The Importance of Hobbies

This guest post was written by Erin Eby, art director and co-founder of Cocktail, a boutique in Geneva, Switzerland.

When I found myself between jobs, I decided to nurture the "art" side of my "art director.” It was nice to be able to experiment, explore, and be inspired with no boss or client to answer to.

After I accumulated what I thought were some interesting pieces, I realized that I needed a way to share the work, so I started a little store, and I've been pleasantly surprised with the results.

What started as a therapeutic hobby ended up being valuable in more ways than personal satisfaction. I can't believe how many new techniques I learned working on my Etsy pieces that I now apply to client work. I connected with other artists and found myself more in tune with the design community *outside* of advertising. And (as a bonus) it turned out to be lucrative when some prints ended up selling.

The fact is that when people stop doing what they *have* to do and start doing what they *want* to do, great stuff happens. Hobbies are fantastic vehicles for growth, especially when they are focused, deliberate, and involve something that you love. If you're reading this, advertising is probably your number one passion (or is at least pretty high up there), but what else inspires you and sparks creativity in your ads?

For the guys at Red Tettemer it was making gin. For Chicago-based designer John Christenson, it is self-made cheese and bread, ultra-marathons, and these amazing name puzzles, which are currently on my wish list.

Side projects aren't just limited to designers and art fans. My husband, Jack, is a biomedical engineer and general science enthusiast. When he’s not in the lab, he’s scouring for cool challenges to submit his ideas to. He feels that his proposal-writing skills have vastly improved thanks to his submissions.

It doesn't really matter what it is so long as in the end, you would be proud to discuss your experience and feel like you got something out of it.

The best side-projects in terms of being beneficial to your ad career loosely adhere to the below "rules":

  1. It is *shareable*. You have some kind of documentation that this side-project actually existed. Even better if that documentation tells a story.
  2. It is somehow *relevant* to your chosen path in the ad industry. Or it’s just mind-blowingly cool and creative.
  3. Potential for *growth*. Nothing is better than a success story of a passion turned into a phenomenon, so the more scalable your project the better. Try to think about "what's next" for your project so that it can grow along with you and your career.

Happy hobbying!

How To Lame It Up

I try to avoid rants railing on work that's out there, but this one particularly rubbed me the wrong way. I would vote for the following story as one of the best, most charming stories from last year.

And then the other day I caught this on the tube:

Sometimes I like to imagine the meetings behind the work, but my brain can't process the conversation in which someone says "Let's take out the kids and replace them with three yuppy douchebags in an SUV. And let's pretend they did this all with points from their credit card."

It's one thing to be topical and relevant. It's quite another to blatantly rip off a cool story and repurpose it for lameness. On top of that, this Citibank campaign is supposed to be about true stories. Fail. And they act like they want a genuine conversation, inviting you to share your stories, yet when I try to post a comment on youtube, it requires approval from Citibank. I'm still awaiting approval of my comment.

Should I be shocked by any of this? Hardly. But I think there is a real lesson in the difference between real reality and lame commercial reality.

7 Things Portfolio School Grads Should Do

In just a few months, those of you who are in portfolio schools will be graduating. High-fives on that. This industry is a lot of fun.

You're probably too busy putting your final books together to even be reading this blog. But for those of you who could use a little last minute advice, here are some of the things the time-traveling version of myself would have told the portfolio student version of myself more than a decade ago:

1. Look for work in any city you can.
Don't limit yourself to a single geographic location. Cast a wide net. Got your fingers crossed for a gig in New York? Fine. But don't rule out Boston, Dallas, San Francisco or anywhere else that might be hiring. I've seen students say, "I'm looking for work in [fill in the blank]," only to spend month after unemployed month in that city, scheduling and rescheduling interviews, hoping somehow, someday a window would open.

Tony Marin's a friend of mine that I taught at the Chicago Portfolio School. He, like everyone else in his class, wanted to land a job in Chicago. And after he graduated, he did some nice work freelancing for some decent shops in town. But then he took a job at R&R in Las Vegas. I don't think anyone in his class even knew there was an agency in Las Vegas. But he moved to the desert and ended up producing some of that great "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" work. Not long ago, he returned to Chicago where he's working as an ACD. He was willing to go anywhere to build a great book. And that let him go exactly where he wanted to go.

2. Check out the outliers.
Every graduate coming out of portfolio school wants to work at Wieden, Goodby, and Crispin. Why wouldn't they? What a great way to start your career, right? But what about Boone/Oakley? Or Walrus? Or Stick and Move? Or Richter7? Or Trumpet? There are great agencies everywhere. Make sure you know about them. And make sure they get a good look at your book.

3. Know what success means.
If there's a downside to portfolio schools, it's the competitive nature that fertilizes the idea that if you don't get a job at a Wieden, a Goodby or a Crispin, you've failed. That's one of the biggest lies you can tell yourself. Go where you can do great work. Might be at Wieden. Might be in Omaha or Baltimore. Take the interviews and find out for yourself.

4. Do your homework.
Know who the leaders in the agency are, not just the marquee names. Know who the writers and art directors on your favorite work are. Find out what the ECD has said in recent interviews. I once read that Teddy Roosevelt would stay up all night before an important meeting reading up on whatever interested the person he was going to meet with. You can at least invest a little time finding out about the individuals you might be meeting with. And in the Age of Google, there's no reason not to know any of this stuff.

5. Be thoroughly prepared.
Make sure you bring a hardcopy book to any interview. Even if your book's all online, you'll be glad you have the backup. Make sure any CDs, DVDs, or apps are working properly the week before, the night before, and the morning of any interview. If you don't care enough to be thoroughly prepared for your interview, how can they expect you to do any better with their clients?

