Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dear Santa. . .

Everyone loves getting presents. There's something about the suspense mixed with anticipation that puts a smile on your face. Certainly a feeling on everyone's mind being that Christmas is 2 days away.

So kudos to Kenna Clark, a jr. writer from Miami Ad School who sent me a present yesterday. I didn't know what was inside, in fact I almost didn't open it thinking it was another student book and could certainly wait until after the holiday break. But perhaps my girlie gift-sensor went off, because I changed my mind and opened the envelope.

It's shape and size gave away there was a portfolio inside, but at this point I really didn't care because I was wrist deep in wrapping paper. Remember everyone loves getting presents. And there it was: a jr. writer portfolio. Complete with a hand-written Christmas card.

However difficult it seams, there are ways to break through the clutter, to get your book to a recruiter and, more importantly, to get them to look at it. Wrapping it up as a present and delivering it 2 days before Christmas is one of them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your competition read it

Week 10 of an 11 week class. A students tells me she can't complete her assignment because, well, she hasn't bought the textbook. Whaa?

I hesitate to print the tuition amount for this school, but let's just say it's nearly 20 times more than what I paid for my education. Seriously. Can students get through 3 years of ad school thinking that not buying (and READING) a textbook is ok?

Now I'm sure some might argue that you can't teach "creativity" from a textbook. That art directors learn from example and design from some innate skill that couldn't possibly be learned from a book. Yea, well, I'm thinking buying a textbook is actually teaching things beyond what's printed inside.

First, it shows you care about your education. Your very expensive education.

Second, it shows you have an interest in learning what's inside. Pretty sure you don't know everything at this point.

Third, and I'm going to sound like your parents here, it shows you have a sense of responsibility. Mostly that responsibility is to yourself to get the absolute most out of your education.

Remember this: out in the advertising world, sitting just outside the creative recruiter's office, is another just-out-of-school creative who actually did buy his books. And did read them. And that guy is your competition.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Glamour Don't

At some point I am going to publish photos, like Glamour magazine does, showcasing the Dos and Don'ts of creative portfolios. For now, the description of a major don't is all I've got.

First off, a candidate called yesterday and told me he left his book with reception and asked if I could have look. Sure, no problem. And, oh, could he get the book back as soon as possible. Again, sure, no problem.

After that brief conversation I naively equated his urgency to quality and I imagined this guy had scores of recruiters all in line to get a hold of his portfolio.

Yea, well, not so much. First, if you can't respect your resume I have a hard time being open to the work that follows it. This candidate's resume looked like it had be carried around in his back pocket since the 8th grade, was folded into quarters and, as an afterthought, had been shoved into the folds of his work for safekeeping.

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to think. Isn't a resume your calling card? Should I just have been glad to get it no matter what the condition? Maybe I'm being a snob when it comes to the presentation of your work. But, I truly feel like your creative pieces should be presented to prospective employers as the evidence that you are a true creative professional. Now, I don't mean that every book needs to be gilded in gold, but to err on the side of quality and presentation would certainly be a good thing.

Chalk it up to a Don't and take heed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Must Read

This may seem obvious, but it's worth stating. For an immediate lesson in what makes great advertising, pick up the latest issue of Communication Arts. In fact, pick up any past issue of CA.

I received my Advertising Annual #49 yesterday and practically pet it in excitement. That is, after I swatted away 4 creatives who also wanted to have a look. It has to be one the most succinct collections of great work in one place. (I'll throw in the obligatory "in my opinion" for those who may disagree).

For any student of advertising or entry-level creative, this is a must-read primer. Even I oohhhed and aahhhed at most of the work in there. My bet is if you studied the last 10 years of Advertising Annuals you'd learn more than your first year in the business. The work you see is just plain great (with the exception of those Amex ads - not really in agreement with their multiple wins, sorry). Anyway, pick it up and have a look. It is, and will continue to be, a great textbook of the best advertising work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Plan B

There should be a course taught to Advertising students called "Plan B." I think it would be highly popular and would serve to steer some toward alternate careers. Now I mean alternate careers within advertising, not a different industry altogether. I say this because the more I speak to near-graduates, the more I find a slew of them are curious as to what else is out there beyond copywriting and art direction.

Last week I visited a mid-west ad school and had conversations with at least 4 students who were clear that they wanted to do something else, but had no idea how to get there. One student wants to be an art buyer; another a stylist; another a creative assistant; another "something creative, but not sure." (yea, not sure I can help that last one).

This Plan B class would teach all about art buying: what they do, what skills are imperative and how to purposely chart a course into a junior art buying job. It would teach print production in the same way. Creative students who have an eye for design, but perhaps can't design worth a lick, can certainly learn the art and science of printing. The class would also teach about all the other operational positions within an agency that are viable career options for creative folks. I know all the schools generally talk about other positions within an agency. Students learn about what traffic does, what the art buyer does, what the people in the studio do. But, I'd love to see them learn more concrete ways to actually get one of these jobs.

