Ask to see the work

If you're interviewing at a shop who's work you're not familiar with, ask them to show you everything they've done within the past year.

Sometimes they'll already have it on the walls. Ask them about each piece - who worked on it, what the process was like, what they wish they could have done better.

When you're interviewing, don't take the agency's word for it that they're committed to doing great creative. Ask to see what they've done recently and make them prove it.


This post from Scamp is very true and isn't exclusive to TV shoots.

Radio Thursday 5/28

Quite honestly, I look for an element of “We can’t do that on the radio, can we?” Even if the commercial is just a single voice and serious, I look for some element of honesty or truth or execution that is mischievous. To me, big, subversive ideas are the key to great radio. The best commercials leave me with a sense of “I can’t believe they got away with that.”

Success and Failure

Not everyone is going to be interviewing at Goodby, Wieden, Fallon or Crispin.

If you are, don't consider that a success. Blasphemous as it sounds, those agencies have turned out some bad work, too. (And they usually put the juniors on those assignments.)

If you're not, don't consider that a failure. There are a lot of unsung, unheralded and undiscovered  agencies who are just waiting for fresh talent to take them to the next level.

Can you vs. Should you: A delicate balance

Sometimes you need to look at your work critically and ask, "Could we really do that?" Be honest. If your budget can only support stock photography and a headline, you shouldn't be writing two minute theatrical trailers with a cast of thousands and CGI.

Or should you?

Your 5 Criteria Redux

A lot of you may be hunting for jobs right about now. Best of luck to all of you.

Here's an old post based on some of the best advice I received before leaving portfolio school. Hope it helps.

Quote from Silent Cal

This is something Calvin Coolidge said. I think it applies to getting a job in advertising.

Radio Thursday 5/21

Paul Ruta believes you should write what you believe is a good script for the length of your spot, then prune the words by half. “It’s incredible how little it takes to fill 30 seconds.”


I'm working on another spot that consists mostly of animation and computer-generated imagery. I've done this a few times in my career, and each time I'm reminded of how different a beast it can be from the normal production process. Don't get me wrong, it's a really fun process and allows you to do some things you never could with live action, but it can be really frustrating if you don't have your ducks in a line, or if everyone doesn't understand how the process works.

Animation is like building a building. Each step depends on the previous steps. If you get to the fifth floor and decide you don't like the first floor, you have to tear the whole thing down. For example, let's say you're animating a cartoon character onto a shot with a live-action person. On Monday you and your client approve the edit, basically saying you like a certain take of the live-action person. Then the animators start the rough animation process. They work all week on it. Then on Friday, the client changes their mind and decides that they're not crazy about the look on the live-action person's face and want another take in there. You've just lost a week.

This is a pretty common scenario, and it makes agencies, animators, and probably everyone else want to pull their hair out. Here's a few tips for how to avoid this:

1) Prepare the client. In one regard, YOU are the client, so you must prepare yourself as well. Along with your creative director. And your client client. It's worth having a meeting up front that walks through how the animation process works and emphasizes that once a decision is made, you can't go back. Use the building analogy. And repeat every meeting, "After we decide this, we can't go back."

2) Manage expectations. Animation is about baby steps. There are no big "wow" moment, because each time you see something, it's only changed a little since you saw it last. Keep this in mind, and make sure the client knows this. You will come a very long way from start to finish, but the process is one step at a time.

3) Be crystal clear what's being decided with each meeting. There are a ton of potential disractions with each review of the cut. At the beginning of the meeting, make sure it's clear what everyone is looking at. If they're judging just the animation of the fish, kindly remind everyone to focus on just the fish when they ask if the clouds in the background are finished. The fish is the only thing that exists.

4) Make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Odds are, your client doesn't know a wireframe model from a model airplane. Make sure you have a grasp of the process, then break it down for them in their terms. Use analogies (this is like the studs of the house, and this is like the drywall, etc.). Or get the animation company to help break it down for you. Just make sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

5) Make sure the decision-makers have the power to make the decisions. This is the big one. One client might be okay with something, but their boss isn't. Or their boss's boss. Or the CEO. It doesn't matter. Whoever the decision-maker is going to be, they need to be involved when the decision is made. Get them in the room, or find some way to get a rough cut in front of them.

