Some Light Reading

The other day at lunch, I read Paul Arden's It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be. It's kind of a hodge-podge of tips and insights about working in advertising, and a quick read.

Here are random quotes I would have underlined if I weren't borrowing the book:

Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.

If you ask the right question, you get the right answer.

Know your client’s aims. Most clients are corporate people protecting their own mortgages. They mistakenly see ideas as a risk rather than an advancement to their careers. Therefore their motivation might be quite different from their brief to you. Find out what the client’s real objective is.

It can’t be judged by description. It needs to be done (made) to exist.

The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.

The way to get unblocked is to lose our inhibitions and stop worrying about being right.

If you get stuck, draw with a different pen. Change your tools. It may free your thinking.

Get out of advertising. To be original, seek your inspiration from unexpected sources.

We all want to be proud of the company we work for. If you find people talking down [your agency], take issue with them…or, as a friend of mine did, fight somebody for talking disparagingly about the company he worked for. [this one seemed stupid at first, but then I began thinking that if you don't take offense when someone knocks your agency, then you must agree with them. Which begs the question, why are you still at that agency? And fighting other ad people, that sounds good to me. I'll warn you, though, I'll throw lots of leg kicks and try to take it to the ground]

If you can find a way of summing up what the client wants to feel about his company but cannot express himself, you’ve got him.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If instead you undersell, pointing out the possible weaknesses and how to resolve them, should they occur, you are not only building a trusting relationship with your client but you’re able to solve any problems.

What do you do when your client won’t buy? Do it his way, then do it your way.

If you know the your client’s logo or product has to be big in an ad, don’t hope that it will fit in the corner somewhere unobtrusively. It won’t. Start your layout knowing that it’s a problem to be solved as an integral part of the ad.

Truths from Sally

This article was written for one.a magazine by one of my favorite copywriters. The article is about a decade old, and the advice is even older. And it still applies to you and me today. Enjoy.

The Agency With
the Best Softball Team
Does the Worst Creative
By Sally Hogshead

I heard this one in the hallway. It was late, around 11 pm. We were in a pitch against an agency with an exceptionally good softball team.

I’ve learned a lot in agency hallways, bits of wisdom mentioned in passing while eating microwave popcorn. (This is especially true when you’re sharing the popcorn with Luke Sullivan or Jean Robaire.) Here are some of the more memorable words of advice I’ve heard, standing in line for the copier.

When pursuing a job, don’t send a fake foot to “get your foot in the door.”

Secretaries know more about what’s going on than we do.

It doesn’t necessarily matter if people say they don’t like an ad you’re working on. But think carefully if they say they don’t get it.

The wacky creative with noserings rarely does the coolest ads.

Brilliant ideas are fragile. They won’t get produced unless everyone in the agency is dedicated to helping them through.

The small space magazine category in the One Show has the least entries.

There are 5 elements to an ad. Headline, visual, body copy, logo, tagline. The more elements you can get rid of, the better the ad will be.

Warning: everyone’s seen too many fake warning labels.

Which agency you work for usually matters less than which accounts and creative director you work for.

It usually takes a hundred headlines to come up with one great one.

When a prospective employer makes all sorts of promises, remember that your salary agreement is the only promise they can’t flake out on.

That being said, don’t go for the money.

Most creatives can come up with a great idea. But the really successful ones keep coming up with them, over and over, as often as the client kills them.

Shock value only works if it’s tied to the product benefit.

In general, layouts look better when designed on paper first.

Don’t take anything into a presentation you wouldn’t want to produce. If we don’t present bad ads, we won’t do bad ads.

Concepts we’ve all used (proof of our collective unconscious?): Fake classifieds and Help Wanted ads... bugs smacking into windshields... Just Do It parodies... far-fetched comparisons to ancient cultures... fingerprints... long lines of people waiting to use a single public phone... anything to do with condoms or S & M.

Advertising people are the last great folk artists. Everything we do is anonymous, disposable, and useful.

Resist the urge to explain ads while someone’s looking at your portfolio.

A rule of thumb: The most interesting part of a headline goes at the end.

There’s an enormous difference between A- and A+.

It’s usually obvious in the first couple of weeks whether a new job is going to work out. Don’t wait around too long, hoping things will get better.

Donate your copy of Ogilvy on Advertising to Goodwill.

It’s almost always less expensive to give a creative more money than to try and replace him.

Don’t work for someone whose taste you don't respect.

Gangbangs ruin morale.

Agencies do not “turn themselves around.” The kind of work an agency does is an integral part of their culture. A freshly painted lobby, a big motivational speech, a new creative director can only do so much.

Scientific research has proven that good visual thinkers are bad spellers.

Repay the favor that someone once did for you. Meet with a junior.

Okay, we’ve all done it. But if you do an ad for a “freebie” client, it’s better to find something that sounds legit, instead of a veterinary acupuncturist.

