How to Become The Go-to Creative In Your Agency

This is a guest post from AKQA creative and frequent Makin' Ads contributor Nathan Archambault.

Julian Edelman, diminutive wide receiver for the New England Patriots, would have made a fantastic advertising creative.

Seem random? Not at all. Not when you understand his approach to making it in a highly competitive industry.

After playing quarterback at Kent State (not exactly a football powerhouse), Edelman was drafted by the Patriots in the 7th and final round of 2009. The odds were against him having a successful career in the NFL but as of today he’s 6th in the league in receptions, just ahead of a superhuman they call Megatron.

Here’s the approach Edelman took that separated him from everyone else:

“The more you can do, the more valuable you make yourself to a team. Sometimes, lying and saying you’ve done it when you really haven’t done it. Put my head down, worked my tail off, watched a lot of great guys ahead of me over the years … You watch Tom Brady and learn how to be a professional. You’re around that, and it becomes your life … Punt-returning, kick-returning, playing defense, whatever the coaches ask you to do. Blocking a kick. When you’re younger and you’re a seventh-round draft pick, a rookie, you basically do everything you can. You could be a camp body … Everyone’s fighting for a job. Any time a coach needed a guy up, you had to go sprint up there and try to deal with it … You saw a lot of guys, Wes Welker in the huddle, Joey Galloway, Randy Moss, even though they’re different body types, they’re such smart receivers. You could always take something away from everyone. When you’re green, you grow; when you’re ripe, you rot. You gotta constantly learn. My father tells me that all the time. We’d be practicing out in the backyard, and if I had a bad attitude or I was talking back or something, he’d go, You think you have all the answers. When you’re green you grow, when you think you’re ripe you’re gonna rot.“

Now replace Tom Brady with your creative director’s name. Replace football responsibilities with advertising projects. Replace Moss and Galloway with your favorite senior creatives.

If you’re a junior trying to make it in advertising, channel this attitude. Become the Julian Edelman of your industry. It doesn't matter if you're not the biggest, strongest or highest drafted. Know what you have to do to become one of the best at your position. 

[Nathan Archambault is a Senior Copywriter at AKQA in New York. Check out his advertising blog at and follow him on Twitter at @nkarch.]

Radio Inspiration from Oink Ink

I still love to write radio. I know that seems like an incredibly old school medium. But I love writing it. And I love hearing my spots on air (or Pandora or Spotify or wherever).

When you write a TV spot, you end up hiring a director and a production company and soon about 150 are working on an idea you came up with. And that's a cool feeling.

With digital projects, the process is less elaborate. But you still have programers and designers and UX experts who come together to bring your idea to life.

But with radio, it's most likely just you, a few actors, and your sound engineer. If it misses the mark, it's all on you. If it's great, same thing. I love the pressure. I love the collaboration. I love that you're more of a SWAT team than an army.

Here's a little inspiration for you radio writers: the radio reel for Oink Ink. They're a great shop I got to work with a while back. If you ever get to work with them or even enter their Dead Radio Contest, you'll have a good time, too. Enjoy.

Learn to be a great storyteller

In this excellent post, Refe Tuma points out that our most interesting friends may not live genuinely exciting lives. They're just very good storytellers.

He says, "Interesting people often lead surprisingly ordinary lives, but they are not ordinary. What sets them apart is their ability to tell a good story."

Not every assignment is going to be for Porsche or Burton snowboards or ESPN. You may have to do ads for pens. Or a bank. Or a furniture warehouse. Or an orthopedic mattress company. But remember, there are no boring products. Only boring ways of talking about them.

As Tuma points out, Jerry Seinfeld talks about vacuum cleaners and cereal. He just tells a great story about them.

(SIDE NOTE: Be sure to check out Refe Tuma's Dinovember. It's genius.)

Nate Burleson's Pizza

Here's a sweet example of a brand jumping on a news story in a timely, relevant way. As a football fan, I love this idea.  

