The Secret Under 30 Reel

When you go in for a job interview, you should already be familiar with the agency’s work. You know what Super Bowl spots they’ve produced, what innovations they’ve been making in social media, what campaigns have put them on the map.

But when you’re interviewing, ask this question:

“What kind of work have your creatives under 30 been producing?”

The agency probably doesn’t have an official under 30 reel. But you should still ask the question.

Because 45-year-old seasoned creatives are usually the ones who get the plum assignments. They produce the TV spots that run during the Oscars and the NCAA Championship games. They do the groundbreaking social work. They’re the ones who get written up in Adweek the most often.

Part of that is because they have a ton of experience that helps them work better and faster. Part of that is because they’ve paid their dues at the agency and in the industry.

 

But ask an agency, “Can I see some of the work your under 30 creatives have produced?” and you’ll get an idea of the kind of opportunities that particular agency has in store for you.

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First Impressions

Ads have to work fast. Almost light speed.

They have to be simultaneously clear and intriguing.

If they’re muddled, irrelevant, or boring, no one will pay attention.

This is equally true for ads in student portfolios.

Just 30 seconds before writing this post, I was looking at a student’s book online. The first four examples were case studies that looked more like brochures than ads. They weren’t ads. They were explanations of executions.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have time to sit and read paragraph after paragraph designed to help me better understand the problem, the target audience, what they currently think, what they should think. That’s a creative brief. And I don’t have time to read your creative brief.

I have time to read a few quick headlines that are thoughtful, engaging, clever, provoking, interesting, and clear.

I want to see your creative.

I don’t have time to read your explanations.

“But print is dead,” you say. “Digital solutions need more explanation. They need to be set up.”

Fine. Then set them up. Quickly. And clearly. Then get out of the way, and let the work speak for itself.

And never discount a quick, well-written headline. It’s the easiest way of showing me you can think. If you can write a great piece of copy, I’m willing to bet you can create any kind of compelling content a client needs you to.

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This is what reading paragraphs of set-up copy feels like.

Don’t Wing It

Some creatives prefer to walk into a client meeting and wing it. They know the work so well, they can just talk about it. They want to keep things casual. They don’t want to sound rehearsed or practiced. They want to sound real.

But here’s the thing:

You should rehearse.

Michael Jordan was famous for staying long after practice to work on his free throws. Peyton Manning was known for watching more tapes of opposing teams than anyone else in the league. If Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning think it’s worth their time to practice, so should you.

Know what you’re going to say to a client. Know how you’re going to say it. Know why you’re going to say it.

That doesn’t happen without practice.

Using Other People’s Ads to Set Up Your Ideas

When creatives present their ideas – either to clients or internally – we sometimes show a video clip as a point of reference. It might be to establish a mood, a look, a technique, anything.

But here’s my warning:

Don’t ever use someone else’s ad to set up your idea.

Think about it. Do you really want to set up your idea by showing a really awesome Nike ad? Or a Jeep spot? Or an Apple commercial?

Whether you mean to or not, you’re basically saying, “Our idea isn’t 100% original. But here’s a really cool ad we wish we’d done and want to rip off.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting ideas for butter and you’re using a car commercial as a reference. It’s still telegraphs “not fresh” to the entire room. It says, “We want to be at least as good as this ad…but no better.”

Go ahead and use a documentary segment to establish a tone. Use a YouTube video to give a sense of energy. A film clip to help explain a technique. Do whatever you can to help the people in the room catch a vision of your idea.

But no matter how strong the temptation, don’t use someone else’s ad to show what you want your ad to be like.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Read whatever you can get your hands on. It’ll make you a better creative, whether you’re a writer, art director, designer, UX guru, creative technologist, whatever. But don’t limit yourself to “ad books.” Learn to communicate in ways that aren’t covered in the Advertising sub-shelves of the Business section at Barnes & Noble.

Pick up a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. A beautiful and inspiring piece. I don’t want to call it a how-to. But it will help you how-to: communicate, question, wonder, ponder, reconsider, and get to work.

 

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Your Choice

When you have a brilliant idea and your client kills it, you have two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

If you choose 1, and your client kills that idea, you have two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

If you choose 1 again, and once more, your client kills that idea, you’re still left with two choices:

  1. Come back with something even better.
  2. Give them what they’re expecting and just move on.

The difference between great creatives and mediocre creatives is the ability to choose 1 again and again.

And I’d argue that more often than not, it’s also the difference between happy creatives and unhappy creatives.

The Egg Assignment

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This is one of the assignments I like to give to my copywriting students.

You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s an egg.

I want you to write something on an egg that makes me want to eat it.

Take any angle you want.

Go to the store and buy an egg and write the thing on it and bring it to class. You might want to use a hard‐boiled egg.

These are due in Monday’s class. I will give you a pass/fail grade on it. If you fail, you can try again in any other class. If you pass, you can be finished, or you can try to come up with a better egg. Or you can give your idea to a struggling classmate.

You get to keep your eggs.

At the start of class, I would have the students, one at a time, set their eggs in the middle of the table. I would read whatever was on the egg. I would judge the egg based on one simple factor: did I want to eat that egg? I wouldn’t think about it very much.

Some eggs were very clever. Some tried to be funny. Some gave a functional benefit—protein or healthy snack.

Sometimes the message made a difference. I might feel like I could use a healthy snack. Sometimes I would chuckle but not want to eat the egg. Sometimes I would pick the first egg simply because I was hungry. Sometimes I would pick no eggs because I wasn’t hungry.

It was frustrating for the students, because it was like their creative idea only sometimes made a difference in whether or not they passed or failed that day. Which was exactly the point.

There are dozens of factors that go into whether or not a consumer buys the product you’re trying to sell. Your creative idea is usually pretty low on the list. Way below whether or not the consumer happens to be hungry at that moment. So remember that. You have to be relevant. You have to be persuasive. You also have to be lucky.