Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Want a promotion? Give yourself one first.

An alternate headline for this post could be, "Think for the job you want, not the job you have."


One of the best ways to make yourself invaluable and worthy of a promotion is to make your creative director's job as easy as possible. How do you do this? By thinking and working beyond your years.


When you get an assignment, tackle it as a team a level above you would. Take ownership of it. Solve problems before you see your CD rather than looking to them to solve them. An example of how to do this: "The client had concerns about X, and here's what we think is the best solution. What do you think?" An example of how not do this: "The client had concerns about X. What do we do?" (There are times when the latter is perfectly acceptable, like when you truly don't know what to do or there's a problem you don't know how to solve. If you already knew everything, you'd already be the CD. Because clearly CDs know everything.)


This may sound obvious, but trust me, saving your CD time by being a problem solver will get you noticed. And probably promoted.


A word of caution, however: do not overstep your bounds. This advice applies to your thinking, not to granting yourself authority you don't have.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Radio Mercury Awards Workshop

If you're a writer, and you'll be in the LA area on July 14th, you should go to this.

I went to one of these workshops as a junior writer. Well worth the money. Especially, since my agency paid the bill - something you might want to look into yourself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are You Part of the Talent Crisis?

I think the interviews coming out of Cannes are just as interesting as the winners. They might be more important, too.

Here's an interview with Ali Ali, the CD at Elephant Cairo. You've probably seen his "Never Say No to Panda" work.



He's got some interesting things to say on talent. Granted, it's an Egyptian view. Not everything he says will translate to job markets in Chicago or New York or LA. Or will it? Here's one of his more interesting quotes:


"Agencies need to downsize...You can't have a creative department of 40 people. I think that immediately means that 30 of them are not good."


What do you think of that?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mike Cooley on the Creative Team


This quote is from Mike Cooley, guitarist in one of my favorite bands, Drive-By Truckers. It originally appeared in an interview with the Toronto Sun here.

How does the band function? As a democracy or with you and Patterson calling the shots?

There's not a lot of effort to it. We're all on the same page naturally. Most everybody's genuinely happy with what we're doing. And we're all mature enough to just roll with it and not inject our egos into the decision-making process unless it really does matter. I've found the quickest way to screw something up is to be too hands-on. There are people in this business who are complete control freaks, who can't stand for anything to go on without their presence and seal of approval. But I've never seen any evidence that being that way produces better results. Ever. In anything.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Go Brazilian

My friend Luis is a CD who's worked in the US and Mexico. Just the other day he told me the following story...

When he worked for a WPP agency, Neil French was the Worldwide Creative Director, and would have biannual creative reviews with agencies region by region and would select the best work for the agency portfolio. When the Mexican team presented their work, Neil picked one of their campaigns and commented on another. Then teams from other Latin American countries presented, and Neil would also choose one or two ideas. But when the Brazilians presented their ideas, he picked almost everything they had.

After the meeting, all the teams wanted to know how the Brazilians came up with so much great work. They said it was the way they concepted.

The Brazilians said they started off internally with a round of blue-skying the idea. Several teams came up with as many ideas in as many areas as they could. But then they narrowed that field down to their four best ideas, and set every team to work on those four. No team was coming up with new areas; they were mining what they had, even if it wasn't their idea to begin with. After that round, they narrowed it down again, picking their best four, and setting all teams on those. So what Neil French chose was a bunch of ultra-refined gems, not lucky strikes.



I think a lot of times when we concept, we start off just like the Brazilians, trying to come up with as many fresh ideas as we can. But I think that's where we tend to part ways. In rounds two, three and four, my experience is we're all still trying to cast our idea seeds broadly, hoping we come up with some news ideas that will be even bigger and brighter than the first ones.

Most creative departments in most agencies aren't going to revamp how they review work. But what would happen if you, as an individual CW or AD went Brazilian. What if you and your partner took the three or four most fertile ideas you had and then said, "Okay, what else can we do with these stories? How can we reach the same conclusion in a different framework? How else can this story be told?" Rather than coming up with a bunch of new ideas that may or may not fly, you could be refining and exploring areas you already know have merit.

Give it a try on your next few rounds. We'd be interest to know how it works for you.