Back in September, Minnesota Vikings receiver Nate Burleson got the munchies late one night. He ran out for a pizza, but in the process managed to crash his car and break his arm, disappointing his team, Vikings fans and fantasy football owners everywhere. 

It was later revealed that the wreck occurred when Burleson reached over to keep his pizza from sliding off the seat. He tweeted photos of his totaled, pizza-covered SUV this week. 

In response, DiGiorno, who positions their frozen pizzas against delivery/carryout, sent Burleson a year supply DiGiorno pizza. Very simple, very smart, and right in line with what the brand stands for. It's also an example of the kinds of ideas we need to always be thinking of. Brands need to get into conversations, but they need to do it in ways that are relevant and add value. Great stuff. Though it doesn't do jack for my fantasy team. 

Setting Up A Premise

In this video, at about the 13:40 mark, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, and Louis CK are discussing how Chris Rock sets up a premise.

Chris Rock sums it up like this: "A lot of comedians have great jokes, and they don't - like - 'Why isn't this working?' Because the audience does not understand the premise...If I set this premise up right, this joke will always work."

I see the same thing in advertising. In an agency, before work goes to the client, a team will present a random collection of ads. Some of them may even be really good. But if there's no premise to any of them, even the really good ones will eventually fall to the wayside. But if a team comes in with a premise, and all of their ideas are tied to that premise, people start nodding their heads. Because we get it.

A premise could be "Saving money with Geico makes people happy." A series of ads could be ridiculous scenarios of happy people (a camel on hump day, a witch in a broom factory).

A premise could be "Interesting people drink Dos Equis." A series of ads could be biographical snapshots of the World's Most Interesting Man.

A premise could be "Bad things happen randomly." A series of ads could be Mayhem personified.

In other words, ads are like jokes. Concepts are like Chris Rock's premise.

Don't jump into your executions. If you have specific ideas for a spot, fine. Write them down. Share them with your partner even. But go into every meeting with your premise first. And make sure everyone in the room understands how each execution you present ties back to it.

Pre-Write the Case Study

I'm taking a fiction-writing class, and last night my teacher gave us this tip: "If you're writing a novel, one exercise to help determine what the novel wants to be is to write a review for it."

Even before you're done, jump ahead and write what you'd like to see in the press once your novel is published. How would they describe it? Not just that it's awesome, but why and what it's about. It's basically a roadmap built on aspiration.

You can do the same thing when thinking about your ad campaign. Write a case study for it. Even before you have it figured out, see if you can write what you'd like the case study to be. What was the problem? Your insight? Your solution?

You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if you're idea's simple and if you actually know what you're trying to achieve. You'll also be able to see if, once all is said and done, you'll actually have a compelling story to tell.

Clever. But wrong. Or at least wrong-ish.

Adweek recently published this US map of agencies:

No doubt, this was inspired by this US map of brands which started its viral romp a few weeks ago.

I like it. Here's why: There are good agencies all over the country doing really good work that never get recognition. And maybe you should be working for them, helping them earn their spot on this map. This map kind of celebrates the little guys as much as the famous ones.

Here's why this map is silly: Choosing BBDO for New York discounts Mother, Droga 5, Barton F. Graf 9000, and even the other behemoths like Saatchi and Y&R who are doing great work. And even though it's hard to argue with Chiat/Day for California, that choice leaves out Goodby and 72andSunny.

But whatever. It's just a map.

They did get GY&K right for New Hampshire. Those guys are tearing it up.

"Better Than His Book"

I've been looking at a lot of portfolios lately,* and I've heard the same phrase about five times this week. Someone has sent me a book on behalf of someone else and commented, "They're better than their book."

I don't know what to do with that. I totally trust the people passing these books on to me, but I can't help but ask why the person's book isn't as good as they supposedly are. "They're better than their book" is like saying "Our product is better than our ads make it seem."

Your book represents you. It represents the way you think. So if your book isn't as good as you are, you'd better get to work on making it better. If you're not getting the opportunities, do something on the side. Give yourself some fake assignments. You're competing with people whose books are probably better than they are. That's the reality of the situation.

If your book isn't as good as you are, then your book could be better. So why isn't it?

