Avoid This Phrase

"It's good. For what it is."

For example, if you've done an okay pharmaceutical ad, you're saying it's good, considering the majority of pharmaceutical ads are awful.

But that's just being a giant in a company of dwarves.

And the scariest thing about this phrase is that, used too frequently, it can easily be applied to your career.

"I haven't won many awards. I haven't really built any brands or even my own company. And I haven't really created anything of value. But my career's good. For what it is."


What's On Your Agency's Walls?

What's on your agency's walls? Ads? Art? Post-Its? Scuff marks?

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 stackingchairs@gmail.com to contribute.

He's got a few cool ones from W+K, Crispin and Creature up already.

(If you're working the days before Christmas, it's probably pretty quiet and this will give you something to do. Otherwise, bookmark Brian's page and send pics in January.)

Framed ads

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

Enjoy the holidays / working

It's mid-December. And you're about to go on break. If you're a student, you'll be leaving school. If you're a professional, your office is probably closed. Enjoy your time off.

But don't get soft. Don't come back in January with creative love-handles. Spend a little time every day writing. Or art directing. Or making something. Doesn't have to be advertising. But it has to keep you sharp.

Your work shouldn't be something you long to get away from. School, yes. The office, sure. But not your work.

Essential vs. Extra Credit, Revised

Here's a revision of an earlier post. I beefed it up for an internal presentation. I debated putting it on makinads.com since it's not 100% for portfolio students or junior creatives. But whatever. Enjoy.

Elevator Pitch, Part 4: The Interview

Granted, you have more than 30-seconds to make an impression in an interview. In fact, if you've come this far, your work speaks for itself. Usually, agencies won't call people in for interviews unless they really like the work they've seen.

Here are a few tips to help you through that chemistry test:

1. When someone is looking at your book, resist the urge to talk. No matter how uncomfortable the silence, don't try to explain your work. It sounds Full Metal Jacket-ish, but when someone's looking at your book, don't speak unless spoken to. From the other side of the table, it's kind of annoying to try to focus on work when your mind is constantly interrupted by comments like, "Yeah, my professors really liked that one."

2. Rule of thumb: Ask more questions than you make statements. Ask about the agency. About why your interviewer took the job there. The best part and the worst part about the agency.

3. Listen. I can't remember who said it (probably Stephen Covey), but the problem with most of us is that we aren't really listening when the other person is talking. We're trying to figure out what we're going to say next. It's even more complicated in an interview because we're trying to figure out what we're going to say next that makes us sound so smart they'll hire us on the spot. Step back. And really try listening. Then answer as best you can. Keep in mind, they probably already like your work. So you've got that going for you.

What's Your Path?

An executive creative director once told me that one of the most important things she could do as a manager was to make sure she understood what each person in her department's personal goals were, then try to give them a path to those goals.

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:


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."

"Am I doing anything relevant?"

Here's an Adweek interview with Jeff Goodby. Around the 2:25 mark, he points out that the current state of advertising is forcing us to ask questions like, "Am I really lending any value to anything? Am I doing anything anyone cares about? Am I doing anything relevant?"

Normally, when working on an assignment we ask ourselves, "Is this good enough to win an award?" Or "Will this get me a job at a hot agency?"

And to answer those questions we start comparing our work to what we see in the most recent One Show: My print ad looks like this award-winning print ad, so I'm on the right track.

But if we're asking questions like "What can I do that's relevant?" or "What can I do that will be valuable to my book/client/career?" our thinking starts to get a little bigger, and less concerned with what's already won awards.

Try asking yourself questions like Goodby's. Then try answering them.

The Work Makes the King

Hugh Mcleod drew this. It appears in Seth Godin's book The Dip. And it's very true.

Except in advertising. At least the creative side. At least in agencies that care more about producing great work than about politics.

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.

So if you find yourself in this king/pawn situation, it's probably because someone isn't focused on the work.

The virtue of working fast

Ryan Ebner is a very good copywriter and director (that's his Boba Fett spot at the bottom of the post). I’ve worked with him peripherally, but I can’t say I really know him. But I’d been around him enough to mention it when I met his old boss Mike Shine. Mike had a lot of good things to say about Ryan. But there was one thing he said that really stayed with me:

“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.