Ideas

Research shows that an average advertising creative generates 735,017 ideas in the course of a career.* That's a lot of ideas. Maybe 25% of those will be more than a sentence uttered between partners, or a doodle on a page. Maybe 5% will be fleshed out into executions, 2% presented in meetings, and something like .01% actually created into spots, or print ads, or whatever.

So what happens to the other 99.99% of those ideas?

There's a rumor that the Bud frogs idea was something that Goodby found in a box of old scripts and boards that they'd inherited from Bud's former agency. I don't really believe this (I've never heard of an agency passing on their old scripts and boards to the agency that just took their business), but there's a truth in the story. Things change, and an idea that wasn't right, or wasn't sellable, or didn't even make it to the client one year, might be just what's needed a few years later.

I can be a little anal when it comes to organization. I keep all my notes in little sketchbooks on a bookshelf in my office. It's not that I think every thought is worth keeping, but I can't tell you how many times I've been doing my second tour of duty on a piece of business and find a nugget by looking through the old ideas. Or a creative director has called and said "Hey, you remember that campaign you guys had that was off strategy a few years ago? Well, the strategy's changed, and I'd like to take another look at that campaign." Some executions might even solve some completely different assignment down the road.

It baffles me when I see people jotting stuff down and then leaving their notes behind, or throwing them away at the end of a project. Yes, most of those ideas probably belong in the garbage, but there's always a chance that some of those hours of thinking will come in handy later in your career. So keep them somewhere you can find them later.**

Also, after a project is finished, if we had a concept I really believe in but didn't sell for whatever reason, I file that away separately. You never know when a director or photographer will be looking for something to shoot, or a little extra money will show up.

Some might say I'm advocating lazy recycling of ideas. Hardly. (And I would caution against ever trying to "put one over" on a client or creative director; be upfront with the fact that the idea was presented before, but you think it still has merit.) All I'm saying is that you put a lot of time into generating ideas. It just takes a little organization to give them a chance at a second life.

*This is based on my research, using numbers I made up.
**When I retire I plan to sell all of my notebooks on eBay for $3. Or I'll sell them to you now for $10 (shipping not included).

ADC Young Guns - Call for entries

99% of students and juniors qualify for this competition.

Early Bird Deadline: April 15

Regular Deadline: May 13

Do not let this opportunity pass you by.

This one's huge.

(Let us know how you do. We'd be happy to post you if you're a winner or finalist.)

Non-Ads You Will Have to Work On

Here’s a secret you won’t learn in portfolio school:

Not everything your boss will ask you to work on will be ads. You will also have to write and/or art direct the following:
  • Mood boards
  • Mood videos
  • Campaign set-ups (paragraph-length explanations of why the agency pursued the campaign it's presenting
  • Web copy (not the exciting stuff - the gunk on the side bars)
  • Explanations of how an ambient media or interactive piece will work
  • Brochures and leaflets
  • PowerPoint slides for your CEO (I wish this were a joke or a one-time experience)
  • Award show entry forms
  • Award show entry videos
  • Agency brand videos
  • Emails to client/agency audiences
  • Treatments to sell your work to directors
  • Casting specs
  • Direction for other vendors: editors, music people, SFX (especially when working remotely to edit, or do music etc...more about being crystal clear than crafting it, but important nonetheless)
  • Pitch leave-behinds
  • Manifestos
You will never practice crafting this stuff in portfolio school. Nor should you. But even the most creative shops and the most creative creatives have these items cross their desk.

But there's a very simple way to make this less of a headache: Know how to write. Be able to art direct in your sleep. Know your craft and this stuff becomes easy.

The more you practice your craft the easier it will be to get this stuff off of your desk, so you can focus that talent on opportunities.