Bill Westbrook’s concepting timeline: First, creatives come up with every pun and easy joke and really they have nothing. Second, they realize they have nothing and feel like hacks. Third, epiphany, a good idea.

Great radio spots are engaging within the first five seconds.

Politics happen when employees feel like they can’t let their work speak for itself.

Seek out the hidden emotions or insecurities that most people have, and few admit to.

So few people in this business use common courtesy. It’s always appreciated and remembered.

Smart beats clever.

When an agency is not totally committed to doing killer work, even talented and ambitious creatives have a tough time producing killer work.

Trust your gut, it’s smarter than you are.

Creatives usually come up with better work on the second or third rounds. (Don’t tell clients.)

Finally, we’re not all starting headlines with “finally.” Other headline formats to use with caution:
Think of it as a _(clever noun) .
If _(person or thing)_ had a __(noun)_ , this would be it.
It's like a _(noun) for your (noun) .

While we’re on the subject, fonts to consider packing away along with collarless shirts and Adam Ant CDs:
Caslon Openface
And the other trendy grungy fonts. (Yes, I know this one’s difficult, but it’s time. Let it go.)

Being a good partner is half of being a good creative.

It wasn’t any easier in the good ol’ days.

An agency’s quality of life is usually inversely proportional to the quality of work it does. Unfortunately.

The kid who’s book you crap on could be interviewing you one day. Go easy.

Sooner or later, people end up where they belong.

Send more thank-you notes.

Pick out a last name that people can make fun of.

The Importance of Networking


When I was in school, I believed that I would get jobs through the simple purity of my ideas. The word "networking" was on a list in my mind with other words like "selling" and "schmoozing"--words that I'd heard were part of our business but that I had no interest in. It was all about the ideas.

Well, here's a secret. I have never sat in an interview and shown anyone my portfolio. Not once. I got an internship through my school, I got a job through my internship, and I got a second job through connections I made at my first job. I hope you think no less of me.

The math is simple (actually, it's probably complex, but the idea of it is simple). In advertising, the usual stint at an agency is probably 2-3 years. So take however many people you know from school, or the agency you interned at, and imagine them all bouncing from agency to agency every couple years, and all the people they come in contact with at those agencies. That's a lot of people. That's a lot of contacts.

I'm not that old, but when I left school there was no Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter. We had email address books and phone numbers. It's easy to keep in touch with people these days, or at least keep track of where they are and what they're up to. If you're not using at least one of these sites, you're missing an opportunity that you may regret if you find yourself in the market for a new job. Because when we need to hire someone at my agency, the first thing we do isn't look through the stack of portfolios in the corner. It's not call a headhunter. It's ask everyone in the creative department: "Hey, you know any talented people looking for a job?"

Here's a good post on how to use social networks to find a job.

I got this link from a very talented writer I know, Tony. How do I know Tony? He is a former student of mine. We've stayed in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

Makin' Ads turns 2

Makin' Ads began two years ago today with this post.

Thanks, everyone for making this bigger and better than we originally planned.

- Jim and Greg

The YouTube Test

We've just wrapped up award show season, when juries of the most respected minds in the advertising industry tell us which work is good.

I'm joshing you, of course. Awards are good to win, but any of us is perfectly capable of forming our own opinions about which ads are good. Opinions are known to be subjective, after all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's also something to be said for seeing what "normal" people think of your TV spots. You know, "normal" people, as in not award show judges, not jaded writers and art directors or adcritics. Just people who watch stuff on YouTube.

You have to take YouTube comments with a grain of salt. The person commenting could be in your target. It could also be a 12-year-old boy. But hey, how often are award-show judges part of the target market either? There's just something refreshing in knowing that the person judging it is just giving their opinion. Kind of like if they were sitting in front of the TV and your ad came on. And if you do an ad that someone else likes enough to take the time to post on youtube, well, that's a decent compliment in itself.

Are you as honest as Ben Folds?

I was just listening to an interview with Ben Folds on Sound of Young America.

One of the things that struck me was how he would use a tape recorder as a kid. He would record himself playing his music so he could go back and listen to it with fresh ears. If he thought he really had something, he'd take the tape to JC Penny's, put it in a stereo, push play, walk around the store a bit and kind of sneak up on his own music as if he'd never heard it before. If he didn't like it, he'd change it, or scrap it altogether.

I guess the alternate universe story would be Ben writing some songs he was satisfied with, stopping when they were "good enough," performing for a few people who thought they were okay, never signing a record deal and complaining about the fact that his work was just never really understood or that he never had a big break.

If we really want to do great, fantastic, killer work, it's not really about having a big break or finding an audience who gets us. We've got to be as honest with our ideas as Ben is with his. And we've got to be willing work to make the okay ideas much, much better.