*We're hiring all creative levels. Drop me a line or send me your stuff if you're interested.

For Those Who Say "It Can't Be Done"

Over the course of your career, you'll have several people tell you something can't be done. It might be an account exec. Or the client. Or your partner. Or your boss.

If you're told, "It can't be done for this much money, but..." That's fine.

If you're told, "It can't be done by the deadline, but..." That's okay, too. These people are offering solutions.

But if someone's first reaction is simply, "It can't be done," there are three possibilities;

1. That person misunderstands something and I need to explain things better.
2. That person is just lazy.
3. That person should be fired, and find work outside of advertising.

Advertising is no place for people who don't think something can be done. That's what creativity is all about.

Freytag's Pyramid

This week kicks off the summer quarter at Miami Ad School. I'll be teaching a scriptwriting class on Thursday nights, and I've been preparing my discussion for my first class. Part of what I'm going to be talking about is dramatic structure, starting off with Freytag's Pyramid (if you've ever taking a fiction writing, literature or drama course, you might be familiar).

As I've been thinking about it, I've been realizing how common this structure is, in various forms, in almost anything that makes us feel an emotion. Stories, music, movies, jokes, sports, roller coasters, tv spots, headlines, fireworks, conversations...they all have this same basic structure in some form or another.

Exposition, climax, denouement.
Context, conflict, resolution.
Flop, turn, river (Hold 'Em).
Pledge, turn, prestige (the parts of a magic trick).
Basically a building of tension to a turning point, then release of that tension.

I've been seeing it everywhere. It's kind of a fun to break things down into their structural parts. And while it may not be completely helpful when you're concepting, it could be very useful when you're trying to figure out why a story isn't working or how to make it better. Even the way you structure your sentences or paragraphs, or the way you present your work, can benefit from an understanding of how drama is created and how stories are told.

Rick Rubin's Creative Process

There's a great interview with Rick Rubin that came out the other day. Some is about him producing Kanye's new album, but a lot is about his approach and creative process. Smart dude. Check it out. 

Four Words That Will Kill Your Job Interview

A really smart co-worker recently wrote a post about four words that will end a job interview. Can you guess what they are?

I've done jail time.

I'm not a reader.

I don't watch TV.

I hate my co-workers.

The answer is here.

Are Award Shows for Losers?

This piece was penned by Prentice Mathew, a senior art director. In the current annual fervor of Cannes, he claims "advertising awards are now for losers." You might agree. You might find it heresy. Either way, it's an interesting read. Anyone agree? Disagree? (And is it easier to agree or disagree based on how many awards you won this year?)

What NOT To Put In Your Portfolio

In this article, Cannes jury members share what they're sick of seeing. If they're sick of seeing it at Cannes, they'll be sick of seeing it in your book.

The two biggest offenders? Vending machine work and case study videos. Just something to keep in mind as you're concepting.

The Lipton Millionaire

Not every project you're asked to produce will be as sexy as a 60-second spot or an interactive microsite. You'll work on table tents, tray liners, 40k online banners that can't handle animation, annual reports and brand standards guidelines. It happens at even the best agencies. In fact, it happens especially at the best agencies. Because clients know they can turn more work over to teams that can turn something mundane into something remarkable.

Most of us couldn't imagine putting a brand guidelines project in our portfolios. But if I had this idea and this case study, it would be one of the first things I'd show off in my book.


Trouble viewing? Click here for Lipton Millionaire.

Q&A with Cecilia Gorman

Cecilia Gorman is Director of Creative Services for Oakley in Orange County, and Creative Career Management where she runs workshops and career development for junior creatives looking to break into the industry. With so many of our readers graduating and entering the job market, we though we’d ask her a few questions.

Q: What are you looking for in junior creatives?
A: Mostly I look for Individuality, Conceptual intelligence (lack of cliches and sameness), strength of design style (art directors/designers). I want juniors to be different from one another and allow me the variety to choose from. When they blend into one another, it is hard to make a choice.

