Jack White on Creativity

I just finished watching Under Great White Northern Lights, a documentary about The White Stripes. If you're a fan, I recommend it. If not, there's still a great bit from an interview with the band where Jack is talking about intentionally putting limitations on himself and forcing himself to work within certain boundaries.

Here's the quote from White:

10 years later, I think my god, I’m tired of working in this same box, but I force myself to do it because I know something good can come out of it if I really work inside of it.

Inspiration and work ethic, they ride right next to each other. When I was an upholsterer, sometimes you’re not inspired to re-upholster a chair…sometimes it’s just work and you just do it because you’re supposed to, and by the end, maybe you look at it and say, ‘Eh, that looks good, that’s pretty good.’ And that’s it. Then you move on.

I mean, not every day you’re going to wake up and the clouds are going to part and the rays from heaven are going to come down and you’re going to write a song from it. I mean, sometimes you just get in there and force yourself to work and maybe something good will come out of it. But that was one of the things, it was like whether we like it not, we’re going to write some songs and record. You know, force yourself into it. Book only four or five days in the studio and force yourself to record an album in that time. Deadlines and things make you creative. Opportunity and telling yourself “Oh, you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, you have all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want,” I mean, that just kills creativity.

Guest Poster: Nate

For the next couple months, we're going to have a guest blogger who will be posting on Mondays. His name is Nate, and the reason we've asked him to lend his insights is because Nate is making the jump from a "traditional" agency environment to that of a digital agency. Of course, lines have blurred and it's getting harder and harder to distinguish the two, but Nate's new gig is at AKQA, a shop that is decidedly digital and decidedly good.

So we thought we'd ask Nate,
Nate, what's it like to be a copywriter at a digital agency?

A little about Nate:
Syracuse Ad Program >>>>
Chicago Portfolio School >>>>
TBWA/Chiat, NY >>>>
Publicis, NY >>>>
Freelance >>>>>

He looks something like this >>>>

Welcome, Nate. Thanks in advance for your insights.

Portfolio Night 8

If you're not familiar with Portfolio Night, it's time you were.

If you haven't registered for Portfolio Night 8, it's time you do.

If you're not going to Portfolio Night 8, you're nuts.

Seriously, this is one of the most important things an advertising student can do. To have your book viewed by a series of industry professionals gives you a very good idea of which campaigns are working and which aren't. It's a very good way to start making impressions and connections. And the ones I've been to have had some pretty good food.

Love to hear your experiences. Here's one of mine.

Best Culture Attracts the Best Talent

Great article from adage.com about the importance of agency culture.

Read it here. (I think after a few days, you'll need a subscription to view. If that happens, leave a comment and I'll try to post it as a pdf. For educational purposes, of course.)

Advertising Age competition

Advertising Age has a competition for designers under 30 to create the cover for their June 14 issue.

Could be cool. Good luck.

The Importance of Big Swings

Dave Kingman was a major league baseball player in the '70s and '80s. Pitchers feared him, because when he stepped to the plate, there was a decent chance that Kingman was going to go yard. He was one of those players that got fans on their feet when he stepped into the batter's box. Kingman also has the distinguished honor of being the player with the most homeruns (442) and lowest batting average (.236).

If you are a student, you should strive to be a Dave Kingman.

Last quarter, I taught an advertising competitions class. On the first day, I told my students that they need to swing like they're putting it in the parking lot or they're wasting their time. We were submitting work to competitions. Big ones. The One Show, D&AD, etc. Singles do not win those competitions. Doubles off the left-field wall do not win those competitions.

"Take big swings," while it may be trite, is one of the best pieces of advice I can give students. Even once you get to an agency, your career will be most helped by big swings. Imagine you completely whiff on every assignment (and with big swings come big, ridiculous-looking whiffs) every year, except for one. And with that one non-whiff assignment each year, you win a Cannes Lion. After five years, you'd be the most sought-after young creative in the industry.

Now, you will work for an agency, and they'll probably prefer a slightly better batting average than that. But when you're a student, guess what...no agency. And the simple math looks like this:

Say you do 4 campaigns per class for 5 classes (so 20 campaigns total). Let's take two students and give each campaign they do a score (0-10).

STUDENT 1: 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 = AVG of 8.0

STUDENT 2: 2 2 2 10 2 2 10 9 2 3 4 10 2 10 9 3 4 10 5 10 = AVG of 5.5

By conventional wisdom, Student 1 is far superior. An 8 out of 10, that's pretty solid. And so consistent. And look at Student 2--she has a failing grade. But, like I also tell my students, nobody in this business gives a shit what your GPA was. Screw conventional wisdom.