6) Be patient. You're asking people to imagine a lot. There will be indecision. There will be a lot of questions, and a lot of what you might consider hand-holding. Just expect this. Be clear, be patient, and be organized. If you do all these things, it'll help everything run more smoothly.

Lessons from the Master

I’ve been reading bits and pieces of The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, and recently came across this story:

In 1502, in Florence, Italy, an enormous block of marble stood in the works department of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. It had once been a magnificent piece of raw stone, but an unskilled sculptor had mistakenly bored a hole through it where there should have been a figure’s legs, generally mutilating it…So, despite the money that had been wasted on it, it gathered dust in the dark halls of the church.

This was where things stood until some Florentine friends of the great Michelangelo decided to write to the artist, then living in Rome…Michelangelo traveled to Florence, examined the stone, and came to the conclusion that he could in fact carve a figure from it, by adapting the pose to the way the rock had been mutilated. Soderini [the mayor of Florence] argued that this was a waste of time—nobody could salvage such a disaster—but he finally agreed to let the artist work on it…

Weeks later, as Michelangelo was putting the final touches on the statue, Soderini entered the studio. Fancying himself a bit of a connoisseur, he studied the huge work and told Michelangelo that while he thought it was magnificent, the nose, he judged, was too big. Michelangelo realized that Soderini was standing in a place right under the giant figure and did not have the proper perspective. Without a word, he gestured for Soderini to follow him up the scaffolding. Reaching the nose, he picked up his chisel, as well as a bit of marble dust that lay on the planks. With Soderini just a few feet below him on the scaffolding, Michelangelo started to tap lightly with the chisel, letting the bits of dust he had gathered in his hand to fall little by little. He actually did nothing to change the nose, but gave every appearance of working on it. After a few minutes of this charade, he stood aside. “Look at it now.”

“I like it better,” replied Soderini. “You’ve made it come alive."

The statue was Michelangelo’s David. And there are a few very applicable things to take away from this story.

1) The first is a lesson in diplomacy. As Greene points out, arguing with a man like Soderini would have earned Michelangelo nothing and perhaps endangered future commissions.

2) Michelangelo worked with what he had. He worked “inside the box,” as Ernie Schenk might say. To bring this down to the level of what we do, if you know, in your TV spot, you have to show a big product shot and have someone say “Wow! This magic lotion sure does make my legs feel younger!” try starting there and building the spot around it.

3) Perspective is everything.

Radio Thursday 5/14

The stuff that works is the stuff that you don’t expect. Well-observed real moments are the source of great writing and great advertising. So watch people yourself and write what you see. Then you’ll never have to write another quiz-programme, courtroom-scene, phone-in, psychiatrist-and-patient or film-trailer pastiche as long as you live and the world will sound a lot better.

Developing outside experise

I’ve had two really great creative directors who came from an art direction background. One of them made my radio much better. Another did the same for my headlines.

If you aspire to be a creative director, you’ve got to have expertise outside your own discipline. Because when you become a creative director, to the teams underneath you, you are the expert.

The Fourth Box

A friend of mine who works for a great agency sent me this picture. It's how they sort the minibooks they receive.

If you click to enlarge, you'll notice the three categories from right to left are COPYWRITERS, ART DIRECTORS, and THINK OF CAREER CHANGE. Granted, that's pretty harsh. But as my friend pointed out, "I couldn't believe how many of them were bad!"

So how do you avoid falling into that third box? Here's my advice:

Don't even worry about it. Chances are, your book is already better than 100% of them. What you need to be concerned with is being better than all the other books in the COPYWRITER and ART DIRECTOR slots. If this agency's hiring at all, it's probably for one team. Maybe two. That's still a lot of books being sent home.

There's a fourth box this picture doesn't show. The fourth box is your book sitting on the hiring creative director's desk and being shown around the agency.

