The Theoretical Ad-Like Thingy

"So there'd be like two guys in a park or at the mall of somewhere talking about normal stuff. And then something crazy would happen in the background and one of the guys would be like pointing but it would be the product. And there'd be some copy at the end that says something about how it gets noticed."

"Do you have a tagline?"

"Yeah, and there'd be a tagline."

"What is it?"

"I don't know yet."

This is a reenactment of the presentation of a theoretical ad. For some reason, students present these all the time in class. It wants me to poke my eyes out or, lately, want to poke their eyes out. There is a vague concept here, but this isn't an execution. It's like drawing the first gesture of a circle and saying "What do you think of my portrait?" I don't know. It's not a portrait yet. This concept above, I don't know. It's not a script. It's a vague notion about a script.

Do not present theoretical ads. Do not present vague paragraphs. Your job is not to create MadLibs.  If you don't know whether a spot should take place in a mall or a park or the international space station, pick the one you think is best. Create a concrete idea in the mind of your creative director or client (or instructor). Talk about options and alts afterward. But first help them imagine something real and specific.

Two things can happen when you present a theoretical ad. The first is that, because you haven't brought the idea to life, people don't get it or don't like it and the idea dies. The second is possibly worse. Because you have left the idea so open-ended, everyone fills in the blanks with whatever's in their head. Instead of everyone in the room seeing the idea as you envisioned it, you now have six different versions/visions of your idea populating people's brains. Which means that if you push your idea forward to the next stage where you do make it more specific, at least five people will think "Oh, that's not how I was picturing it."

Bottom line--be specific. If you've ever taken a creative writing course, this is something they tell you about your language: be concrete. The same is true here. If you're presenting a spot, present a spot. For a print ad, show a print ad. Not an ad-like notion. Or, as my instructor Coz Cotzias used to say: "That's an interesting thought. Now go do a fucking ad."

The Maker Generation

Last week, I was able to catch up with my friend, mentor and first boss Kevin Lynch. Over lunch he said a few things worth sharing here. Paraphrasing, of course. My hands were too busy with my pulled pork sandwich to take notes.

According to Kevin, you portfolio students and recent grads are the Maker Generation. When Kevin or I were looking for our first jobs, if we wanted to pull something real together, we would have had to find a typesetter, a photographer, maybe a sound engineer. Nothing got produced that didn't involve a team.

But today, people are producing work all the time with nothing more than a great idea and maybe a little tech shrewdness. I go to portfolio school reviews each year and more and more, there are students developing their own apps, fonts, websites, radio programs. It's not just theory.

Kevin said this democratization of maker-iness means there's no reason any portfolio school grad should go into a job interview where the person interviewing hasn't already heard of them.

That's a pretty high bar. Thing is, there are plenty of examples out there where portfolio school students (your competition) are already clearing it.

Portfolio Night 10

Good luck to everyone participating in Portfolio Night 10. If you missed the boat this year, put in on your calendar for 2013.

Miss you, Sonya.

My friend and former CD, Sonya Grewal passed away last weekend. She was a great creative, and a great person.

Here's a conversation Sonya and I had a few years ago after participating in's Portfolio Night. With Portfolio Night coming up soon, it's worth your read. If you haven't enrolled in Portfolio Night, yet, what are you waiting for?

Managing Your Career on a Matchbook

In portfolio school, you'll be told to make the most of every opportunity. Even matchbook covers and table tents. If you're given a table tent assignment, make it the most amazing table tent the world has ever seen. Win a One Show gold with a piece of direct mail. Get your first Cannes Lion with a door hanger. Or at least have an amazing piece for your book.

And that's all true.

But there may come a time in your career where you realize all you've been doing are matchbook covers and table tents.

Yes, you need to make the most of every assignment. And be very patient. But beware of letting your work define you as someone who does the heavy-lifting (a euphemism for stuff the more senior creatives don't want to touch).