For example, I gave the ones interested in art buying some advice about trying to get a part-time job in an art gallery (they live in the uber-artistic city of Minneapolis, so this shouldn't be too hard). I told them to start researching local photographers and get to know their work. Then classify the styles of each one, ultimately ending up with a binder full of potential photo vendors that could be tapped into for future shoots. Then do the exact same thing for local illustrators. This is something the students can begin now, before they graduate, and even if they never, ever even use the binder, it is a fantastic lesson in research. And, who wouldn't be impressed with a junior candidate who brought a binder like that to an interview and showed the advance work they had done to begin their career in art buying. I'd be.

Everyone studying advertising knows that want a "creative" career. Yet not everyone has the copywriting, design and conceptual strength to make it in the creative department. We should teach about Plan B just in case.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Follow Through

Once I had a junior copywriter send me a package, hand addressed which is always intriguing. Inside was a very small, red leather photo frame. She had framed a piece of paper with a message about hiring her. Enclosed with it was a note where she had written something to the effect of, "I'm a junior writer interested in your company. I will call you to follow up in a week."

Well, it's now about a year later and I am still awaiting that follow up call. I have her little frame sitting on my bookcase and still, a year later, wonder if she is employed. She must be. For her sake, I am hoping she was employed the day after she sent me that package. And perhaps in the excitement of actually landing a job, she forgot about following up with the rest of her potential future employers.

It's like I got a great teaser campaign with no hard sell afterward. I wonder how much effort and expense she must have put into preparing and mailing all of them, as I'm sure I wasn't the only recruiter she contacted. With that much effort, I'd think the last step of follow-through would be mighty important.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Toughen Up

I was talking with a co-worker yesterday, a guy who has been teaching a portfolio class at a local art school for over 4 years. He was telling me he made 3 students cry last week. Now if you knew this instructor, you'd know that he always makes a student or two cry every quarter. He's that tough.

And so we were commenting on how the students just didn't know it yet --but would in a couple of years-- that being brought to the brink of tears is actually a good thing. However bad it feels at the time, you will be a tougher creative in the end. Having your ego bruised once in a while hopefully helps make your work better and your skin thicker. His intent is not to make you cry, it's to honestly tell you when your work sucks. And I'm sure hearing that pretty much sucks.

Instructors make it hard because working in advertising is hard. This instructor is very, very tough on mediocre work because mediocre work will NOT be tolerated at any agency. Get used to it. I will bet you a million dollars that your future ECD will be equally (if not more) tough on your creative work. And your future ECD probably won't be too impressed if you burst into tears about it.

Thickening your skin, letting a bit of air out of your ego, and ending up a tougher person are all good things. And I'm sure that you'll have a teacher or two to thank for it in a few years.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Unexpected Places

Being able to find a new and interesting place to put an ad is getting harder and harder. It seems every nook and cranny in the public world has become a canvas and people are challenged with finding unexpected places to use as media.

This link is pretty cool. A young designer has searched the web for what he thinks is great advertising and among them are some smart uses of both media spots you've seen before (shopping bags, bus wraps, outdoor) and some that you haven't. The beer cans on the subway bars is a personal favorite.

Check it out

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Darwin's theory of evolution argued that those who adapt best, survive. Mutations of stronger or better or faster traits survived, bred and ultimately flourished. That is, until something stronger, better or faster came along and ate it for dinner.

Now think about the current economy. Stocks falling, companies closing, swarms of jobs being lost. Everyone seems just a bit nervous about how this economic downturn might affect them.

Enter Darwin. And I will use myself as an example. Recently I was bracing for the possibility of being laid off after one of our biggest clients moved to another Y&R office. It felt like a low, underlying sense of nervousness that I can pretty much say everyone in the office was feeling.

People cope with the potential of being laid off in one of 3 ways: 1) They ignore it. Not sure if this is confidence or ignorance, but these folks will continue on in their jobs status quo with a c'est la vie attitude or 2) They stress about it. And this was me. Worried I may lose my job, my benefits, my ability to support my children. You name it, I was stressed about it. And, as a single mom, even more stressed knowing that I am the sole income earner in my household or 3) They do something about it. They refuse to sit waiting for an axe to fall, they take that opportunity to seize new skills, take on more projects, and make every effort to become increasingly more entrenched in the work while growing their own personal skills.

If a rumor of an impending layoff hits your company, I absolutely recommend you do #3. EVOLVE. Become better, stronger, faster.

