Boston's Loss

Sad to hear Modernista! is closing. One less great shop to work for. They had a lot of great work. But this was one of my favorites.

Career Accelerators

In this article from, Luke Sullivan says,
"A great creative director is a 'career accelerator.' These are bosses who leave your career in better shape than they found it."
Very true. Those of you about to graduate, make finding one of these CDs a priority.

The Gold Mine of Side Projects

I wrote another article for which appears on today's page. You can read it here. Always a fan of side projects.

You’ll probably forget this headline because I didn’t take the time to make it as short as it could have been.

One of the biggest “I’M JUST A STUDENT” banners you can wave is having headlines that are way too long. If you’re a copywriter, you need to learn to edit without losing meaning or interest. If you’re an art director, you need to do the same. The words may not technically be your responsibility, but it’s still your ad. And a too-long headline can bring it down.

Let’s say you’re doing ads for a paint store that delivers the paint right to your home once you've selected a color on-line. You could start with a headline like this:

You can paint a whole lot more when you don’t have the paint department getting in your way.

Okay. I get it. Kind of interesting. But can you trim it?

You can paint a lot more when the paint department’s not in your way.

Much shorter. But are the words “a lot” really necessary?

You can paint more when the paint department’s not in your way.

Do you have to use the words “You can” at the beginning?

Paint more when the paint department’s not in your way.

Let’s get our Hemmingway on.

Paint more without the paint department in your way.

Paint more without the paint department.

And how about this?

Paint without a paint department.

I'm not saying that's the absolute best one. But it's a little more interesting than the original. And certainly more succinct. You could argue that there’s more character, and more of a voice in some of the longer lines. Maybe. Sometimes longer lines will give you the voice you need. But I think there's plenty of character in the shortest line.

More often than not, headlines should be short. And writers and art directors need to be able to take long thoughts and edit them down to something someone might read and remember, even if they weren’t paying attention to begin with.

Whipple Went Down to Georgia

Our recruiter visited SCAD a couple weeks ago and came back raving about the place. The fact that Luke Sullivan just announced that he'll be joining SCAD as the Chair of their Advertising Department ups those raves exponentially. As if eating at Paula Deen's restaurant between classes wasn't a good enough reason to go there.

Good luck to Luke. Looking forward to SCAD being a serious contender in the college shows.


I've been reading Albert Einstein's biography, and something struck me today about him. He made these amazing leaps of imagination, but one of the things he was particularly good at was explaining incredibly complex concepts to normal, non-scientists. Today I was reading about his postulates concerning the speed of light and his special theory of relativity, and his explanation of it involved nothing more than a scene with two people, two lightning strikes and a train. This is to explain a couple of the most complex scientific theories.

A month or so ago, I was talking to a director I was working with about how much of our job is articulating our ideas. Yes, coming up with great ideas is important, but a great idea poorly communicated is dirt. Your job when you present to your client, or present to your creative director, or explain your idea to a director--heck, even when you explain it to your partner--is to articulate your idea in such a way that they can see in their head exactly what you see in your head.

This quarter, I'm teaching a scriptwriting class. The first assignment I gave was to take a commercial they like and write the script for it. Just watch the spot, then write what they see. Then I had them present the spot to us in class. After they presented it, we watched the spot and critiqued them on their presentation. Did what we saw on the screen match what we'd imagined when they presented it? If not, how was it different?

This isn't to say than an execution won't change from the time you think of it an the time it's finished. You should be open to creative input from others--directors, actors, etc. The point is that your presentation, your articulation of the idea, is incredibly important. If you're specific and clear, you shouldn't run into a client seeing the final project and saying, "That's not how I pictured it." You hopefully won't ever come to a set and look at the art direction and say, "Oh shit. This is completely wrong." It's not always an easy thing to do. But we're in the business of communication. So make sure you're communicating.

Going Where the Talent Is

I've been invited to the recruiter session at the VCU Brandcenter this week. I'm looking forward to seeing the work coming out of that place. Brett McKenzie from blogged about this event last year, and it looks pretty intense. When I graduated from portfolio school, "online advertising" meant taking your print headlines and putting them in banner format. I left school with a black briefcase full of double-page spreads. Not sure that student book would get me a job in today's market.

April Fools and a Great Book Piece

As an April Fool, designer Matt Stevens rebranded the second biggest retailer in the country, and launched a site announcing the change. Whether you like the rebrand or not, you have to admire the scope Stevens put to the project. He's not just plopping new logos on storefronts and hats. He's put some thought to everything from gift cards to aisle signage to NASCAR sponsorship. (He's had practice. He's done this before.)

