Thank You

You probably know this (hopefully) and you hopefully already do it (probably) but, if not, this is something you need to know and do.

If you interview at an agency, write thank-you notes to everyone who interviewed you. 

Just a simple card or email (cards are nicer, emails work) that thanks them for taking the time. Maybe you mention something you talked about. It goes a long way, and it reminds them of you.

This means that when you interview with people, you might ask if you can have a business card or at least write down their name (spelled correctly).

Three Intangibles

Aside from a great portfolio, here are three things I look for when I’m interviewing someone:

1. A curious mind. I get suspicious if the person I’m interviewing doesn’t ask any questions. Our most recent hire, when he interviewed, asked me about our strategies, wanted to see a strategy, asked about the worst part of my job, wanted to know about the structure of the place, the process. He asked me about our client relationships. He asked me what was my favorite work out there. He talked about the kinds of classes he likes to take and his philosophy of always trying new things once. It said he was interested in growing and learning as much as he could.
2. Drive. I like to know that the person has had to work really hard at something. Maybe there’s a project that the client killed but they executed anyway because they loved it. Or a side project. Maybe they run a successful website or have started a business or invented an app. Maybe they run marathons or wrote and directed a full-length film. All of those things tell me that this person has the will power to accomplish things. 
3. Enthusiasm. Some people are more low-key than others, but occasionally I’ll have someone sitting in my office for an interview and I’ll want to reach over the table and feel their neck for a pulse. Creative businesses run on the energy of the people. You don’t have to be loopy, but it’s nice to, as my little league baseball coach used to shout at the outfielders, “look alive.” 

Your Career Is a Network Of Random Opportunities

You will be presented with many doors in your career. You don’t always have to walk through them, but I’d advise you to at least consider each one. Maybe poke your head through and see what’s there. If someone from an agency you don’t think you want to work at wants to chat, why not at least chat?

Thinking back over my career, I can think of several opportunities that I completely passed on without a second thought. Some were offers made by people that I didn’t really take seriously. When I think of these passed opportunities, I’d like to go back and kick my younger self.

Here’s an excellent example of how this can work, by Jason Friedman at 37signals. 

Guest Post: Nate Stroot


From time to time, we like to invite guests to post on Makin’ Ads. Today’s guest poster is a former student of mine, Nate Stroot. We recently exchanged emails about how his first gig out of school made him reconsider what he was looking for. I asked him to write about what he learned from his first experience and about having the courage to set a new course when his “dream job” didn’t live up to his expectations.

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I am a huge fan of this blog and am honored to be able to contribute to a space that I hold in such high regard. It was my bible when I was at Miami Ad School.

I recently finished school and even more recently was juniored. I won’t be dispelling any advice on the creative process, partially because I am not qualified but mostly because I am still trying to figure it out for myself. What I can confidently speak to is my transition from paying to make ads to getting paid to make them.

I was slated to finish at MAS in the summer so in the spring I started sending my unfinished book to several shops trying to secure an internship for the summer. There was one shop in my hometown I that I loved and adored because, not to long ago, they were considered a premier shop in the industry. Since I didn’t actually know anyone there, I found one of their recruiters on LinkedIn and found an email address. I emailed her and she informed me that they weren’t looking for creative interns at that moment. Although I knew that, I still went ahead and filled out one of their general applications for interns. About a month later she emailed me back and said that they changed their mind. She set up phone interviews and eventually they offered me a 3-month internship with the option to extend another 3-months if both parties were feeling it. If everything went well, at 6 months there would be discussions of a permanent job.

I was excited and relieved that I knew what I was going to be doing after I finished. I finished school on a Friday and started the following Monday. The first 3 weeks were great. About a month in, the shop lost a client, and the current roster was pulling back spending. It hit the creative department and the media departments the hardest. I understood that this was nature of the beast, but it really affected the agency. One whole floor was vacant, and the creative department became a ghost town. Everyone was stretched pretty thin, and I felt that there was a shift in the culture.

Despite that I still signed on for another month, hoping things would turn around quickly. The agency was at an interesting fork where a lot of decisions needed to be made at the top to gain a clearer direction, which led to an unstable environment. At the time, I had no interest of extending, even if they offered, because I felt like I wanted to be in a place that had a clear cut direction of where they wanted to be. That being said, they may have had no intention of ever bringing me on, I am not sure where they were at.

In hindsight, I think the biggest mistake I made was that I went there for the name on the door and they were my dream agency for no reason other than the name on the door. However, I am grateful that they let me in their building where I was able to draw my own conclusions, and I had exposure to some extremely talented people. Perhaps the best thing one of the guys there told me after I left: “The thing about jobs is sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.” From my short experience, that is definitely true.