Look around you, oftentimes the skills and tasks that you can learn are staring you right in the face. Are you a junior art director working on print? Ask to take on an online banner project. Start learning flash. Are you a junior copywriter? Ask the strategic planning department if you can help do some research or contribute to a case study. Are you a production artist in the studio? Again, learn flash. Learn action scripting. Even if you take this stuff on at night or on the weekend, those who expand their skills will become more valuable and certainly less expendable. Or even, at the very minimum, will be able to survive in the outside world with stronger, better skills than before.

Monday, October 13, 2008

There are no rules

Guys, there are no hard and fast rules as to what goes in your portfolio. Just a simple guideline: include your very best work that you are most proud of and that shows all your skills. That's it.

I was asked, for the third time, about whether a book can have more than one PSA piece in it. Each of the students who asked me was genuinely surprised to hear me say that there are no actual limits on what type of work to include in a book. Put in your best work, period.

I won't think poorly of you if you have 3 or even 4 PSA pieces. I won't complain if you only have 2 pieces in a campaign vs. the standard 3 (why 3? I always wonder). Nobody sat down and outlined the makings of student portfolios. Don't feel like there is a content outline you have to follow.

I want to see that you can think. I want to see that you can translate a creative concept to a creative layout. I want to see that you can execute on your skills (be you a writer or an art director). Beyond that, I don't really care too much about what the ad is for. Although, I will caveat these thoughts with the obvious, "in my opinion." Some recruiters may feel differently. They may want to see no less that 3 pieces to a campaign or think that one PSA is quite enough.

But one thing I am sure we would all agree on: we only want to see work you feel is your absolute best.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It never fails

Whenever I have absolutely no creative positions open, I get a deluge of portfolios sent to me. There must be some inverse relationship between job openings and the presence of candidates. When you have one, you don't have the other.

And so the case with me right now. I must have been sent about 15 links in the last week and barely one job opening on the horizon. Blame it on the economy, the subsequent bailout, the dollar menu, whatever. Clients are cutting back, scopes are slimming down, and there are less creative jobs available. Or maybe it just seems that way.

Whenever I go onto LinkedIn or Creative Hotlist, which is practically daily, I see lots of jobs. If I were an art director looking for a job right now, I'd feel confident that there are a lot of choices out there. Granted those choices might be in Smalltown America but they are there.

This Summer I saw a huge load of jobs in Arkansas; Saatchi X was hiring like crazy. So I asked a few people if they would ever take a job in Arkansas. (Mind you, these are Californians I was asking). Resounding no all around. Ditto to Austin, Texas where Enfatico is currently hiring like crazy.

So I know the jobs are there, it just becomes a matter of where. And who will take them. Maybe the gutsy people. People willing to trade off location for opportunity. People far more brave than I. But at least I know who to share all these new links with.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last in, First out?

I have been asked this question enough times that it warrants a post. When an agency downsizes, is the last person hired always the first person let go? A lot of juniors worry about this. At that level, they really shouldn't, but everyone knows Advertising has the reputation (rightly so) of being unstable and so they ask. Accounts jump often enough that job security in the Ad industry is an oxymoron.

From my experience in letting people go, the last hired is not usually an indicator of who gets cut. Many, many factors go into this process. And, yes, it is a long, painfully hard process to decide on who is let go when the economy forces a downsize. To start, we look at skill set (what you know how to do), how much money you make (to have the biggest financial impact with the least amount of people), and how versatile you are on other accounts or in other mediums. We may consider your hire date, but certainly not exclusively.

If you bring some great creative chops to the table, if you are making an entry level salary and are experienced in more than one medium (say digital and print), chances are you'd be one of the last folks I'd consider letting go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Swiss Model

We just interviewed a young art director who recently moved to California from Switzerland. Her book is pretty amazing and, when she ultimately puts her portfolio online, I will post it here for you to look at.

She has been in advertising a mere 5 years and has shortlisted at Cannes. Need I say more? If you saw her work you'd expect her to be older and certainly more experienced than she actually is.

During the interview, she described her schooling in Switzerland. You'll all be jealous and wish you were Swiss after hearing this. And no wonder her book is so incredibly strong. In Switzerland, at her particular Ad School, you attend classes 2 days a week and you work at an agency the other 3. Every week for 3 years. So essentially, when she graduated she had 3 years experience at a big name agency. It's kind of like ad school in dog years.

Why not a school like that here in the US? Partner with an agency, give them loads of intern/junior level talent (beyond the 16 hrs a week for 8 weeks in summer help that we are all used to) and graduate talent with a big, Swiss leg up on the competition.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Up to a Point

When you phone an agency Creative Manager and - by some stroke of sheer luck - get them in person, make sure you have thought out what you'd like to ask them. I can tell you I rarely answer my phone if I don't recognize the number and consider my time pretty scarce when I do.