He's not a student. But more and more, I'm seeing student books that include not just ads, but an entire rebrand for a company. Not a portfolio full of them. Just one, maybe two, nestled among some other great work. For me, these books tend to edge out student books that are just full of ads. It shows a greater depth of thinking, and a desire to take on something bigger than a double-page spread.

Take a look at the work Stevens did. And see if it gives you any inspiration for something you could do even better.

Young Ones Portfolio Review

One of the very best things I did as a portfolio student was attend the One Club's student portfolio review sessions. As a first year student, I had Mike Shine, Bob Barrie, Sally Hogshead and a bunch of other marquee names look at my work. I wasn't looking for a job (at least not that year). I just wanted to hone my book. And in a single afternoon, I had feedback from about 30 different top tier professionals.

You hear one thing, you can dismiss it. You hear it twice, still better to trust your gut. But to get specific feedback about the work in your book, and have it repeated over and over by the people who drive this industry does wonders for the bubble you might be creating your book in. It definitely worked for me.

So put Monday, May 9 on your calendars. Even if you're not in New York (I was eight hours away in Richmond), it's worth the road trip. It won't be cheap. But it should be worth it. Keep an eye out for admission prices and registration here.

Why Portfolio Schools?

When I was in portfolio school, there were two girls who quit after the first semester. When I asked them a few months later what they were up to they both gave me the same answer "Working on my portfolio." They were still pursuing a career in advertising. They'd just given up on portfolio school.

In my opinion, that was a huge mistake.

A lot of undergraduates have asked my advice on their books. After reviewing their work, I've always told them the same thing: "You should look into portfolio school." And they almost never want to take it.

Here are some of the reasons I've heard for not going to portfolio school:
  1. It's too expensive.
  2. I can put my book together on my own.
  3. An internship at an agency will be just as good.
  4. I want to get a job now, not in 1-2 years.
Here's my one reason for going:
  1. Portfolio school graduates have books that are lightyears ahead of non-portfolio school grads. Lightyears.

Is this true 100% of the time? No. But it is, maybe 98%. The rare exceptions are top-of-the-class wunderkids from dedicated programs like the University of Texas or the BYU Adlab. Sure, you can get by without portfolio school. Just like people make it into the NBA without playing college ball. It happens. But that's a huge bet.

So let me address each of these concerns as best I  can.

COST: Portfolio schools can be expensive. But it's your career you're investing in. Skimp on your education, and you're only limiting your job prospects.

GOING SOLO: In portfolio school, you'll be paired with writers and art directors who are hopefully trying to do their best work, too. You'll be instructed by people with more experience and more interest in your success than you'll ever get from a book or magazine. If you're putting your book together on your own, you may as well be doing it in a dark closet.

INTERNSHIPS ARE A WAY IN: They're really not. Don't get me wrong, internships are very valuable. But if you want a job as a writer or art director, it's not like Mad Men, where you take a job as a receptionist and eventually work your way up into the creative department. More and more, internships at top agencies are for portfolio school students in between semesters.

I DON'T WANT TO WAIT: The year or two you put into a portfolio school program will give you more of a jump on your career than taking a menial job at a direct mail shop that lets you put your book together in your down time. Portfolio schools are a launch pad, not a time suck.

Which portfolio school should you look into? That's your call. Jim and I are both graduates of the VCU Brandcenter, and we can't say enough good about that place. We've also both taught at the Chicago Portfolio School, which we're big fans of, and Jim's taught at the Miami Ad School in San Francisco, which is a killer program. We've seen great books come out of all three, as well as the Creative Circus, Portfolio Center, and Brainco. If you can get into W+K 12 or the new school from 72 and Sunny, more power to you.

Is this US-centric? Probably. But I gotta be honest, I spent two years working in Europe, and I didn't see any program that comes close to those I've seen in the US. Maybe the Bergh's School of Communication. They've won some notable student awards, but I can't read their homepage. I've also seen some great student books out of Brazil, but, again I'll plead ignorance in my native tongue. (If you're a graduate or teacher of a portfolio school outside the United States, let us know. We'd be happy to sing your praises here.) Also, it's no surprise the number of foreign students coming to American portfolio schools has been on the rise.

[Update 3/22/13: 72U has revised their program. Read about it here.]

[Update 5/16/13: For a comprehensive list of portfolio programs, check out The Best of Makin' Ads now available on]

[Update 6/30/14: VCU Brandcenter's Ashley Sommardahl wrote this great post on How to Pick a Portfolio School, and offers a list of questions students should ask when applying to programs.]

Internship @ DDB SF

If you or anyone you know is looking for an internship this summer, you might want to check out our intern program at DDB San Francisco. I'm working with a team to set up and run it, and we just launched our site a couple days ago. Please pass it along to others who might be interested.


Here's the site: