During my brief stint as a mechanical engineering student in college, I had a professor tell me that I should avoid being a monkey wrench. “A monkey wrench is an okay solution to lots of things. You want to be a 3/8″ socket wrench. Be the best at one thing.” In other words, specialize.
Advertising is different. One of the things I love about being an advertising creative is that it involves many different aspects of art, business and human interaction. To be great, you’ll have to use every part of your brain. We talk a lot about how to be better at advertising, but here are some ideas about how to be better at other things, which will then make you better at advertising:
1) Get into music. Whether you take up an instrument or just listen to music, it can be a powerful tool in producing work. It works a different part of your brain and falls at the nexus of math, art and groove. At some point, you’ll probably have to work with a composer, and it helps to be able to speak the language (at least a little). FURTHER THOUGHTS ON MUSIC
2. Take a fiction-writing class. Story story story. You probably won’t write many short stories in your career, but the ability to construct a story, to use vivid and concrete language, to set up and resolve a conflict, to build a character–these skills are invaluable. And if you can earn yourself a reputation as a great writer, not just of ads, but of anything that needs writing, you can become invaluable to an agency.
3. Take a film class. Probably even more than music, film is a common language in advertising. You will talk to a director at some point, and although you may not need to analyze the opening scene of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, it’s helpful to know the difference between a tracking shot and a pan.
4. Take an acting class. The only thing I could think of that’s more frightening is to take a singing class (okay, maybe a dance class too). But you will write scripts, and you will have to bring them to life. I know a writer who can take any material and write a funny script to it, then have a room in tears laughing because he’s such a funny actor. It’s a good skill to have. Not only that, but you’ll be able to articulate what you’re thinking to a director on set.
5. Improv class. If you haven’t realized it yet, the rules of concepting and the rules of improv are the same. I say something, then you say “Yes, and…” And we build. There’s performance in improv, sure, but the ability to take an idea that someone throws your way, spin it and keep it up in the air, that’s the important part of improv.
6. Learn how to tell jokes. Not too long ago, I was at a planning convention and I went to a workshop on joke writing. It could have been a workshop on how to write a headline. And for all the classes I’ve taken and taught on writing headlines, this was the best breakdown of why a good headline works. Plus, the best jokes are stories (see #2).
7. Go to a presentation seminar. This should be self-evident, but it’s like running wind sprints. You’re probably only going to do it if someone makes you. At the very least, read a book on presenting. As nice as it would be, ideas don’t sell themselves.
8. Read everything you can get your hands on. Whether you’re reading fiction and absorbing the style and voice or reading non-fiction and picking up little bits of trivia that may come in handy some day, whether you’re into books or blogs, be a sponge. I once read The Vagina Monologues while working on a Tampax assignment. It made me think differently about…well, about vaginas for one thing.
9. Read books on business. Or blogs on business. Advertising is full of art and craft and everything else we like to focus on, but every piece of advertising in the end is a business solution. We often think of business as the boring-as-hell SWAT analyses we did in college, but real business is full of creativity. And a broad understanding of how brands operate on the other side of the fence can make you seem like an engaged, astute, and rare creative.
10. Take an art class. Art directors have presumably done this at some point. Writers should too. Not just to understand some of the basics of design, but being able to draw out ideas is an important communication skill. And thinking with doodles, again, engages a different part of your brain.
There’s ten. I’m sure there are plenty more. Please, suggest some others.