Q: What is the most common mistake junior talent makes?
A: Not being daring enough to take a risk and stand out. Being cocky or presumptuous.

Q: What do you see when you look at the job market today?
A: I see a lot of opportunities for folks who are willing to try a different job market or a slightly left of center position. If you are seeking a junior job in Los Angeles with no openness for anything different, you are up against thousands of others. But, if you are open to other states, other related jobs you have way more choices.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing junior talent?
A: Competition definitely. Portfolio schools are getting stronger every day, graduating very strong candidates every quarter. That is your competition, so juniors need to keep finessing their portfolios and adding new, strong work even after they are graduated.

Q: What advice would you give someone about to take a first job?
A: Be humble. You are new, you are learning, you are at the bottom rung. If you stay humble and remind yourself you are there to learn as much as you can every day, you will climb those rungs quicker than others.

Follow Cecilia on Twitter here

2013 Radio Mercury Award Winners

The Radio Mercury Awards have just been announced. Click here to listen to the winners.

Radio is still a writer's medium. It's awesome to have an A-list director and a crew of 100 working on your TV or video spot. It's really cool to see top designers and programers bringing a web site or an app to life. But it's equally amazing to sit down with a small team of a producer, a sound engineer, and some great talent to pull off something like this.

It's hard to promote books on Vine.

Jim and I compiled our most popular posts and a comprehensive review of portfolio schools into The Best of Makin' Ads, now available on Takes a little longer than six seconds to tell you about it, though.

Highlights from the Maker Generation

Last month, I was in Richmond, Virginia for the recruiting session at the VCU Brandcenter. I saw a ton of books - copywriters, art directors, and creative technologists. I continue to be amazed by the Maker Generation. When I graduated VCU forever ago, I left with a suitcase-shaped black portfolio full of double-page magazine spec ads that had been trimmed with an X-acto blade and spray mounted to black mounting boards. But today, if students have an idea, they go make it. Here are three examples from the VCU Brandcenter recruiting session that stuck with me (shown with permission).

After Margaret Thatcher died, Maddison Bradley and Jon Robbins were listening to some of her quotes and thought, "These sound like the kind of things Bane would say." So they created I don't know British Conservative politics of the mid-1980's well enough to comment, but I'm amazed that they pulled this together in a couple of days.

Harry Potter Ipsum

When Olivia Abtahi and Christina Chern needed some lorem ipsum, they thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if this weren't just gibberish, but Harry Potter gibberish?" So they created Harry Potter Ipsum. Feel free to accio your own text on their joint Most Auspicious.

Dragon Grips

Sam Cantor, Nick Marx, and Hunter Pechin didn't just go to portfolio school to make spec ads. They came up with Dragon Grips, an actual, functioning product. (That just happens to be surrounded with some well-thought-out marketing.)

"People's Choice Award" Winner: DragonGrips from Nick on Vimeo.

The Amazing Life of Jim Riswold

I got into advertising because of Jim Riswold. I didn't know who he was at the time. But I'd see Nike's "Bo Knows" commercials and their "Mars Blackmon" spots and think, that's exactly what I want to do.

Riswold was recently inducted into the One Club Creative Hall of Fame, and Dan Wieden wrote a piece about him in the recent issue of one. a magazine. I knew Riswold had left W+K, and I'd heard a little bit about his controversial art work featuring Hitler. But I didn't really know his story until I watched Riswold's TED talk. It might be a little disturbing at times. But that's what makes it amazing.


Here are some of the things I take away from Riswold:

  1. He's still a writer. Listen to how he crafted his talk. It's like copy from a Nike print ad.
  2. He's not a very good presenter. You can have loads of talent as a writer and a CD, and still be a bad presenter. That's not a reason to practice presenting. But it's a good thing to recognize and not beat yourself up over.
  3. This guy has guts. And I have to think his courage is one of the reasons he was such a great creative. Not only is speaking to an audience when it clearly makes him uncomfortable, he shows himself at his most vulnerable to a live audience. As Dan Wieden says in his article, "The ability to remain vulnerable is the ability to remain creative."

