First Stop

Art directors, designers, creative directors, copywriters, print buyers--pretty much anyone in the creative department is inundated on a daily basis by paper promo mailers from photographers, illustrators and their reps. In the age of digital, it's a pretty antiquated way to reach people. Furthermore, all those trees could probably be put to much better use. CO2 reduction, for one. It's not that we don't love the samples we get--some of them are from the most talented artists in the business. It's just that we don't physically have place to store it all in our offices.

With that in mind, I've been helping a group of guys on a project that aims to chip away at this colossal waste of paper and money. We've created a site called that we hope will 1) be a good tool for creatives to search for photographers and illustrators--a kind of central directory, and 2) at least make photographers and their reps think twice about sending out paper mailers.

If you have time, please check it out. Send us feedback on the site and its functionality. What would be helpful to you? Feel free to sign up and submit work if you're an artist. It's completely free. And please spread the word. Thanks.



Three Things You Shouldn't Be Distracted By

In the ad business, there are a lot of things that will compete for your attention on a daily basis. Sometimes it helps me sort through my priorities by putting them in these categories:
1) Things That Matter/Don't Matter
2) Things You Can Affect/Can't Affect (right now)

If you're into Venn diagrams, it might look like this:

Anything that doesn't fall into the sweet spot (something that matters AND you can affect right now), is a distraction. Don't let it be. Focus. Your work, right now, is what matters and what you can affect.

There are three topics that students sometimes ask me about:
1) Salary
2) Awards
3) Title

99% of the time these things are distractions. They fall outside of that center area.

SALARY: You negotiate your salary when you switch jobs and you might occasionally get a raise. But for the most part, your salary doesn't matter on a daily basis. And the way you affect your salary is to do consistently great work. So don't think about your salary. Focus on your work.

AWARDS: Award shows are full of brilliant work, but they're also political, subjective and for the most part arbitrary. So while award annuals can be great for inspiration, trying to figure out why a campaign won an award and how you can emulate it leads to distraction and potentially madness. If you do snag a big award, good for you. It can open doors. But a common side effect is an inflated ego. It's your prerogative if you want to weld your Cannes Lion to the hood of your Cadillac, but my advice would be a slightly more humble approach: say thanks to those who congratulate you, list the award on your resume, then put it in a drawer and forget you ever won it. Winning awards comes from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

TITLES: This may be the most arbitrary of them all. Different agencies have different structures and different systems, and titles at some agencies are more meaningful than others (a black belt under Dan Wieden means more than a black belt under Joe Schmo). Plus, it's become trendy to rename titles so they sound more progressive (Senior Visual Content Engineer?), so they're becoming even less meaningful. I'd say titles almost fall outside of the "THINGS THAT MATTER" circle. And the little they do matter, they're like salary and awards in that they follow from doing consistently great work. So focus on your work.

Focus on your work. Focus on your work. Focus on your work. The one thing that you can impact right now. And it should go without saying that time spent thinking about/discussing the salary, title or awards of other people is an even bigger distraction. Because not only can you not affect those things, they don't matter.

How to Start Your Career in Advertising

We're happy to announce a new Makin' Ads ebook called How to Start Your Career in Advertising.

Why'd we write it?

As a college student, I wanted to get into advertising. But in retrospect, I really had no clue what that meant. I took an internship at an agency in New York, and ended up in the accounting department.

When I finally realized what the creative department was, I tried a second internship. When the creative director asked to see my work, I handed him a stack of short stories I'd written.

We wrote How to Start Your Career In Advertising for those clueless 20-year-old versions of ourselves. (It's free to view and to download, because our 20-year-old selves wouldn't have paid for advice either.)

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know this stuff. But maybe you have a cousin who's graduating high school this year. Or the neighborhood kid who mows your lawn. Or a college counselor who put you on the right track and still has a bunch of mass comm floundering in a sea of not knowing the difference between PR, marketing and advertising. Send them a link to the book. It's no Hey, Whipple, but it's free, it's a quick primer, and hopefully, it'll help a few more good people stumble into this awesome industry.

Disclosure on the design: We had originally opened up the design of this ebook to readers of the blog. However, the submissions we received fell into two categories: 1) not very good, and 2) good, but communication with the designers petered out - which is understandable since all those submissions were from portfolio school students who are busy putting their books together. This version was designed and Illustrated by Copywriters.

And then what?

Kevin Lynch at Proximity has a pretty good way of approaching digital projects (although he insists he must have stolen it from someone else). He told me that when he comes up with an idea for an app or web site, or anything interactive, he and his team ask, "And then what?"

"It's an app that let's people track which stores they've visited that week."

"Okay. And then what?"

"It's a website that shows the new marsupial exhibit at the zoo."

"Cool. And then what?"

"It's a music video that's also a Twitter/Google Docs mashup."

"Sounds interesting. And then what?"

It's fairly easy to come up with a decent idea for a digital project. You come up with ideas all the time, right? But it's just as easy to stop there and assume you've got it all figured out.