So a few days ago when I randomly picked up to an unfamiliar number and realized it was a candidate cold call, I thought I'd be answering fairly quick questions (are you hiring? can I send you my book?). What I got was a young guy who is currently "in film," and aspires to be a copywriter. I asked him if he had a portfolio he could send me, which he didn't. Over the next 15 minutes, he and I talked about the different routes he could take to ultimately create a portfolio and somehow break into copywriting.

Now, mind you, I LOVE this part of my job. I love helping entry-level talent find a way into advertising. That's why I teach. Nothing is more fulfilling to me than this part of my job. We talked about Bookshop. We talked about internships. We talked about using his film background as a way in the door. All sorts of things. I was feeling quite proud of myself for spending so much time on the phone with this guy, taking the time to help him chart his way.

We then started to talk about him possibly freelancing as a film editor as a way to earn money while pursuing his writing. I suggested Aquent or 24/7 or some other creative staffing service that he could contact. My pride and personal happiness screeched to a halt here when he asked me if I had their phone numbers. "Dude. Google," was all I could answer.

Up to a point I can offer career advice. Help you chart the waters. Answer industry questions. Up to a point. but asking me for Aquent's phone number is just about when I have to hang up and start screening my calls again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One I like right now

This book from a Jr. Art Director in Brazil is a good example of what I look for in range of ideas. I like that he stays away from the standard "photo + headline" layout with his Gendai and Lonely Planet pieces. I like that he shows his thinking in unique media placements with his NRDC and Money Gram work.

His resume isn't on his site, but I was impressed by that as well. It shows he is well traveled and well schooled. He has also won some outstanding awards.

All those things together make him an interesting junior candidate, despite what might be a tiny distance problem.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Instructor Stats

I realize I may be a bit late with this advice, as most of you reading this blog are already out of school. But, I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the pool of instructors teaching in the advertising field. Specifically, by their "time since they worked in an agency" or their lack of expertise on a particular subject.

Before I rant on, I'll say this does not apply to all instructors in all schools. It just seems to me that a very important bit of research to do prior to picking a school would be to check the stats of the instructors who work there.

If their last job in advertising starts with a 7 (as in '79), you might want to reconsider. And if their specialty is broadcast production and they are teaching copywriting, be equally as cautious. I say this because I was recently asked to teach a media class. I am in creative management. Prior to that, print production. What I know about media could be taught in a single hour, not 12 weeks. Maybe some people are confident enough to teach in areas outside their expertise, I am not. And this is what makes me worry that the pool of folks teaching advertising is getting diluted.

Be diligent in this arena. Do thorough research. Make sure the school employs qualified people teaching appropriate classes. So much has changed in the advertising landscape in the last 5 years alone. Certainly you'd want to be taught what's current by people who know what's current.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

If I can design it. . .

The first gauge I use for judging student/junior work is whether or not it looks like I could have designed it. If the layout is so basic, so un-designed, so could have been done by me, then why the heck is it in your book?

I did not go to art school. I have not studied fonts and typography. I have not taken concepting classes. Yet, I can layout out some copy and a logo. That certainly does NOT make me an art director. You (art directors), on the other hand, have gone to art school or ad school and have studied type, design and layout. That you can (and have) laid out a postcard or two does not mean a thing to anyone who may potentially hire you.

You should not be putting pieces like this one in your book. It doesn't prove anything about your skills. It only shows someone asked you put some type on a postcard. And that was only because I was busy and couldn't do it for them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A nice touch

As I look around my office right now, I see that I have no less than 35 Thank You cards posted around me. Perhaps I am a glutton for attention, but I'd like to think that people are genuinely appreciative of the time spent with a Creative Manager. Whether it be an informational interview or throughout the hiring process or from someone who works here at Y&R, I have loads of cards from people thankful for opportunity.

Now, did a Thank You card make me hire someone? Probably not. But it certainly made me think about them again. And, if written with genuine gratitude, I tend to keep it. I am a sucker for a hand-written note which stems from years and years of writing thank you notes after every birthday and holiday (forcibly by my mother, but you get the gist). There is nothing like a hand-written envelope poking it's way through piles of boring mail.

One favorite is from a recent Creative Circus grad who I met with for an informational interview. He sent me a note, in his boy-ish printing, and expressed thanks for the time I spent with him. He even crossed out an error and scribbled a little "ha!" next to it, which was nice to see that he could laugh at himself. At the end, he thanked me for being nice to him. That sentence hit a chord. Surely other recruiters are nice. Or maybe I was just especially nice. Either way, I know that it's my job to be nice to candidates. Whether I get thanked or not.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


If you want to become a better copywriter, read aloud what you have written. So often I read a block of copy and am pained by the lack of thoughtful sentence construction. I'm writing this after reading an ad that had three you's and one yours in a single 10-word sentence. It was one of those sentences you re-read just to try and give it the benefit of the doubt.

