Two Ways to Spend Your Summer Internship

A lot of you are about to spend your summers interning around the country. When I was a student, I was lucky enough to spend my summer between semesters at GSD&M in Austin. I had some friends whose internships I was jealous of, while others went to places I’d never send my book to. Yet we all had similar experiences, and none of us made or broke our careers on our three-month stints.

But over the years, on the agency side I’ve seen several interns come and go, and I’ve decided that there are really only two ways to spend your summer internship:

1. Work hard. These interns come in, figure out who the best team in the agency is and work as late as they do no matter what. They ask the CDs for advice. They meet as many people as possible and ask other groups for any spare assignments. They reschedule their lives around the agency.

2. Play hard. These interns need a slight brake from portfolio school. They work hard at the agency, but they leave around five or six and enjoy the city. They probably go to more concerts, see more museums, and go on more dates.

I’m not saying one is better than the other. They’re just different. I’m not suggesting that you can’t blend them and do both. But of all the interns I’ve seen over the last few years, I could easily put them in one of these two camps.

So before you create your Adventures of a Summer Intern blog, I’d recommend you figure out which camp you’ll be in, and stick to it. Decide you’re a Hard Worker, and keep yourself from burning out. Or decide to be a Hard Player, and keep yourself from regretting not having done more to impress your CDs.

(We've put a poll on the main page to see how you’d rather spend your summer internship. Cast your vote, and keep in mind “working hard” is not a guarantee of leaving a lasting impression and landing a job after graduation.)

First you have to: Read this post

If you're not reading Steven Pressfield's Writing Wednesdays blog, you're missing out. Even if you're an art director or a designer. What he says will apply to you, too.

Read today's post. He nails it.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 2

Makin' Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the second in that series. Read the first here and follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch

Last week I recounted how interactive freelance projects set me up for the switch to digital. The lesson, if any: you’ve got to be focused to land the job you want. This week I’m going to talk about how digital ads come from a different place than traditional ones.

Digital agencies start with a digital foundation. They’re not founded by general agency ex-pats who wanted to give the next big thing a shot. They’re start-ups founded by people who were born and raised digital. HTML is their first language. A true digital shop is not an evolution of the traditional agency. It's a whole new model. There's no age-old battle of Creative vs. Account. Work developed at AKQA comes from an equal combination of Creative, Account, Strategy, Information Architecture (IA), User Experience (UX) and Technology. Everyone works together like one big pixilated family, and each discipline’s expertise helps create stronger product for the agency.

The age of integration is far from over. Integrated agencies are great in theory, but the practice is far from perfect. We’re in the midst of the first generation of integration. There will be growing pains. Some can pull it off, but most efforts fall a little short. Traditional agencies try to build interactive work with a traditional toolbox, and the nuts don’t always fit the bolts. At the same time, clients are starting to trust digital agencies, giving them a chance to produce offline work. There will always be some agencies that focus on digital or traditional, while others adapt to do all things for their clients. One of the first projects I worked on at AKQA involved more print, billboards and POP than digital work. But what did all that traditional media do? Lead back to a mobile site. Our work isn’t limited to the computer screen. It’s limited to the best medium that communicates what our clients want to say.

Concept is still king, but tech is crown prince. While most traditional ad agencies outsource production, most digital ad agencies have in-house tech talent capable of pulling off amazing work, no outside vendor needed. If crowdsourcing has taught us anything, it’s that just coming up with an idea isn’t enough. If an agency is going to succeed, it must know how to actually do something. When I worked in general agencies, producing in-house was a last resort. It didn’t matter if I was recording radio, editing video or folding fitted sheets; top-quality production value wasn’t there. That all changes when tech gets a role in the creative process. Then the talent comes in-house and becomes a strength, not a weakness.

Pixels have more flexibility than paper. One of my favorite qualities of working in digital is that if I can dream it up, my agency can bring it to life online. Digital ads aren’t limited to predictable formulas like print and TV. There are expandable rich-media banners, site takeovers and microsites. Mobile sites and mobile apps. Social media strategies that span Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Viral, seeded, user-generated and branded content. Flash animation, video-tagging and augmented reality. These examples are already out there, and digital work continues to break new ground every other day. More often than not, the only boundaries of a digital agency are the creative team’s imagination.

