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.)