Just as an art director must pick his fonts and design every element in each ad, so too should a writer. Writing is a craft and as a copywriter you should know the art of the English language, starting with the basics.

Learn these terms and what they mean: alliteration, meter, consonance, cadence, and onomatopoeia. They teach you about the sounds and timing of words and syllables that make copy easier on the ear. Learn what they mean and apply them where appropriate. Pick your words and 'design' how they sound and feel. Then say your copy aloud. If it sounds funny, it probably reads funny too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


And this from an ad school graduate. Do your instructors even give you feedback? Perhaps "use a dictionary" might be helpful.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What makes a "NO"

On my office floor sit four big boxes, each filled to the brim with portfolios. The labels read 'yes', 'no', 'maybe' and 'to be reviewed'. If you think there is some grand filing system for your book when it arrives at an agency, well, sad to say that's about it.

It's subjective to explain what gets a book into my 'yes' or 'maybe' pile, so I thought I'd tell you a few things that guarantee a 'no' (for me).

1. The toss from my chair to the 'maybe' box fell short.
2. Your big, stinkin' heavy portfolio cover knocked my diet coke into my keyboard and then I'm just pissed. And un-caffeineted.
3. You suck.

Obviously I am kidding. But as I went through my 'no' box trying to find some good examples, I am happy to report that I currently don't have any junior books in my 'no' pile. Either they are all backed up in the 'to be reviewed' box or I happen to be pleasantly pleased with the selection of junior candidates graduating into the industry lately.

Which, I am happy to report, I am.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Not Cute

We all know that big, heavy portfolios are a pain; for the person you send it to most of all. If it weighs more than 10 pounds, you might want to think twice about that wooden, laser cut, double-panel cover. I've written a previous post about how bigger is not better.

Now it's time to bag on silly little portfolio I got today. And I emphasize silly and little. I don't have a ruler handy, but it is as tall as my index finger. So, like 2 1/2". Seriously. And what's even funnier is the Magnavision magnifying glass that was included in the package so I can really get a good look.

This is a copywriter portfolio, so try and imagine for a second how small the type is on these pages (hence the magnifying glass). Really? That's how you want me to view your work? Now I might, might, just ever-so-slightly might cut this person some slack if they were a student. Students do all sorts of funky things to try and get their book to stand out and a tiny micro-thing might be something they'd do. But, this writer is 10 years into the business. And, with that tenure, the cutesiness makes me wonder.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Your True Colors

Recently I was on a panel for an ad school "Meet the Industry" night. Me, another agency recruiter, a copywriter, an account person and a small agency owner. Everyone talked about how they got into advertising, talked a bit about their current job and gave a few words of advice for the students. Pretty typical for this type of event.

I am just as interested in getting a nugget or two of wisdom for myself, so when the agency owner began to speak I was eager to hear his advice.

And here it went: Don't show me your tattoos in an interview. Do not wear earrings (guys), lip rings or any other visible offensive garb. Wear presentable business attire, from Brooks Brothers perhaps. Nothing sloppy or hanging. Remember your manners. Emmulate Emily Post.

My jaw dropped at the first sentence. And a giggle escaped at the last. Emily Post? Brooks Brothers? What industry does he think this is, banking?

I caught the eye of a student in the first row and slowly shook my head "nooooooooooo." I mean, come on. First of all: Show me your goddamn tattoos. You are in a CREATIVE industry. Of course I want to see your personality in all its colors. (there may be exceptions to this in terms of vulgarity, but I haven't see it yet). Don't disguise your personality during an interview. God, if I ruled out all the pierced and tattooed people I'd be left with a very, very small pool of candidates to choose from.

The sloppy and manners part I will give him. But this seems more like common sense than worldly advice. Don't look like something the cat dragged in and be courteous. No brainers. But certainly don't act like anyone that you are not. Because if I hire you, I want to make sure I've seen your true personality, how you really dress and behave. That helps me determine what kind of creative contribution you'd make in our department. And sometimes that involves a big fat lip ring.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Trust your gut

This advice seems obvious: always trust your gut. And, I'll bet it's the advice you will have the hardest time heeding as you prepare and grow your portfolio.

Every single person you show your book to will have a different opinion about your book. I may absolutely love your long-form, stream-of-consciousness copy for the ADHD Foundation and the very next person may hate it. So, so, so many times at an Ad School portfolio show I will be commenting on someone's book and they'll tell me the previous person told them the exact opposite. I say leave this work in, another recruiter will say take it out. I love your logos, another will think they really suck. Well, they'll say it much nicer than that, but you get the gist.

