How's Your Bookkeeping?

Someone calls today. They have an opening for your dream job at your dream agency. They want you to send your book tonight. Is your book ready to send? I'm not talking about "ready" as in having all the fantastic, award-winning campaigns you plan to do in the next couple years. I mean "ready" like do you actually have something tangible to send. A link? A pdf?

Unfortunately, this scenario, where a person has to quickly put their book together, happens more frequently when there are layoffs. After the shock, denial, and anger, there's the panicked, mad scramble to call editors, art directors and whoever else might have the files you need to put your book together.

This is very easily avoided with some simple organization. After you finish a project, get the files. Get them in the format you need for your book or reel. It's not hard, but it's surprising how many people don't do this. And it should go without saying, keep a backup of your portfolio somewhere.

Aside from your portfolio pieces, I'd recommend keeping records of a few other things. Not all the work you do will go into your book, but that doesn't mean it's worthless. Here are a few things I'd keep on file or in a document:

1) Awards. Which awards, what year, for what project.

2) Productions. What have you shot and who did you shoot with? Or which developers did you work with on a website? You might want to work with them again, or recommend them to someone else in a couple years. Some people can remember all this stuff. I'm not one of them. I have a list.

3) Projects. Just keep a running list of every project you work on. It might seem excessive, but when you're 10 years into your career and your agency is working on bios for a pitch, you might need to remember that you do in fact have some soft drink experience--you did a promotional print campaign for Shasta six years ago.

4) Job titles. When you get a promotion or switch jobs, just note the month and year. Again, seems like something you would obviously be able to remember. Then all of a sudden you've been working in the industry for 12 years, have held seven different job titles at five different agencies and it's all a little mushy. It helps to know specifics when you put your resume together.

Directors Reels and Student Books

This is a room in my agency full of directors reels. Each one of those DVDs on the shelves feature anywhere from one to six different directors. And each director may be showcasing three to eight spots. And there are a few more walls full of DVDs you don't see in this picture.

This isn't too different from a creative director or agency recruiter sifting through the sea of portfolios they receive each week. So here are some of the things we can learn from a room full of directors reels:

  1. Most directors (and usually the best ones) are represented by a production company. Just like most students tend to come out of portfolio schools. I can tell you which production companies tend to rep the best directors. And I can tell you which portfolio schools tend to produce the best graduates. Nothing’s guaranteed; I’ve worked with bad directors at some of the best production companies, and I’ve seen poor student work come out of the top schools. But generally, talent produces talent.
  2. I can tell you which directors I want to work with without even looking at their current reels because their reputation precedes them. Building a body of work like that might be a little difficult for you as a student. But it’s something to shoot for. I keep about 10 directors in my head, which is better than being one of a thousand on these shelves. Entering student award shows and trying to get into CMYK is a good way of jumping off those shelves.
  3. There are other directors who are less famous (either because they’re new, or simply haven’t been discovered yet), that I really want to work with. I get to know about these directors when their reps come to the agency and offer to screen their reels for anyone willing to watch. Not every screening I attend is amazing. But I do keep a list of the names that stand out to me. That’s not too different from a student who invests time and money traveling to different cities for interviews, instead of waiting for an agency to call them. I want to work with the people I know best. And if I don’t know you, your chances are that much slimmer.
  4. I don’t always have work for directors I like. Maybe they’re not right for my current project. Or we’ve already awarded the job to someone else. Or we need someone with a little more experience. But I still keep my list of directors I want to work with one way or another. It’s the same with students. The agency you want to work for may not have an opening for someone in your position. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hire you the first chance they get. So be sure to stay in touch.
  5. Imagine a director who calls me once every couple of weeks to see if I have any jobs for him. That would get annoying. Unless that director were calling me to share his latest spot that was truly worth sharing. Then I’d think they were hard-working, dedicated, talented and prolific. Students who send me new work are always more interesting than students who want to “remind” me of the same book they showed me a couple months ago.
  6. Imagine a rep who comes in to screen a directors reel, and decides that the best way to help that DVD stand out in this sea of reels is to put it in a silly case with green feathers sticking out of it and macramé all over the casing. Would it stand out? Sure. Would it make me want to hire that director? Nope. Because I only want to see the work. If it’s bad, it will make the dog-and-pony packaging that much worse. If it’s good, I’ll wonder why they thought they needed anything else cluttering it up. Students, beware of conceptual portfolio bindings and resumes. Let your work speak for you.

Cool = Surprises

We all want to make cool ads, right? Cool digital stuff. Cool TV stuff. Cool print, packaging, and even letterhead and table tents (if they're cool enough). Cool goes viral, gets talked about, gets rewarded. Cool will be the difference between a book that gets hired and one that gets sent back.

But what does cool mean? How do you create cool?

For me, cool = surprises.

When you see something you weren't expecting, something you hadn't anticipated, that's pretty cool.

When the mundane suddenly becomes fresh and interesting, that's pretty cool.

When something you've seen a million times before (say a marching band or a Rube Goldberg machine) is presented in such a way you think Why didn't I think of that?, that's pretty cool.

You've probably seen these three videos from OK Go. Just like you've probably seen their latest video All Is Not Lost.

But go ahead and watch them again. And notice how many things you find genuinely surprising. It's those surprise that make these videos cool.

2011 Mercury Finalists Announced

Finalists for the Radio Mercury Awards were announced today. To listen to the spots, click here.

Here are just a few things that continue to fascinate me about radio:

  1. You can do anything. Anything you want the listener to see, they will see. And because they're creating the images, they'll see it perfectly.
  2. While it's fun to collaborate with a director, a line producer, a full film crew, cast, an editor and a music house to produce a piece of film, it's just as fun to work with a sound engineer, and some talented actors to make something just as memorable.
  3. There's no medium where a writer can have this much control and this much fun.
  4. That said, the very best art directors I've worked with knew how to make great radio, cared what it sounded like, and had their names on the credits.
  5. You get about 80 words for a :30, and 155 for a :60. Radio was Twitter before there was Twitter.

Perspective in Advertising

Ten years ago, I went to bed really bummed that one of my ads didn't make it into the Communication Arts annual. The next day, it was September 11, 2001, and getting into CA didn't seem like a big deal.

Advertising can be a lot of fun. And we're lucky to be in this industry. But it's important to keep things in perspective.

For a more detailed post on this story, click here.

It's the Music Stupid, Part V

Art directors, writers, learn how to use music. The right track is usually the thin line separating prettying good from great.

Created by London-based Johnny Kelly.

Two Ways to Be Great

As far as I know, there are really two paths to doing great work:

1. Be great at what you do.
2. Surround yourself with people who are great at what they do.

In my experience, most people (but not all) who pick Path #1 end up coming across as prima donnas, douches, and tyrants. People who follow Path #2 (and genuinely try to contribute) seem to have more fun, more opportunities, and produce the best work. Ultimately, they end up in the place the Path #1-ers wanted to be anyway.

Tor Myhren on Radical Collaboration

In case you haven't seen this (it's currently on the home page of Creativity), it's worth 18 minutes - especially since those of us in the U.S. have a three-day weekend. Grey's President and CCO isn't the smoothest orator. But he's got a message worth hearing. And I love the success story of the E*Trade baby.