What are you doing to make sure your book is in the Fourth Box?

Agency Culture. Client Culture. Leadership.

These are pretty intangible things, but when you start working at a place, or for a client, you can get the feel for them pretty quickly. Here are five questions that can help gauge an agency's or client's culture:

1) Are the people in the meetings empowered to make the decisions, or does everything need to run all the way up the chain of command?

2) Is there a culture of trust, or a culture of fear? In other words, do the people at the top trust the employees to do their jobs and support their decisions, or do they micromanage?

3) Are big ideas that fail celebrated or punished?

4) Is there an overall spirit of collaboration or competition?

5) Do people make decisions based on what they think is right, or are they guessing what their boss will think is right?

Company culture flows down from the top. Leaders who trust their employees create a culture of trust. Of empowerment and collaboration and big ideas. You can often feel out what kind of company you're dealing with by sitting in a meeting or two and listening to how people make decisions.

For more on leadership, I recommend Good To Great, by Jim Collins. The cases are a little dated, but the content on leadership is great.

Know Your Award Shows

Here's a presentation I recently did for my agency. I hope you enjoy it.

A Mom Story for Mother's Day

In light of Mother's Day, I just wanted to share a quick story about my mother.

She's always been my biggest fan and biggest promoter, passing on news to family and friends back east. I've learned over the years that when I send news home, if I don't specify that I don't want it passed on, she will email it out to her 200 closest friends. She's what Malcolm Gladwell calls a "connector."

Anyway, a few years ago, when I got a promotion, I sent the announcement email (the one that had been sent out to the agency) home to my folks. They like to see things like that. What I didn't think to do was to delete the email address of my boss and our CCO, who had written the email.

A few hours later, my boss stopped me in the hall and said that she had received an email from MY MOTHER! She thought it was hilarious and really charming and brought me into her office to listen, red-faced, while she read it to me. Basically my mother, bless her heart, thanking my boss for everything she's done for me over the years, for watching out for me, how happy I am, yada yada. Oh, mom.

Anyway, happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. That's a much tougher and more important job than anything we do in our business, and I'm always in awe.

The Wrong Idea

T.26 has some nice fonts. About once a month or so they send me an email with some of their latest creations. I'm a writer, but I appreciate nice typography.

I just received an email about SketchType, which they boast "makes it easy to incorporate the texture of hand-drawn lettering into any project without ever picking up a pencil."

I find this a little ridiculous, and I hope you do to. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with passion. And that means picking up a pencil. Use these fonts as inspiration. But do not use these fonts.

Please aspire to be art directors and not just ad directors.

ADC Young Guns

Are you entered into the ADC Young Guns? If you're under 30 and in advertising, you'd be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity.

Deadline is Wednesday, May 13.

Riches and glory await.

Radio Thursday 5/7

If the first five seconds don’t intrigue me, I’m not bothered by the next 25. The idea should remain pure from start to finish. If you have to deviate to accommodate other information, write an additional script.

Awesome vs. Funny

Don't confuse doing a cool campaign with solving a businesses problem.

There are students in every portfolio school in the country right now trying to do "cool" campaigns. But what's going to get you hired are coming up with solutions to problems no one has thought about.

I'm not saying get analytical and businessy to solve global corporate challenges with proactive innovative solutions. Just know that a funny campaign that sells snowboards isn't as interesting as a cool new way to talk about snowboards that no one has thought of before.

Ask yourself what problems your product has. Is it unknown (Kenexa)? Ignored (Sears)? Forgotten (Arby's)? Does it need to appeal to a new segment (Burton snowboards)? Does it need to strengthen and retain the customers it already has (Sony)?

Funny campaigns are funny. Awesome campaigns solve problems in ways you'd never considered. Funny campaigns might crack a smile. Awesome campaigns get you hired.

Congrats, One Show Finalists

Congratulations to all the One Show Finalists in the student competition. Best of luck on getting a pencil this Thursday. Best of luck getting a job afterwards.