So, above all else, do what feels right to you. If you love the piece that 5 out of 8 recruiters hate, leave it in. Just make sure you can elaborate on why you love it so much. Even if I am not loving a particular piece in your book, if you proceed to tell me the reasons why you feel strongly about it, I will cut it some slack. I love hearing stories about people's work. It means so much more to me to learn about your passion for advertising than it does to love every single piece in your portfolio. Cuz chances are I won't. But I will tell you my honest opinion (thoughtfully disguising the word 'suck' of course) and that gives you the grounds to decide whether or not to take it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Copywriter 101

I'm loving the articles on Talent Zoo. Here's one that I hope stays live for a while, it outlines the essential traits of a copywriter.

My favorites are #8) A strong stomach. Mustn't get a stomach ache after having ideas rejected two or three times; and #30) Suspicious. The ability to doubt everything.

In my opinion writers should question everything, research like fiends, be savvy with pop culture and, in fact, become cultural anthropologists. Note that the man who put this article on Talent Zoo is an anthropologist AND a copywriter. As you should be too.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

2 pages is all it took

By page 2 I wanted to hire this guy. He has absolutely one of the strongest junior design books I have ever seen. This is exactly what I mean when I say that, for me, strong design will always take precedence over mediocre and even good conceptual work.

Unfortunately, he had no desire to come work in California. (Still perplexed by that: surf, perpetual sun. I mean, really, life here does not suck). Anyway, once he shunned me I still tried to help him find a job. Here is a junior who could easily land a job around 60K, no problem. I thought it a sin that he wasn't at a big name agency. He really wanted to land in Chicago. So I emailed our Y&R Chicago ECD his link. I called a local recruiter and passed on his portfolio. I constantly refer to his design work in lectures I give about junior portfolios.

I don't know if he ever got the job he wanted in Chicago, but here's the point: If you show your book to a recruiter and it is not a fit, either for them or you, do know that they may be helping you behind the scenes get the job that will be.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Put down the video cam

I disagree with almost every sentence of this video. In short, he says don't put work for big name brands in your book. Your "sneaker" work cannot compare to anything Nike's done so why include it. Don't include work that all your classmates have done, the redundancy is unwelcome. And make sure you have a rounded portfolio, including TV and radio.

Dis. A. Gree.

Yes, you can come up with good student work for top notch brands. I've seen it. And every once in a while, it's refreshing to see that all the ideas in the world haven't been thought up already. Add a fresh, ignorant young mind to a great big well-known brand and guess what? Sometimes an unexpected idea comes out the other end.

One of our current juniors did some rockin ' spec work for Guess shoes that blows away anything that brand has done it a long while. It happens. And when it does, make sure it's in your book.

No, I don't care if your book has the 15th version of Motel 6 Ads that I've seen. I understand that you get school assignments and, well, everyone else in your class got the same exact assignment too.

No, I can't understand TV spots from a junior. No offense, but they probably suck. And moreso, are difficult to comprehend from storyboard frames. Ditto for radio. Stick to the stuff juniors get assigned.

Put work in your book that you are proud of and feel great about. Put work in that shows off your creative talent in the best capacity possible. No matter what the brand or assignment.

Monday, June 23, 2008


This advice is simple: Quit. Now why would I tell you to do that? And, quit what? Perhaps you just graduated or are fresh in your first job. Maybe you don't even have a one yet. Let me explain.

It’s not quit in the sense of giving up when things get too hard. This isn’t about hopelessness or a sense of failure. It’s quit in a much bolder sense. Quitting to try something new, to gain a fresh perspective, or to embark on a new endeavor. Quitting is risky. And risk is an exact expression of your courage.

Landing your first job is somewhat easy. That’s what your time at ad school prepared you for. What is much harder is the decision to leave it. To leave your first job and take your second. Or leave your second to take your third. No one is teaching you how to do that in school, guaranteed. Yet, when you move into new situations and places, you change your perspective, and you learn things. Every new place you work will have a different vibe to it with many unique personalities and a culture all its own. I am recommending you get exposure to as many as you can.

You’ll gain an advantage in your career when you continually go out and experience more of the world. This is what travel teaches you; what working at a new place or in a new city teaches you; what exposing yourself to change and risk teaches you.

Be curious, travel, discover, experience. Curiosity and courage will have a profound affect on your creativity. You are entering a field where creativity is key. Creativity is what will set you apart from your peers. And creativity, I imagine, is what got you interested in Advertising in the first place.

By exposing yourself to change, by making the tough decision to switch jobs, by testing your courage, by quitting – you gain so much. And if you truly believe in the choices you make, there is no question you’re making the right decision.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 3 De's

Detach. Depersonalize. De-Ego.

