Four Quotes from Steve Jobs On Advertising

1. Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. (from Wired)

2. That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. (from BusinessWeek)

3. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. (from Newsweek)

4. Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. (from BusinessWeek)

Props to Fuel Lines for compiling the full list.

Breaking In

I just came across this great resource if you're interested in getting tips on "breaking in" to advertising from some of the best creatives in the world.


Threadless by Jake Nickell

I have a book recommendation for you: might be the perfect example of how to launch a dot-com company in the post dot-com bust era. It was founded on a simple idea and a strong community—the idea of an “ongoing t-shirt design competition” in which the winning designs, selected by the community, would be produced. It also allows for community input—people can comment on submissions, make suggestions for improvement, etc. And the profits are shared between the company and the winning designers.

This book tells that story, from the early days in which the founders of Threadless were just a couple of design students, through the current state of the company, with a global following, 80 employees and a bricks and mortar store. But as Seth Godin puts it in his short description of Threadless, “This is not about t-shirts.” To him, it’s about an attitude, “about being willing to fail and relishing the idea of being different…If you page through this book, you’ll see example after example of love, art and joy…but not a lot of fear.”

In addition to capturing the Threadless history and philosophy, the book is a retrospective of some of the best designs, along with stories behind those. And this is where I find the most inspiration—flipping through and seeing all of the brilliant concepts.

I have an assignment that I like to give students in my advertising class once they have figured out how to do ads: Now make a t-shirt for your brand. Because beyond conveying a message, a t-shirt has to be something that people want to wear. Something they love enough to want to wear as a part of what identifies them. That’s a hard thing to do. But page after page in this book, I see dozens of examples of t-shirt designs that make me laugh, smile, or that I’d like to wear. And that’s inspiring.

Will I Have a Yoda?

When I started my career at Leo Burnett, I was fortunate to be assigned a great mentor. At Burnett, they called the mentors Yodas. My mentor, Dave, has a voice that sounds a little like Yoda, so that was a bonus (You can hear him in this spot for Heinz ketchup).

Greg wrote awhile back about The Mentor Effect. And as a part of Ad Age's series on the best places to work, they ran this piece by Celeste Gudas the other day. In it, she points out how important mentors are to creating a great place to work. She also points out that the more senior person can learn from the junior person, which is important.

So as you're looking for a job, maybe add to your list of questions, "Will I have a mentor? Who will it be?" The agency might not assign someone officially. If they don't, see if you can find an unofficial mentor.

Dear Sir: How Not To Approach Me

About once a week, I get an email from someone asking about job openings or looking for feedback on their portfolio. And back in the spring, I sifted through over 170 applications for our internship program. Through all of this, I've made a short list of ways not to approach someone when you're looking for a job. Check that--ways not to approach a creative kind of person. This probably doesn't apply if you're looking for a job at a bank.

1) The overly formal approach. "Dear Mr. Bosilajjajemcinavac, I am writing to request an informational interview with your firm. I believe I have the necessary skillset and experience to benefit your creative department blah blah blah." Yeah, this isn't a bank. Your job here will be to relate to normal people. Talk to me like I'm normal and you're normal.

2) The artist statement approach. "I burn with an passion for self-expression. Since my mother first handed me a box of crayons, I have never ceased to explore new avenues of art, performance, and creative thinking. I believe that we can touch souls with blah blah blah." To be honest, this person kind of scares me a little. Passion is good. Put it in a portfolio.

3) The crazy-ass weirdo approach. "I collect marmot figurines. Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can never have enough marmots around. I will tell you this, though, do not feed them peanut butter. blah blah blah" I don't like weird for the sake of weird. Not in ads, not in introductions.

4) The overly egotistical approach. "My creativity is off the charts. If you're looking for a real go-getter who's ready to turn the ad industry on its head, you've found him. I was born for advertising. I lust after gold lions. blah blah." It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn't: Don't tell me how awesome you are. Let me see it in your book.

5) The blatant kiss-ass approach. Listing every ad my agency has done and then telling me that they're all tied as your favorite ads seems, well, like a big steamy pile of bullshit.