For those of you who are not finalists and/or pencil winners (and those of you who are), as great an honor as this is, as far as your career's concerned it's no better than reading tea leaves.

I've known people who never won an award as a student load up a reel's worth of great spots on Creativity, become GCD's on award-winning accounts, and have a healthy shelf of awards anyway.

I've also know winners of One Show golds in the student competition to be jobless a year after receiving their award, and I've known winners of One Show student pencils who have yet to win anything else in their career.

If you win, milk it for all it's worth. If you don't, it doesn't mean the work you did isn't stellar.

At any point in your career, you're only as good as your last ad.

Without Advertising...

Everyone's 2¢. Pretty soon we'll have enough to turn this economy around.


How to identify a bad brief.

A creative should be able to identify a bad brief as easily as an account person can identify a bad piece of creative.

Signs you've been given a bad brief:
  • The brief is longer than one page.
  • The single-minded message section contains more than one message. (I've had single-minded messages presented in bullet points. Wish I were kidding.)
  • It's creatively worded so that several messages are scattered throughout different sections (e.g. One in the key insight, one in the net takeaway, a different one in the mandatory).
  • The target description is mostly demographic. (We're talking to 18-32 year old men who make between $20,000 and $80,000 a year...) 
  • It's a "middle strategy." Tastes good, but also good for you. Not to big, not too small. Fancy, yet affordable. Not too boring, but not too memorable either.
  • There's nothing unexpected, inspirational or insightful.

A Year Without Award Shows?

It's hard to think of another industry, with the possible exception of film or music, that has so many awards and award shows. We love patting ourselves on the back.

For creatives, our value is often measured by what awards we've managed to win. They also help agencies attract top talent. They give creatives something to strive for. And the actual award show parties, well they can be fun too. But is this all worth it?

Agencies spend tens of thousands of dollars entering award shows every year. They spend more money to fly people to the shows. With the current economic climate, what does this say about our priorities?

Being selected to judge a top show is perceived as a big honor, and the judges list often reads like a who's who in the industry. But then there's all the behind-the-scenes politicking that takes place at the shows. You vote for my campaign, I'll vote for yours. Which kind of thing makes one wonder what a win is really worth.

A good friend and co-worker just wrote an interesting post proposing a year without award shows.

I'm interested to know what you think. On the one side, it's always good to strive to do better, more creative work. And there's nothing more inspirational than seeing all of the industry's best work in one place. On the other hand, I can think of a long list of reasons why award shows are not the best way to judge what's good, and why they're actually more harmful to our industry than they are helpful.

What's your take?

Social Media Rule #1: You Will Lose Control

One of the biggest challenges to getting clients to buy and run with social media ideas is that they're afraid of giving up control of their brand. That's just the nature of the media these days. Social=everyone has a voice=loss of control.

Even allowing people to post comments on the brand website makes some marketers queasy. "What if they post something bad?" "What if they say our customer service sucks?" The answer to these questions is "Awesome!" You need to know if people think your new lime-flavored beer tastes like crap. You need to know if your customer service is making people never want to deal with your company again. By allowing them to give you direct feedback, you're circumventing the lengthier process and lost time of watching sales drop, doing surveys to figure out why, then trying to fix it. Conversations are a good thing.

Alex Wipperfurth, in Brand Hijack, talks about how marketers will need to learn to give up control of their brands. Giving a group of people you don't know ownership of and the ability to shape your brand--I can see where that might be scary. But if those people love your brand, then you're giving them something they'll take good care of. You're building a genuine relationship and a strong community.

But this can also go very wrong if it's not well thought out. A few years ago, Chevy allowed users of its website to edit existing Chevy footage, add supers, and create their own commercial for the new Chevy Tahoe. Then those users could post it on Chevy's site. A lot of users did this, making spots that extolled the Tahoe. But others, as you'd expect, wrote ads with lines like: "$70 to fill up the tank, which will last less than 400 miles. Chevy Tahoe." To their credit, maybe, G.M. didn't yank any of the critical ads.