The last one is a word, really. Born of the advertising industry and bred within the creative department.

When designing/concepting/creating work, you must learn to detach emotionally. Not completely, or you'd risk becoming a creative robot. But just enough to protect yourself from what is going to be years and years of critique. I think a lot of juniors coming right out of school are shocked not by getting criticism and feedback on their work but by being denied the choice to act on it. In school it's your choice what to do with the feedback, at the office not so much.

Depersonalize yourself from your work. Every critique is not a criticism of you as a person. It is so hard to not feel hurt when someone wants to change something about your creative baby. But above all else, remember this is a business. And your creative work is subject to poking and prodding all in the name of making it better and more successful for your clients. Your paying clients.

De-Ego. Again, not totally as a bit of ego makes the advertising world go 'round. But ever so slightly that your big head doesn't get in the way of your Executive Creative Director's. THEIR big head is allowed, yours isn't.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why is Alexis so cool?

See the link to the left that says "I'd hire her on the spot." That's Alexis. First off, it's obviously she spent some cash on her website. Second, the money was well worth it as I tried to hire her at the same time she was swooped up by Tribal DDB in Chicago. Alexis is most likely not worried about that cash outlay anymore.

Her website is a great example of two things: 1) her personality and 2) her personality. Remember a while back I wrote about differentiating yourself from other ad school graduates? This website is a classic example of just that. Alexis is cool, funky and very, very funny. And I knew all this without having met her.

Keep in mind that I was considering her for a position on our Mattel team. Her quirky style was a perfect match for that account. Now, had my opening been on Land Rover or Toshiba she most certainly would not have been a fit. Remember that the next time an agency turns you down. It may only be due to your style vs. client fit.

Back to Alexis' website. She is helped tremendously by some great art direction. Don't discount how that affects a copywriter's book. It is very difficult to extract bad art direction from good copywriting. Try as we might, we recruiters look at the ad as a whole. It is really hard not to. But, what Alexis does best is communicate her personality. The music (push it rocks!), the section "about me" is fantastic and the navigation is easy to maneuver. I think I want to hire her web designer as well!

I always, always go to any "about me" section first. I'm weird that way. But, I really want to know YOU before I see your work. And after reading about Alexis, I just wanted to hang out with her. Her apparent dynamic is refreshing and any agency creative department would be stoked to have her. Kudos Tribal DDB.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bigger is not better

June means Graduation. I know there are hundreds of about-to-be ad school graduates stressing over their Senior Portfolio Shows right about now. Most likely, they are spending an inordinate amount of time agonizing over what their portfolio cover is going to look like rather than what's inside.

I had an intern last June ask me if I'd review his portfolio a couple of days before his Senior Show. Sure, no problem. He comes back and hands me a 15 pound metal book. I am not exaggerating. He had a piece of metal hand-finished and, although it looked pretty cool, I could not lift it without a struggle. It didn't even fit on my desk without a major disruption of stacks and equipment.

Guys, it's not about the size of your cover. That is not what gets you noticed and, god forbid, what you want to be noticed for should it be obnoxiously obtuse. You could hand me a stack of 8 1/2" x 11" pieces of paper wrapped in tissue for all I care. It's about the work.

I want to be able to look at your work in 3 months or 12 months when an opening comes up. I am sick of looking at the stack of, oh, 200 or so portfolios on the floor of my office. Get a website, make it nice. That's all. And that way I can re-access it from time to time when I am searching for a particular position.

Web links are easy for me to forward to my Creative Directors, easy for me to file away, and keep my office from being the fire hazard that it currently is.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Execution vs. Concepting

As a Junior Creative, there is an inverted relationship between the amount of time spent concepting vs. the amount of time you'll spend executing someone else's concepts.

Coming right out of school you'll be incredibly lucky and downright unique if you land a job where you get to concept all day long. Perhaps 5 years ago when agencies were fat and happy with meaty AOR accounts this may have been the case. Today, when creative departments are integrating and streamlining (ie downsizing), every body counts. You must be able to execute and by that I mean be able to design and layout another (more senior) team's ideas.

Lately I have been reviewing junior books that are way too heavily focused on conceptual work and painfully lacking in design pieces. This balance is quite OK for mid- and senior-level creatives who spend more of their time concepting projects. But for juniors, not so much.

Sadly, I think your school instructors focus on concepting to the exclusion of design and, in my opinion, that hurts a junior portfolio. If you can't display a command of type, execute in a variety of styles, and show me you can work the software, then why in the heck would I want to hire you? I cannot afford to have juniors that lack these fundamental skills.

