"Because I'm the Client."

There will be multiple times in your career when the client does not go with the agency recommend. They'll choose another director. A different illustrator. The execution they feel a little more comfortable with, even though the one you're recommending is all but guaranteed to get you a Lion at Cannes and have the country tweeting about their business.

To be fair, agencies should always be prepared for this. If we don't show bad work, our clients can't buy bad work. But sometimes we have a campaign, or director or promotional partner we're just dying to work with. And the client chooses the runner up. Or the runner up to the runner up. Ideally, we'd be happy with that. Because if it's on the rail, it's for sale.

But there might be times when the agency pushes back just a little. "Really? Are you sure you want to go with that campaign? Can you tell us why?"

A good client, who sees the agency as a partner will explain themselves. Even if they're not very clear, they'll try. "I just feel more comfortable with this director because he's got a lot more experience in our category." Or, "I think this campaign will resonate better with our target market.

But when the response is, "Because I'm the client," watch out. That's not too far off from a husband telling his wife to have his supper ready when he comes home from bowling with the guys "because I'm the man in this house."

"Because I'm the client."

Those are dangerous words. Because they state the obvious, explain nothing, and are an attempt to put you in (what they perceive to be) in your place.

Excavation Skills

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says creating a story is like uncovering a fossil. You uncover a little bit at a time, not really knowing exactly what you've got until it's unearthed.

I think the same could be said for headlines. Or TV scripts. Or even layouts and social media ideas. It's not just about writing. It's about going to work and excavating the thing and see what's there. You can't just assume that because you stumbled upon a bone there's a whole colony of plesiosaurs just below the surface.

Using the fossil metaphor, here's how I see a lot of students and junior teams presenting their ideas:

JUNIOR TEAM: We've found this dinosaur bone sticking out of the ground over there. It looks like it could be a cool dinosaur. But we'd also like to run around and look for more dinosaur bones.

CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Have you excavated the one you found?

JUNIOR TEAM: No. But we imagine there could be a whole skeleton underneath. It could be really cool.

CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Well, why don't you try excavating that dinosaur, since you've at least got a bone there.

JUNIOR TEAM: Okay. But we'd also like to run around looking for more bones.

Two skills that will make you a stronger creative are the ability to recognize a potentially great idea, and the ability to develop it to the point where you can prove that it's a great idea.

Speculation and hope only get you so far.

Negotiating Moving Expenses

A friend of mine recently asked my advice on negotiating moving expenses for a job. This advice won't help you build your portfolio, but it could be helpful if you're looking for work. So I've included sections from my email to him here:

I've received moving expenses three times in my career. The first was when I moved to Chicago for my first job. I think they gave me $2000, and I think I had to ask for it. I had no idea how or what I would be using it for. It was just kind of free money.

When I moved to Europe, it was a little more complicated, naturally. They paid the airfare for me and my whole family, another $7500 to move my stuff from Chicago, and fronted the money for the downpayment on my apartment (local laws required 3 months, so it came to  about $9000).

When I came back to the States, my current agency put me up in corporate housing for a month, but typically they would have only done it for a week (I was their first transocean move). I paid $5000 to move all my stuff from Europe to America, but negotiated to have the agency move my furniture from our old house in Chicago to our new place. (We'd rented our house in Chicago and kept it furnished.)

I think the key is to figure out what you need and then tell them and negotiate from there. Go on pods.com and get a quote on moving to your new city. If you're driving, figure gas money, and maybe even one night in a hotel. Just make your plans as if you were paying for it yourself, and ask the agency if they know any way to make it less expensive. I gave my current agency an estimate from pods.com, but they had a corporate account with a moving company that was less expensive, and I was fine using them.

When I moved to Europe, the agency offered $5000 to move, which I didn't think was going to be enough. I wrote to them and said, "Since you've flown me business class twice for interviews, I assume you'll fly my entire family business class when we move. How about you fly us all coach, and give me half the difference in moving expenses, which will be about $5000." The CEO wrote back and said he had planned to fly us coach, but could offer an additional $2500 to move, but no more, which was totally fine with me.

Be honest. Be fair. Negotiate for as much as you can. And realize that however much they're giving you is probably coming out of someone's Chirstmas bonus or the office holiday party.

Meditate On This

A recent article in Fast Company suggests that our ability to think creatively flows much better when we spend 12-20 minutes a day meditating. I'm no guru, but that's not hard for me to believe. Meditation has long been a daily ritual for David Lynch. And every how-to-be-creative book in the industry will tell you that part of the creative process is walking away from your projects and letting them stew in your subconscious.

I'm going to give this a try for the next few days - maybe even a few weeks. I'd like to see if I notice a difference in how creative I feel. Even more, I want to continue to fight the notion that I'm way too busy to take 12 minutes (0.833% of my day) to do absolutely nothing.

Fast Company lists some tips here that seem practical and not too hokey. If you give it a try, let us know how things go.

New Header

After four years, we've got a new header on the blog. Big thanks to its designer, Brian Thibodeau.

(We don't make any money off this site, but our fingers are crossed that the brands on the shield don't repay us for the high honor with a cease-and-desist order. We'd hate to be sued by a unicorn.)

The Creative Ham

Here's something I wish I'd had when I was graduating from portfolio school. It's a site called The Creative Ham, which is a working list of ad agencies by city. Everyone knows Goodby's in San Francisco and Wieden's in Portland. But if you really, really want to work in Denver or Philadelphia or Houston, their Forever Incomplete List of Agencies will give you a good start. There are great shops everywhere.

The Creative Ham was designed by Alex, a portfolio student about to graduate from The Book Shop. High-fives to Alex.

Four Years

Thanks for all your support. Considering most people don't stay at one agency this long, we count turning four a big achievement.

Something To Think About

This post from a fashion blog is interesting to me for two reasons.

1. I think it's true when it comes to fashion.

2. I think it's incredibly applicable and convincing when it comes to why execution of ideas matter. Ideas may matter more, but execution is not to be underestimated. (Please note, this applies more to working folks than students.)

Meet Your Competition

The Lürzer's Archive Student of the Year Award is open for voting. Check out the nominees. And if you're a first year portfolio school student, start trying to figure out how you're going to be nominated next year.