Out with the obtrusive and in with the engaging. Content that hunts down and interrupts the viewer doesn’t cut it anymore. People have too many options of how to consume media. If content is going to succeed, users must choose to spend time with it. Good digital campaigns blur the line between ad campaign and product, like how this Smirnoff media player gives DJ Tiesto fans more of what they want. Interactive can be a tool, offering functionality and serving a purpose beyond pitching a brand. The ultimate goal of any campaign that lives online should be to empower the user. The digital process starts with the consumer, not with the product or media buy. That’s what makes it so effective.

These are just a few of the ways that digital agencies operate differently than traditional ones. If you’ve noticed others, drop a note in the comments. Next week, I’ll go over some things I’ve noticed about how the role of a creative in a digital agency is different from a creative’s role at a traditional agency. Until then, make yourself familiar with this list of the top 20 digital campaigns of all time.

Working vs. Soaking

We all hit walls. We all reach a point where the ideas just aren't coming. Usually, this is the point where we go for a walk, or pick up a magazine, or spend a half hour on YouTube. And that's all okay. It's soaking up the culture, art and life that we'll probably use somewhere down the road.

But next time you hit a wall, try this instead: Keep working.

I'm not saying a half hour of fresh air or viral videos is bad or ineffective. But I do think more often than not, we're too quick in succumbing to the wall.

So when you hit it, take out a couple blank pieces of paper and a stopwatch and promise yourself that you're going to write continuously about whatever assignment you're going to work on for the next 30 minutes. If you have no ideas, start writing, "What I want to do with this ad is..." or "Dear Mom, I'm writing an ad for [product here], and here's why I think you would love (or hate) it..."

Don't just accept that you've hit a wall. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to knock a few bricks off it.

10 Other Ways to Become a Better Creative

During my brief stint as a mechanical engineering student in college, I had a professor tell me that I should avoid being a monkey wrench. "A monkey wrench is an okay solution to lots of things. You want to be a 3/8" socket wrench. Be the best at one thing." In other words, specialize.

Advertising is different. One of the things I love about being an advertising creative is that it involves many different aspects of art, business and human interaction. To be great, you'll have to use every part of your brain. We talk a lot about how to be better at advertising, but here are some ideas about how to be better at other things, which will then make you better at advertising:

1) Get into music. Whether you take up an instrument or just listen to music, it can be a powerful tool in producing work. It works a different part of your brain and falls at the nexus of math, art and groove. At some point, you'll probably have to work with a composer, and it helps to be able to speak the language (at least a little). FURTHER THOUGHTS ON MUSIC

2. Take a fiction-writing class. Story story story. You probably won't write many short stories in your career, but the ability to construct a story, to use vivid and concrete language, to set up and resolve a conflict, to build a character--these skills are invaluable. And if you can earn yourself a reputation as a great writer, not just of ads, but of anything that needs writing, you can become invaluable to an agency.

3. Take a film class. Probably even more than music, film is a common language in advertising. You will talk to a director at some point, and although you may not need to analyze the opening scene of Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou, it's helpful to know the difference between a tracking shot and a pan.

4. Take an acting class. The only thing I could think of that's more frightening is to take a singing class (okay, maybe a dance class too). But you will write scripts, and you will have to bring them to life. I know a writer who can take any material and write a funny script to it, then have a room in tears laughing because he's such a funny actor. It's a good skill to have. Not only that, but you'll be able to articulate what you're thinking to a director on set.

5. Improv class. If you haven't realized it yet, the rules of concepting and the rules of improv are the same. I say something, then you say "Yes, and..." And we build. There's performance in improv, sure, but the ability to take an idea that someone throws your way, spin it and keep it up in the air, that's the important part of improv.