Kevin says it's not until your throw five or six "and then what?"s at a project that it starts to become really remarkable. Give it a try.

Mr. Self Destruct on his Creative Process

With Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Ren Klyce

On Sunday, I was fortunate to have an invitation to a screening of The Social Network, followed by a Q&A with the guys most responsible for the film's amazing soundtrack—composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, along with supervising sound editor Ren Klyce.

If you haven’t seen the film, you should. The excellent score plays a huge role in establishing the mood and giving a driving force to what could otherwise be a pretty dull topic.

During the Q&A, Reznor talked some about the creative process. When director David Fincher asked him to do the music for the film, Reznor said his first instinct was to start watching a lot of films and study what the composers did, how'd they'd approached the projects. He'd never composed a film score before. Then he changed his mind. "We decided to just do what we do. David came to us for a reason. He wanted us."

So he and Ross got to work. The first task, after seeing some early footage of the film, was to generate a bunch of directional tracks, 17 or so "sketches" to send to Fincher and see what was working for him and what he was digging. Reznor articulated how critical it is in the first part of the process (divergence) to not edit or be self-critical.

"I used to get hung up because with each project I wanted to do the best thing I'd ever done. That's a recipe for a blank page and suicidal thoughts."

In other words, at this point you're going for quantity. This is something I emphasize to my students. I'm a huge fan of the "wall approach" early on. Every idea you have, spend some time exploring it, then write it down and put it on the wall. Throw it out there, then throw it up there. Do not kill anything. That comes later.

Reznor said, "The process should be fun. It should be filled with momentum."

I love that phrase. Filled with momentum. Go as fast as you can. Just get it down. Keep moving. Don't stop.

This quarter, I'm teaching a copywriting class, and one of my assignments will utilize The thing I like about this site is that it encourages you to write fast. It doesn't matter what you're writing or how you're writing. It measures your work in quantity. It helps eliminate all the things that kill creativity, that kill momentum. The client won't like this...the budget won't cover that...this is off brief...

After the screening, a friend of mine was talking about barriers in her creative writing class that kill momentum. One of her classmates has trouble because she has an education in creative writing, so she feels like her stuff should be good. The instructor tells the class to write freely, but then adds that they might share what they've written with the rest of the class. These things invite the judge into the room. There should be no judging. Just go.

Here’s more on the sound of The Social Network.

"The Social Network" Sound for Film Profile from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

Honesty in Radio

You’ve got to be honest with yourself when you write a script.

Take out a stopwatch. Don’t rush your read. Allow for breathing room. Fix what’s not working. (That doesn't mean read it a little bit faster.)
If you don’t time your script honestly...
  • You will have to ask the talent to read faster than he or she should.
  • You will end up doing multiple takes, hoping by some miracle the read comes in under time.
  • You will get a poorer performance from the talent.
  • You will end up having to scramble to figure out which words and phrases to cut from the script.
  • You will risk having to explain to the client why certain words or phrases had to be cut.
  • You will look unprofessional in front of your creative director, your producer, the engineer, and the talent.
If you do time your script honestly...
  • You will realize what’s not working and have plenty of time to fix it.
  • You will have an easier recording session.
  • You will have a better script.
It's really hard to kill a line you love to make the script time out right. But it's better to kill it early and have time to top it or work it in some other way than to have to do it under pressure in the recording studio.

More Former Student Awesomeness

We love highlighting the work of former students on this blog. It's really gratifying to see ex-students who were putting their books together just a few years ago knock things out of the park.

This is work from a former student of mine, Josh Parschauer. His art director was Beau Hanson. They're both at Venables Bell & Partners.

The small screen doesn't do it justice. Watch it full screen and in hi-def if you can.

Looking for Work?

Check out MDCPartnersJobs on Twitter. Couldn't hurt.

Jim's 2010 Book List

Greg posted his 2010 Book List a few days ago.

Here's my list from the past year:

Or if you just want the quick favorites, you can go here.

Please, let us know what you're reading and what you think of it. We're usually mostly about advertising on this blog, but if you want to get us talking for a really long time, bring up your favorite books.

Another Example of Framing

I've posted a few examples of how simple word choice can frame the way we think of things. Here's another example that I saw the other day and found really striking. It's the top of a trash can. What a huge difference between this and "Trash."

Is there a better way to say what you're trying to say?

Communication Arts Typography Annual

The latest issue of Communications Arts is their first ever Typography Annual. Be sure to pick up a copy.

Note to students: Don't miss the "Index to Typefaces Used" in the back of the issue. The most frequently used font? Helvetica. Proof you don't have to use crazy type to do cool work.

The 2010 GRC Book List

Since 1998, I've kept a list of the books I read each year. In 2000, I emailed it out to a group of friends and got so many responses I've made it an annual event.

It might not have much to do with advertising or putting your book together, but I thought I'd share it here as well.

(Jim keeps a similar list. I'm sure he'll be posting his shortly.)