How much should you be paid?

Most of us don't like to talk about our salaries. We're afraid we're making more or less than our co-workers, which could make things awkward. And anyway, we're more concerned about producing great work, right?

The problem is, the leaves hundreds of portfolio school grads entering the interview and hiring process completely in the dark. Making money a huge focus is a bad idea. But being ignorant to your market value is just as bad. So here are my two recommendations to anyone in this business:

1. Check out the salary monitor at It's not complete, and it can be fairly general at times, but it's about as accurate a tool as I've come across.

2. Continue to interview throughout your career. Even if you're not interested in leaving your current job, this will help you be aware of what you're worth. So when you finally do want a new job, and HR asks you, "What kind of salary are you looking for?" you can answer with confidence, and not just say, "Um...However much you can give me."

Some Work is More Important

My buddy Jon, who has worked on some of the best brands in the world and done some great, award-winning work, has been creating short films for things he's passionate about for the past couple years. They're not really "side projects" anymore, though they started out that way. He learned by watching people work, then messing around himself.

His latest is a short film to help a young boy who was born with all kinds of health issues. Give it a watch. Sharing it helps.

You can watch it here. 

Four Ways to Use Other People's Work

"What if we did something like The Most Interesting Man In The World?"

How many times do you hear this kind of thing when you're concepting? How many times do you say it yourself? As a starting place, or when you get stuck in a rut, or because you're searching for the formula for great work, you start with great work and try to go from there. 

All creative work is somewhat derivative, but this technique guarantees it. It's okay to be motivated by great advertising. It's good to know what great work is out there. But your job is to do something different. Something that's right for the brand you're working on. Ideally something that doesn't even feel like advertising. That's hard to do when you start with advertising. 
Most advertisers get their inspiration from looking at other advertisements. It’s no wonder they all look the same... If you constantly search in the same treasure box, you’ll constantly find the same treasure. Look elsewhere and you’ll find something new.
                                                                    -Paul Arden
Using advertising as inspiration for creating advertising is just recirculating stale air. That said, there are ways you can use other advertising to improve your own game. Here are a few thoughts:

1) Take it apart. Put it back together. When you find an ad you like, don't stop at "Hey, that's cool." Study it. Figure out why it works. Dissect it. What decisions were made and why? Try to retrace how the idea may have come about.

2) Write the strategy for the ad. What insight was the jumping-off point for the ad? What questions did the team ask? Who is the ad speaking to? What's the main takeaway? What story are they telling? See if you can articulate all the elements that would make up the strategic brief for the ad.

3) Present the ad. See if you can present the concept for the ad. Make a compelling case for why it's good. Present it with drama and conviction. In my scriptwriting class, I have students present the concept for a tv spot they love, then we watch the actual spot and critique how well their presentation captured the essence of the real thing. (I'll be honest, I usually imagine the creative presentation of an ad when I see some hacky piece of crap on tv, wondering how someone could actually present that idea as if it's good, but it's probably more useful to imagine yourself doing it with something you like).

4) Critique the idea. This is good for when you're sitting in a long internal creative meeting and listening to other teams present work (or when you're in class listening to another student present). Take that opportunity to formulate an opinion. Even if nobody asks what you think, you can practice creative directing. What ideas do you like? How would you make them better? How would you deliver your feedback? Compare your direction to the CD's. Giving direction on the fly is tough, so it's worth practicing a bit, even if just in your head. Plus it keeps you engaged in the meeting and it's probably more beneficial than doodling caricatures of the account folks.

Mark's Principles

I was reading one.a magazine and came across an article on Mullen's CCO, Mark Wenneker. A sidebar to the article featured Mark's Principles. Worth sharing. Maybe even worth pinning up.

Sketch Your Heart Out

Here's a short presentation our friend B.Thibbs recently gave to the creative department of The Richards Group. Guaranteed to make you want to grab a fresh notebook. Enjoy.

Sketch your heart out. from B.Thibbs on Vimeo.

