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 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

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.