In perhaps the latest social media idea gone wrong, Skittles encouraged people to twitter about their product. They then searched twitter for any mention of skittles and automatically posted those tweets to What happened? Again, pretty much what you'd expect. It was like allowing people to text messages, unfiltered, to the jumbotron at the ballpark.

Skittles could have avoided this by filtering out the negative messages. That was the approach Nike took when one customer tried to customize their Nike iD's with the word "SWEATSHOP." It's a little hypocritical, encouraging freedom of expression as long as it doesn't criticize the brand. But Nike, probably rightly so, decided that was better than having some guy walking around with a Nike-hater message on his kicks.

The big question here might seem to be how to let the lovers in and keep the haters out without seeming like a nightclub with a big douchey bouncer at the door. But I would argue it's not about better filters. It's about better brands. Brands that people love, that support their communities and genuinely listen to them, those brands will build such a fan base that the cheers will drown out the smart-asses. And those brands have nothing to be afraid of.

A Night At Rockwood

I’m on production in New York this week. And while I’m there, on Wednesday night, an old friend and I go to a place in the East Village called Rockwood Music Hall. They have live music, a new act every hour.

The first band we see is a group of super-talented musicians, playing songs that wander between jazz, mellow Jack Johnson pop, classic rock, funk and rap. Midway through, their drummer shows up. Actually, they tell us between verses, he’s their backup drummer, who’s never played with them before. He’s a big guy, the kind who automatically gets stuck at center in pickup basketball games. He shows up mid-song and before he has his coat off, he’s playing drums with one hand and setting up his cymbals with the other. These guys were great, and the bar was full of their friends--probably NYU students--full of energy.

The third band’s awesome too, a quartet, and it seems like they could tear up any kind of music they wanted and on this particular night just happened to pick bluegrass, with a little Cajun thrown in for good measure.

But the act that really sticks with me is this one guy, Jason Anderson. He doesn’t go near the stage, doesn’t touch a mic. Just stands in the middle of the bar and starts playing his acoustic guitar and singing and people shut up and listen. He’s a thin guy, white t-shirt, jeans, beard, bill-bent ballcap and a wild look in his eyes. He’s making eye contact with everyone, like one by one, maintaining it. This makes some people pretty uncomfortable and some of them take off. But the group that’s left, we’re all transfixed. He’s a good guitar player, but nothing fancy. His songwriting is really solid. Good storytelling. Great writing. Sounds a little like The Mountain Goats.

He asks us to sing along with him. He asks us to stand up. We all gather in a circle around him, and he says some pretty hippy dippy stuff about being there in the moment and enjoying it, but we are. It’s fantastic.

We’re buzzing when we leave there, and I’ve been thinking about Jason’s show. Here at this place with an endless stream of crazy-talented musicians, why he stood out so much. Here’s what I think:

1) He immediately killed our expectations. No stage. No mic. Okay, what the heck is this guy going to do?

2) He engaged us. Not just the normal chatter from the stage. He was down with us. He stood about two feet in front of each person and connected with us one at a time, not as a crowd but as individuals.

3) He got us to participate. He never said it, but there was no choice. You were going to participate, or you were going to leave the bar.

4) He was fine with people leaving the bar. Didn’t bug him at all. And this is the most important thing. He was polarizing. But it was so much better to have a smaller group of people who were really into the act than a large group of half-interested folks. He just put himself out there. This is me. This is what I do. Jump on or jump out of the way.

Both my bud, who works at Mother, and I had the same thought as we left: Man, we should get him to come play at the agency. You watch him, and it beats any class you could ever have on presentation. Great stuff.

Be like Zach. The campaign, not the guy. Unless you're a girl.

I think you should check out Zach. Zach's a 16-year-old guy who wakes up with "girl parts...Down there." And I think it's a great example of where this industry's headed.

You can see video content on his blog.
You can follow his Twitter feeds.
He's been uploaded to Funny or Die.
I'm not aware of any TV, print, or radio.
It's been a week since the launch and the sponsor (yes, there is one) remains a mystery. (That's a courageous CMO.)
Most importantly, it's a story.