Things Portfolio School Didn't Teach Me: Awarding A Director

The process of getting a director to shoot your TV spot, online film, long-format video, etc. isn't something you can really teach in portfolio school. But here's what I've learned over the years:

  1. After a client as okayed a script, you’ll work with a producer to find a director. Sometimes the producer works for the agency, sometimes he or she is freelance. That usually depends on the size of the agency.
  2. Typically, the producer will have some ideas of which directors will work best for your concept. But you should have some ideas, too. If it’s a dialogue-driven spot, you should look for directors who handle dialogue well. If it’s a car spot, you want someone with a proven track record of making sheet metal gorgeous. Don’t just focus on the concept. Look at the acting, lighting, film quality, and camera angles. It’s a much harder job than just saying, “That spot was cool.” I recommend keeping notes.
  3. You will usually narrow down your list to three to five directors, and then jump on the phone with them. You’ll walk them through your spot, and they’ll throw out different ideas of how they’ll treat it. This will also give you an idea of which director you think you can work best with. Again, I recommend keeping notes.
  4. After that call, you’ll receive what’s called a “director’s treatment.” It’s usually a pdf that goes through their vision. They’ll talk about casting, music, lighting, etc. I always look for directors who can take my ideas and make them better, not just regurgitate what they think I want.
  5. The producer and the account executive will submit the bid from each director to the client. As a creative, you can easily go your entire career without knowing what it costs to produce a commercial. But I’d encourage you to find out. It helps your concepting if you know that client has $2 million to spend vs. $500,000.
  6. You’ll present the director reels and estimates to the client (probably won’t present their treatments), and make your recommendation. The client will have the final say, so you should be happy with all three directors. Your second choice may be $100,000 cheaper than your first choice. Or your third choice could have a spot that the client likes more than any other. Best case scenario is having three directors you love so much, you want the client to make the decision for you.
  7. Your producer calls one director to award the job, and the other directors to deliver the bad news.

The Best of Makin' Ads

This is post #797 for But if you want just the very best of the last 796, we've compiled them into this book, now available at blurb.

It's over 200 pages of our most popular posts. And it comes with a review of major portfolio schools - something we haven't put on our blog. We've listed websites, tuition, tracks, locations, application deadlines, and more for schools like 72U, the VCU Brandcenter and everything in between to help portfolio school hopefuls figure out which school's best for them.

Preview and order your copy at The Best of Makin' Ads here.

(High fives to our pal B.Thibbs who designed the cover.)

Quotes from Stan Richards

This is my boss. His name is Stan Richards. I really like working for him. Read some of his quotes here, and maybe you'll see why. (My favorite quote is his last one.)

Creatives You Should Know

Creativity has released their annual list of "Creatives You Should Know." As a student, it's worth taking a look 1) because you might want them to hire you, and 2) if you want to make this list someday, it's worth seeing what they did to get on it.

How I Judge A Book

Jim and I were just at the VCU Brandcenter portfolio review. As usually, there was some very impressive work on display. By my count, I looked at 22 art directors, 22 copywriters, and 10 creative technologists. Some were good. A few were great. All made me feel I'm glad I graduated when I did, because this generation is a lot more competitive than mine was.

Let me explain why.

When I look at a student book, I typically look for two things:

1. Craft. Can the writer write? Is the art director a real art director, or just an ad director who knows Photoshop. Craft shows passion, and it's easy to see who has it.

2. Thinking. Is the strategy smart? Or self-indulgent?

But now there's a third thing I look for:

3. Jealousy.

Let me explain.

When I left school, I had double-page magazine spreads spray-mounted to black boards. That was it. And we all got jobs based on how good those spray-mounted ideas were.

But this is the Maker Generation. If you have an idea for an app, a website, a product, some kind of technology, chances are, you can go out and physically make it. Or at least have it made. And I'm pretty jealous of that.

So if you're putting your book together and you have an idea for an app, don't just mock up what the program would look like on your iPad, go make it. That's what a lot of the students at the VCU Brandcenter were doing. And it was pretty inspiring.