I'm not saying this to be a dick. Even when someone sends me an email that takes one of these approaches, I'll usually give them the benefit of the doubt. When I was in college, I submitted a short story to a magazine along with a letter telling them why it was perfect for their publication. The editor wrote a letter back that started something like: "Because you seem sincere, I'll give you this constructive criticism." He then went on to tell me the many ways my letter made me sound amateurish. That's all I mean here. Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you've stepped through the door.

So what do I like?

Again, an email that talks to me like a normal person. Tell me who you are or how you found me and a little about yourself. You can mention some of my/the agency's work if you truly do like it. It's nice to hear, but I don't give points for it. And then tell me what you're looking for--a job, feedback on work, whatever. If I was writing to Greg, I might say something like this:

Hi Greg-

I hope you don't mind me contacting you. I'm a regular reader of your blog and thought I'd reach out and see if you had a moment to take a look at my portfolio. I've just graduated from the copywriting track at VCU Brandcenter and am starting my job search. If you have a moment, I'd appreciate any feedback you can give. And if you like the work, I'd love to talk further about any openings at The Richards Group. Here's my link:

Thanks for your time.


Former Student Showcase: Troy Burrows

I met Troy Burrows about three years ago when he was a student at the Chicago Portfolio School. Now he's doing videos like these for Sharpie at DraftFCB in Chicago. (These were recently featured on Adweek's Ad of the Day.)

Pretty inspiring pieces. And pretty inspiring that you can go from student to this kind of work in such a short amount of time. High fives, Troy.

Should I Look For A New Job?

One of the trickiest of the questions I get from students and former students is "How do I know when I should find a new job?" It's an easy question if you're miserable at your current job (or if you've just been laid off or fired). But let's assume that you're happy at your current job. It can be hard to jump from a big comfortable ship. Let's also assume we're talking about really looking for a job, not just being open to new opportunities. I don't care how great a job you have, or how much they tell you that you're family, you should always be open to new opportunities.

But let's say we're talking about actively looking to set off for greener pastures. How do you know when it's the right time?

People will tell you various things. Find a new job if you're not producing anything. If you're not making enough money. If you're not selling good work. If you're not adding things to your portfolio. If you're surrounded by incompetence. If you're surrounded by assholes. If you're not getting the good assignments. If your office isn't big enough. If you have to work too many hours. If nobody else wants to work as hard as you.

I have a very simple answer: Find a new job when you've stopped growing.

Growth can come in different forms. Because I like diagrams, I've drawn out how I look at growth.

LEARNING. Are you in an environment that is helping to educate you? Are you regularly exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking? Do the people around you stimulate your curiosity? Are people in the agency good about sharing cool things they come across? Does the agency bring people in to give talks? Do they send you to conferences and award shows?

PRACTICE: Do you have enough work to keep you busy? And do you have enough time to really work through the problems you're working on? If you're a writer, do you have enough time to write 800 headlines? To come up with 100 concepts? This is sometimes a luxury you won't have, but making ads is like anything else--practice makes you better (and sitting in pointless meetings does not). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master anything. How many hours are you spending actually working?

EXPERIMENTATION: Doing the same things over and over will make you better--at that one thing. Does your agency push you to try new things? Do you have opportunities to push yourself? Do you have the freedom to fail spectacularly? There's only one way to find out what you're capable of.

CREATION: Are you actually selling ideas and producing them? Producing ideas not only builds your portfolio (assuming you're producing good ideas), but it allows you to hone the skills of your craft. To fine tune. And having a finished product is good for the creative soul.

Ideally, you're firing on all cylinders. But there will be dry spells. There have been two times in my last eight years where I've gone an entire year without producing a tv spot. But during both of those times, I didn't jump ship because I felt like I was growing in other ways. That said, if you find that you've gone that long with nothing to show for it, meaning not the right kind of practice, or no chance to try something new and you don't feel like you're really learning anything, then it might be time to start shopping the ol' book around.