You know all those school projects that seem boring: logos, CD covers, identity systems, packaging, menus, invitations, etc. Those are exactly the means by which to show off your design skills. Don't discount their importance in helping someone judge your creative ability. And if you can throw in a couple of strong and smart conceptual pieces on top of that, you're golden.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Working Work

To all you digital types: Why in the hell would you have interactive work on your site that does not work???? Showing me comps of web pages and staggered sections of banners may look really pretty, but you're leaving out a key thing: the digital space has a third dimension to it - MOTION. Motion, transition, flow, architecture, all those fun things that make the digital space so very cool.

For an interactive art director to show non-working digital designs does a disservice to their portfolio and their ability to get hired (I will cut some slack to print art directors that are dabbling in digital). It's almost tiring to look at. It doesn't tell me how well you understand the power of the interactive space or how capable you are with the software. It tells me how you think flat. In a flat space. Within a flat square. All very flat.

Did it not sell? Never get produced? Not live anymore? Can't get your files from your last employer? What? Surely something you've worked on works?

Friday, May 23, 2008

I caught myself on fire to be an Art Director

In this age of mass, mass, mass email, what can a candidate/freelancer do to make sure their initial email contact to a recruiter gets noticed?
Or at the very minimum doesn't get deleted?

My guess is it's all in the title of the email. I open the ones that sound interesting (but not in a pornographic, I'm selling sex-machine pills kind of way). It's like guessing what's behind door #1. If I open it first will I find an interesting creative with fabulous work? Or somebody bland with equally boring work.

Here are some recent attempts to get my attention:
copywriter wears many hats, prefers flexfit (what the hell?)
here's my resume - knock wood (knock wood what?)
writerly proclivities (Is this English?)
award winning art director (uhhh, who isn't?)

and today's favorite: I caught myself on fire to be an art director which, if you can last more than 12 seconds of his intro video, he actually does.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stunt Doubles

Mike Stone and Mike Stone.

Two creative freelancers in So. California. This is nothing more than the fact that I think two guys with duplicate names is funny.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Never, ever, ever. . .

. . .rescind a job acceptance. Seriously. If you think backing out of an offer you have accepted goes over lightly, I am here to tell you it does NOT. Perhaps I am immensely bitter because this particular position had taken forever to fill. I went through no less than 15 interviews and spent months finding the right candidate. Know that an agency works very hard to get to the point where they extend an offer. Even more so an agency that is part of a national or global conglomerate, where layers of approval run thick.

But really, that's not the point. So what I worked hard and my agency is big and it took a long time to find the right person and I was extremely relieved to fill the job. So what for all that. The point is, despite working in a very expansive industry, we are all connected in ways that are getting smaller and smaller. Technology and social networking sites make certain of that.

I will curse your name. I will tell people. I will work somewhere else at some point. So will the people I tell and they too will remember your name (well, maybe they won't but it adds to this dramatic moment). Just bad news all around. We are all part of the six degrees of separation within the advertising industry, and that means my friends (my
recruiter friends) know your friends and may even know you (and I made certain of that).

If you are trolling for a counter from your own agency, just putting your feelers out, or testing the job market to see what you are worth, whatever, then don't accept the job in the first place. It's very painful for the agency who full well expects that your acceptance means you are 2 weeks out from becoming an important part of their creative team.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why You?

As an assignment in an Advertising Business class I teach, I asked the students to write an essay titled, "Why You?" Simple enough, right. Turns out it was not easy for them to identify what made them a unique hire over their neighbor.

I kept telling them they will all graduate with the same degree in hand, a relatively similar portfolio of spec work and a resume that lists jobs at a pizza joint or the local coffeehouse. Very similar and very vanilla every one of them.

So I asked, "Why them?" Why would one of them be more interesting, more passionate and, ultimately, more creative than the next? They could not decently answer the question. I did get a whole slew of essays that spouted typical cover letter words: hardworking, dedicated, team player. Not one could muster one sharp insight into their own unique offerings.

Coming out of school, everyone pretty much looks identical to the person hiring. Now I know there are always exceptions to this. Some kids come out of a top-notch ads school and have phenomenal books. (A current favorite of mine). I'm not trying to reach kids like this. It's those students who are generally decent at concepting, have a good command of art direction or copywriting, but in every other sense do not stand out.

Here is the lesson: You MUST stand out! Think about what besides the work in your book makes you unique. Are you a practicing buddhist? Did you do stand-up comedy in college
? Do you spend summers volunteering with Habitat for Humanity? ANYTHING that may seem irrelevant to you as you search for your first job, but in fact is. You see, all your life experiences outside of formal advertising classes make up who you are as a unique creative individual. Who you are, how you think, what experiences you draw from. . . All of that is so very, very important.

And that is what I care about. What anyone who is hiring cares about. That you, as a unique individual, have something vastly different to offer our creative department and can ultimately impact the creative work we produce. Again, why you?