Three Things You Need To Do

Writing Down the Bones is a very good book that we've referenced often on this blog. I was reading it this morning, and came across this passage:

Basically, if you want to become a good writer, you need to do three things. Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot.

That's true. Greatness is usually born more out of hard work than raw talent. My clunky (but still true) advertising version goes like this:

Basically, if you want to become a good concepter, you need to do three things. Look at ads a lot (especially the annuals, and especially early in your career), observe well and deeply, and practice your craft a lot.

GSP's 30 for 30

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners has put up a page of their best 30 pieces.

Here's what Goodby does so well:

  • They don't complicate their ideas. You can explain the premise of each piece in about 60 seconds.
  • They execute their work really, really well. You can tell people care about making these great.
  • Their ideas are unexpected. Who would have thought you could sell cars without showing cars, sell milk with obscure history, or make a new commercial for each day of your media buy?

Click here for a little inspiration.

Resume in 140 characters

There's an article in the WSJ about how Twitter's become the new resume. A recruiter from GSD&M in Austin says she regularly uses Twitter to assess candidates. From the article: "I watch people interact, learn what their positions are, who their best friends on Twitter are, whether they have a sense of humor. From that you can get a pretty good picture."

So is your resume interesting enough in 140 character or less?

Ira Glass on the Creative Process

I know these kinetic type treatments are a tired execution. But Ira Glass's wisdom is truthful and timeless. Enjoy.

(If you don't know who Ira Glass is, you are missing the best thing on public radio.)

Everything I Say May Be Wrong

Last fall, I visited the fine students at the University of Texas to look at portfolios and chat about the industry. I'm quite flattered that they asked some follow-up questions for their blog. Many of the questions are about the same topics Greg and I discuss here, so I thought I'd share.

Here's the interview.

Advice from Maria

If you’re a student putting your book together, here’s some advice from Maria Scileppi, director of 72U:

Lead with personal projects. That’s what people really want to see; how you’re thinking, how you’re solving problems, how you see the world. Show the process if you can. And then have three or four campaigns to show that you can blow out an idea. But personal projects are a must, and I would lead with that. That’s how people get hired. Agencies want to see that you can make advertising. But what gets you hired is the personal project, because it resonates with us. It’s contributing to the culture. It’s not just giving a message. It’s being relevant in culture. And that’s what advertising wants to do. That’s what brands want to do. That’s why we connect more to these personal projects. They’re a reaction to the world we live in.

The New 72U

Maria Scileppi doesn’t like to call 72U a portfolio school. Before heading things up there, she was the director of the Chicago Portfolio School, so she knows what a program full of art directors and copywriters looks like.

“This is really strategic art school for the maker,” she says.

Oh, yeah. And it’s backed by and housed in 72andSunny, AdAge's Agency of the Year.

I had breakfast with Maria last week and asked her about the new program. I gotta say, I’m jealous something like that wasn’t around when I was trying to break into the industry. Here are some of the highlights:

Forget what you thought you knew about 72U. It’s a new program. It used to be 10-months. Now it’s 12 weeks. It used to cost applicants $10,000. Now it’s free. (Students will pay $1,000, which goes toward their final project.)

Six applicants will be selected, and they’ll work individually, in groups of two, in groups of three, and all together. They’ll be sharing space with 72andSunny employees. They won’t be grouped together, and they won’t be separate from the agency. They’ll be seamlessly integrated.

They’ll have a range of assignments. Not all – in fact, very few – will be making ads. One assignment will be to develop and market a brand that embodies who they are. Another will be to fix a broken system. Maria says the purpose of each exercise is to make sure students come out with a stronger creative process. They’ll think and make faster.

Who should apply? Maria says, “It’s an intense curriculum, so people won’t be able to hold a job while they participate. I imagine they’re a couple years out of college. Maybe they got stuck at the wrong job and don’t know how to switch over. They don’t have to have any advertising experience, but they do have to have talent.”

Applications for 72U can be found at The deadline for applications is April 5th. The program will begin May 27th. The next session is planned for October 2013.

If you've got questions, reach out to Maria and 72U on Twitter.