And check out this older post from Jim. There's some interesting overlap with what he learned at SxSW and what the Brazilians are already doing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Boutiques vs Behemoths

Jim Lansbury, a CD at RP3 Agency has some advice for portfolio grads on ihaveanidea.org. Big agency vs small shop was something I debated when I left school. There are pros and cons to both. Here’s one of Lansbury’s pros…

“Why think small? For starters, you’ll build your book a lot faster. Small agencies don’t have the luxury of putting multiple teams on every project. They don’t mine their juniors for ideas that don’t go anywhere, or worse yet, for ideas that someone else ends up taking credit for. They expect everyone to produce. And everyone does.  In a small shop, there are no bad groups or tough accounts to get stuck on. Everyone works on everything. (At least that’s how we do it here.)”


I've worked and had success at both big and small agencies. Which would you rather work at as a first job?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

ADdendum 101


There's a new like-minded blog from newly-graduated ad students that's worth checking out:

Agency Principals on What They Look For In A New Hire


Well worth the read. Interesting to see where they agree and disagree.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Funny is Hard

A lot of us get into advertising to make people laugh. We want to do funny spots like the moose ad for monster.com or the shark spot for Snickers. Check out Adweek's 18 Great Skittles Ads by TBWA, and you can't help but want to be on the funny wagon.

But I'm always reminded of something Luke Sullivan (a really funny guy) said. In his book, he says humor is a dialect, not a language. It's more important to be interesting than just funny.

Funny is good. But it's also really, really hard. And when you miss, it can be painful. Saturday Night Live hires some of the funniest writers in the country, and the show is still wildly hit-and-miss. Lots of weeks it's miss-and-miss.

In this article, Gerry Graf tells Creativity his thoughts on humor. If you've got an account, you should really read it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Conan O'Brien's Guide to Creativity



Conan O’Brien has some great tips on creativity in this article from Fast Company. Worth reading in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights:

"Rehearsal is really key, because rehearsal is where everything is put up… I can look at some things on paper and say it's going to be great. But you see it on its feet and you just know it's not there. … That's the thing I can't stress enough."

"I'm very open to when things don't work. That becomes the fun."

"One of the qualities people like about what we're doing is that it can feel very loose. That's the biggest comment I get from everybody on this new show: You look like you've having so much fun. And the truth is you can't fake it."

"I do sympathize with how the batting average for writing good material is really tough, so at the very least I’m trying to create an atmosphere where failure is inevitable."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An Observation of Student Books

This being graduation and recruiting season, I've seen a lot of student portfolios lately. Seriously, gobs of them. And this is generally what I'm seeing:

  • Lots of digital ideas
  • Lots of integrated ideas
  • Lots of side-bar explanations of how the digital and/or integrated ideas are supposed to work
  • Not a lot of print
  • Not a whole lot of outdoor

If I were a student in portfolio school, I'd probably skew toward the digital/integrated ideas, too. Done right, they're cooler, more memorable, and it's the direction the industry has been heading for about a decade now. And we're thinkers and concepters first and foremost, right?

But here's the catch: speaking for the majority of creative directors and recruiters, the best way for me to judge your talents is with an unsexy, unglamorous old school medium: a print ad. If you're a copywriter, a bunch of headlines and scintillating body copy lets me know you can write. If you're an art director, a double-page spread is going to tell me more about your skills and artistic judgement than a big idea blown out across six media channels.

I'm not knocking digital, integration, or big, big thinking in any way. You need that stuff in your book to be competitive. But imagine you're a creative director, with a couple of portfolios on your desk. All writing and art direction being equal, this is what pretty much what you'll come away with:


BOOK #1 contains several digital pieces with their accompanying explanations, a couple integrated campaigns with their accompanying explanations, and a billboard campaign.

My reaction: Wow. Some pretty cool ideas in here. At least I think so. I didn't take the time to read through all the explanations.



BOOK #2 contains several print campaigns which might even be a part of one or two integrated campaigns, a couple digital pieces.

My reaction: Wow. Some pretty cool ideas in here. And this kid can really write/art direct. We could use them here.


Multiply Book #1 by about 20, and Book #2 by three or four, and you start to see why having big ideas on their own might not be enough to get you a job.

You need to be a big thinker. And digital and integrated campaigns are usually the best way to show off your brain.

But agencies don't hire big thinkers. They hire writers and art directors who think big. And as unsexy as it sounds, the best way to show off your craft is usually a double-page spread. Sure, roll it into your integrated piece if you can. But don't assume one print campaign is enough to showcase your talent.