So let's look at it as it will play out in the eyes of those who matter--the creative directors who look at your book.

For your book, you're going to keep your best pieces and ditch the rest. STUDENT 1 has an 8 book. Again, not bad. But student 2, the flunky, her book looks like this: 10 10 9 10 10 9 10 10. See my point? I hire her.

So be a Dave Kingman. Put it in the parking lot. And when you miss and spin yourself around and fall down in the batter's box, get back up and swing even harder at the next one. To mix my sports metaphors, nobody talks about the jabs. They talk about the knockout punches.

Why the best job won't be the perfect job

So Todd Waterbury is leaving his job as co-ECD of Wieden New York. Crazy, right? Because everyone knows that being ECD at Wieden is pretty much a first-round pick for creative fantasy league.

But it's worth remembering Todd and his departure when you're looking for your next job. Because even people at great agencies in great positions doing great work are willing to walk away. Because no one has the perfect job.

I've met a lot of students who confuse getting a great job with finding Shangri-La. They turn down offer after offer because of some small chink in the agency's armor. A challenging client. The city. Something they read on agencyspy.com. They become like Mike Meyers in So I Married An Axe Murderer who dumped his girlfriend because she smelled like soup.

Know what you’re looking for, and get the best job you can, not the best job someone else can.

Fawlty Reasoning

Recently I was watching an interview with Monty Python’s John Cleese, and he was talking about the success of Fawlty Towers. (If you’re not familiar with the show, you’re missing out.) Even though there were only 12 episodes, Cleese claims that Fawlty Towers has actually become more popular than Monty Python everywhere but the US where It mostly runs on PBS.

He says the one of the reasons Fawlty Towers was so successful was “because we worked so hard on it.”He and his co-writer/then wife, Connie Booth were writing scripts that were 135 pages long. When their producer told them the average 30-minute script was only 60 pages, they continued to write more than double the amount.

If anything needed to be cut, they could leave the best bits in. But it turned out they crammed in everything, giving the show a faster pace, which hadn’t really been seen on BBC comedies before.

Cleese says he and Booth would spend about six weeks on each script. The first three weeks were in developing the plot, and the last three on the dialogue. According to Cleese, writers today spend an average of 10 days on script, and sometimes as little as four, “which is why most of them aren’t very good.”

Cleese wasn’t pulling late nighters to look good, or because he thought his producers expected it. He’d already made a name for himself with Monty Python and could have easily coasted on that. But he was genuinely enjoying what he was doing. The result was not just good work, but fantastic work.

You may not have six weeks to work out a script, come up with an idea or develop a campaign. But you can get passionate about your work. And suddenly, it won’t seem like work any more. When that happens, my guess is you’ll be having a lot more fun, and winning a lot more awards.

There's always more ink in your pen.

I once had a couple portfolio students who did a really cool campaign. The visuals were great. The tagline tied everything up perfectly. They could have kept it there. But they wanted to push it. So they tried writing headlines for each ad. And the lines they wrote were good and funny and well-crafted.

They printed out the campaign with and without the headlines. And we all sat down to take a look. And we ultimately decided the ad was better without the headlines. But just barely. It seemed such a shame to cut such scintillating copy from their campaign.

But what an awesome position to be in. It wasn’t a huge surprise when these ads were featured on Adcritic’s homepage before the team had even left portfolio school.

What did they lose? Some great lines? Sure. But even golden copy isn’t gold. You’ve got more ink in your pen. More ideas in your brain. You’re not wasting nonrenewable resources.

Thinking is not wasted effort.

Natalie Goldberg, who wrote the how-to-write books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, encourages her students to write constantly. And she says every once in a while a student will ask, “But what do you do with what you write?” She answers, “I don’t know. What do you do with after you drink a glass of water?”

She means that you don’t have to do anything with it. It becomes a part of you. Maybe there’s a line or two you can use. Maybe a whole paragraph. Maybe nothing. But it’s not wasted effort. You write because you’re a writer. You art direct because you’re an art director. You come up with ideas because you’re creative.

So don’t be afraid of generating ideas you won’t use. Experiment with layouts. Write long body copy for a visual solution. And then you’ll be able to decide what, if anything, to do with them.