6. Know what you want to know more about.
When you start going to interviews, don't just plan on sitting in the chair like you're on trial. You should be interviewing the agency as much as they're interviewing you. Here are a handful of questions I've usually kept as standards:
  • What's the culture here like?
  • What's the best thing about working here?
  • What's the worst thing about working here?
  • Who's the creative engine of the agency? Would I be working with them? How much exposure would I have to them?
  • What's your opinion of award shows?
  • Say you hired me; what would you expect me to have done within the first six months?
7. Make sure you have your Five Criteria.
We've written about this before. Click here to read about your Five Criteria. It's worth your time.

Good luck, grads. And have fun.

Advice from SxSW

Here's a great post from Ben Malbon. It not only applies to SxSW, but your entire career. Enjoy.

How Campaignable is Your Campaign?

There are people who would argue, and probably rightly so, that the "new media" makes the traditional concept of campaigns less important. Used to be that it was really important that all of your communication worked together, looked the same, had a "big idea." Now you can get away with putting out a bunch of smaller ideas and hoping one of them takes off.

Still, it's nice to see when an idea is campaignable (I look for at least a few examples of that in a student's book). This morning, I came across the full set of tv spots for the classic Miller High Life campaign on director Errol Morris's website. It has 80 spots. 80! This campaign is one of my favorites, but I was shocked to see how many they'd produced.

ESPN Sportscenter also comes to mind as great, long-running campaign. Do you have any favorites?

Actors vs Announcers vs Ghosts

The other day, I directed via remote patch an 8-year-old actor who was lending his voice to our spot. Every time I work with kids, I end up shaking my head and saying, "I will never work with kids again." They're notoriously flaky, they can't follow exact direction, they have short attention spans, and their range is often limited. Most of them act like children half the time.

When you're directing any person, you have to figure out what works for them. With voice-overs, they tend to break down into two groups--actors and announcers. An actor is someone who likes to be directed with motivation and emotion--a little sadder, say it with more empathy, see if you can do something more cowboy. An announcer, on the other hand, likes specifics--emphasize this word, go up instead of down on that word, use an accent. It's important to understand what direction works better for the talent you're working with.

For the 8-year-old, we realized pretty quickly that he wasn't responding to announcer direction. No surprise there, really. I'd tell him to emphasize a word more, and he'd give me the exact same read. I'd tell him to do it with more energy--exact same read. But then we started playing around a little. In the spot, we have a little boy ghost. So we told him "Pretend you're a ghost telling a secret to another ghost." His read changed. Instead of telling him to be louder, we said, "Now tell the same secret to another ghost, but it's very windy out and he can barely hear you." For more energy, we asked him to "Tell the secret to another ghost, but you're being chased by a dinosaur through the jungle."

It was a blast. And we got an awesome range of reads from him. He ripped off over 70 reads in a short amount of time because he had a great imagination--most kids do.

We always talk about how this business requires creativity at every phase of the process. This was the first time I had to be so creative while giving direction to talent. But it was also the most fun I've ever had at the studio. And maybe the first time I didn't say, "I'll never work with kids again."

An Idea Isn't Everything

This is another in a series from AKQA creative Nathan Archambault. You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch.

Concept is king. It’s all about the idea. Your goal with every brief should be to come up with an idea so big that other big ideas become jealous. Right?

Not so fast. Coming up with a big idea is just one of the many steps that it takes to produce great work. And it isn’t always the most important step to a client. Sometimes it’s not even the most important step to an agency.

The details matter
Lately I’ve been seeing student books that feel like they’re full of high-level case studies. Videos that present the idea but don’t actually explain how it comes to life. After nailing a big idea, you've got to figure out the minor details. Not every big idea translates to a great ad. Without thinking through the small things, you’ll never know if your big idea is anything more than a great starting point. When it comes to executing a campaign, an idea isn’t everything.

The strategy matters
Clients don’t want ideas that come out of left field, even if it’s a great idea. Your campaign needs a foundation. You need to be able to explain the insight that led to your idea. Be perfectly clear about why this idea will be an effective one for the client and the target. When it comes to thinking strategically, an idea isn’t everything.

The client matters
Don’t forget that we work in a service industry. Our clients aren’t in the business of supporting the advertising industry. They’re in the business of making profits and selling products. They’re only interested in one type of idea – the kind that grows their business. When it comes to client needs, an idea isn’t everything.

The budget matters
A client isn’t going to toss more money at a project because an idea is so freaking awesome. Doesn’t matter how much they love it. If the best idea goes over budget, the next best idea moves into the starting line-up. Or, even worse, you’re asked to rework your great idea until it’s nothing but a sad shell of its former self. When it comes to sticking to budget, an idea isn’t everything.

The presentation matters
Part of the job is getting clients pumped up for your big idea to become a big reality. That may mean some theater. It may mean bravado. It takes a different approach for every client and every presentation. Just remember, clients weren't there during your brainstorm sessions. They may not fully understand the thought that led to your idea. You’ve got to set it up for success, making it sound revolutionary. Make it seem like anything but your big idea would be disaster. When it comes to the presentation, an idea isn't everything.

The objective matters
Every ad has a job to do. Your great idea should lead to action, interaction, or whatever the goal may be. An idea can be cool, but it also needs a nerdy side. A side that accomplishes the very straightforward and quantifiable goal put forth by the client in the first place. When it comes to building a brand, an idea isn't everything.

There are a lot of factors that can make or break a campaign. Do all these things well, and your big idea becomes that much bigger. It also moves that much closer to becoming a reality.