6. Learn how to tell jokes. Not too long ago, I was at a planning convention and I went to a workshop on joke writing. It could have been a workshop on how to write a headline. And for all the classes I've taken and taught on writing headlines, this was the best breakdown of why a good headline works. Plus, the best jokes are stories (see #2).

7. Go to a presentation seminar. This should be self-evident, but it's like running wind sprints. You're probably only going to do it if someone makes you. At the very least, read a book on presenting. As nice as it would be, ideas don't sell themselves.

8. Read everything you can get your hands on. Whether you're reading fiction and absorbing the style and voice or reading non-fiction and picking up little bits of trivia that may come in handy some day, whether you're into books or blogs, be a sponge. I once read The Vagina Monologues while working on a Tampax assignment. It made me think differently about...well, about vaginas for one thing.

9. Read books on business. Or blogs on business. Advertising is full of art and craft and everything else we like to focus on, but every piece of advertising in the end is a business solution. We often think of business as the boring-as-hell SWAT analyses we did in college, but real business is full of creativity. And a broad understanding of how brands operate on the other side of the fence can make you seem like an engaged, astute, and rare creative.

10. Take an art class. Art directors have presumably done this at some point. Writers should too. Not just to understand some of the basics of design, but being able to draw out ideas is an important communication skill. And thinking with doodles, again, engages a different part of your brain.

There's ten. I'm sure there are plenty more. Please, suggest some others.

Yet Another Smart Demo

It's been all over already, but super smart demo showing the speed of Chrome. I probably sound like a broken record, but SHOWING IT > SAYING IT.


Copywriters should read poetry. Frequently.

Unlike most prose, poetry is less about telling a story and more about using language in unexpected and creative ways. Poetry avoids cliches. It evokes images. It leads you down a path you hadn't planned on traveling.

And isn't that exactly what you want to be doing as a copywriter?

I love Sandburg and Rilke and Basho. Shakespeare's a given. Two of my contemporary favorites are Robert Hass and Billy Collins. Go read a collection. It will make your pen fantifluous.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, Makin' Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the first in that series. Follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch

A few weeks back Makin’ Ads asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest piece. The subject: what it’s like to be a copywriter at a digital agency. I leaned back and pondered. It sounded like a worthwhile subject and a useful read for anyone coming out of portfolio school.

Suddenly my head cocked. It actually sounded like a relevant topic to anyone in advertising. The industry has been changing at such a rapid pace and I’d only recently joined a digital agency full-time. I’d never really stopped to consider the differences. My philosophy had always been that a writer is a writer is a writer.

Uncocking my head and glancing around, I had to admit that Greg and Jim had a point. There are major differences between how digital and traditional agencies operate. Not just in the work produced but the process. In the people. And in the philosophy.

I agreed to cover the story for Makin’ Ads, but only if they met one condition. Instead of writing a guest piece, I put together a guest series. For one thing, there was too much material to squeeze into one article. For another, every time I gazed beyond my laptop I caught a glimpse of another difference between digital and traditional.

Let’s kick things off. Here’s the play-by-play of how I got into digital.

I started out doing traditional work at traditional agencies. There wasn’t much digital going around. They were very good agencies and their formula worked. They had no reason to tinker with a medium they didn’t own and they focused on what they were great at. Agencies can’t escape their DNA - that goes for both traditional and digital shops.

Two years ago I started freelancing and digital was everywhere. But as my book was making the rounds I kept hearing the same rejection. I didn’t have enough interactive experience. The old chicken and the egg routine.

Gigs came and went, and enough places liked my print and TV work that they asked me to take a shot at their digital projects. It was mostly boutiques that did a little bit of everything or traditional agencies tackling digital. After a few projects, I realized the latter was like a linebacker lacing up skates and playing hockey. I pursued interactive hoping it would lead to more interactive. Which would lead to an interactive portfolio. I started small, but that’s exactly what happened.

Taking a roundabout path into digital is one way to do it. As I can vouch, it’s been done. A better way is to choose which pill you want to swallow, traditional or digital, and gulp it down. Just don’t end up in that murky grey area of having too little experience in either.

That’s all for this week. More background than foresight, I know. But everyone has to start somewhere.