After that, I decided it was time to take a break and embark on a new existential journey. I made the conscious decision to not be a contributing member of society. I don’t mean to brag, but I was really good at waking up after 2:00 pm. It was rewarding with the additional bonus of being quite unchallenging. However, around the New Year I found myself nearly out of cash. I started blindly sending my book to recruiters I found on LinkedIn, this time without luck. However, the great thing about MAS is that they host portfolio reviews which is really speed dating for a job. I attended one and was able to meet with a handful of recruiters. After I went home I emailed those I was interested in, and two of them put legitimate offers on the table after a few interviews. It was a really good problem to have.

There were things from the last internship that I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to go into another unstable environment. I felt like as juniors, we have a lot to prove and a lot to learn which is already difficult. Being at a shop that doesn’t have a clear direction makes it that much harder to thrive. I had no interest in taking that challenge.

Another thing that was important to me was to have a partner. At the last place, it was kind of an assembly line mentality where I would do my portion, send it to a project manager, and then would have no idea what happened to it. I wanted to avoid that too.

The most important thing though was that I wanted to have a lot of contact with whomever I reported to. At the first place, I reported to the ECD running the account. I consider him an ad legend and have a lot of respect for him. However, I quickly found that he was the most overworked man in the agency, so I didn’t get a lot of exposure to him. For me, the best way to learn is to listen what they have to say, in meetings and with feedback and then take that into account on the next assignment. My math is simple. The more time around them, the more one picks up.

I made it a point to look at the books of the CD’s I would potentially report to. At this time, I feel like it is paramount that the CD does the kind of work you want to do. I think you can tell a lot about a CD by their book. It shows their taste, and later down the line, what they will try to sell to the client, which will directly impact the work you’re doing. If it works out right, your book and your CD’s book will mirror each other, at least at that stint. This may sound odd but I didn’t care about the clients I was going to be working on. I have no “dream client”. I was much more concerned about who I was going to be working for.

Ultimately, I ended up accepting an offer from Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis. I had the chance to talk to the CCO and I really dug his vision and the direction he wanted to take the agency. It seemed like he was really focused on breathing new life into the shop and was going to do everything he could to get the shop to doing great work again. Also, when I talked to the GCD I was going to work under, I got the impression that he was going to do some serious blocking and tackling for me, which is invaluable.

At the time when I was trying to decide between the two offers I reached out to a CD I had a lot of respect for at the place I interned at, and asked him to weigh in. He wrote, “Make sure it looks like it’s going to give you the greatest opportunity to do the best work of your life. Don’t take a job this early in your career where you get stuck on one client. You need variety. You need to work for creative directors that share your passion and eye for producing great work.” It was and still is solid advice, and I wish I would have thought about when I was finishing portfolio school. At least I would have had the opportunity to take that advice or blindly reject it, but sometimes we have to learn as we go.

Job Search Plan of Attack


Agencies don’t hire between Thanksgiving and New Years. That’s a fact that holds so true that I tell my students who graduate in early December to just chill, get their portfolio together, enjoy the holidays, refresh, and plan to hit the ground running in January.

Over the years, we’ve written quite a bit about various aspects of the job search. I thought it might be helpful to compile some of those posts here in some sort of order. So, as you get ready to jump into the job search, here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Portfolio. Obvious, right? But just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean your portfolio is finished. Your portfolio is NEVER finished. Get your work together. Get your website polished. And get ready to keep working on it until you retire. Here are some questions you can ask about your portfolio.

1b) Presentation. Your website speaks for itself. The moment it loads in my browser window, it says something about you. There are plenty of very simple portfolio-hosting sites that are easy enough my mother could set up a professional-looking portfolio in a day. DO NOT let your site’s appearance kill your chances before anyone sees your book. This goes for real-world opportunities too. If you have someone coming into school to look at portfolios or are going to a portfolio review of any kind, be professional about it. It’s an opportunity to make an impression. Don’t bring a stack of foam-core boards in a plastic grocery bag (I’ve had it happen before).

2) Contacting agencies. Have your list. Use your connections (friends, alumni, LinkedIn). Start sending out emails or making calls. Here’s a post about writing down your five criteria to help you narrow down your agency search, a few examples of emails and followups, and another on what not to say in your email.

3) The interview. Know what you’re looking for. When someone comes in to show their book to me, I always ask first: “What are you looking for?” As in, do you want me to comment on everything in your book? Are you looking for “what to keep in my book and what to take out?” Do you want our agency to hire you? It might seem obvious if you’re sitting in someone’s office showing your book, but it’s not. Be clear about what you’re looking for. And have an opinion on work in your book. I ask questions about pieces I like. I often ask the person I’m interviewing what they like best, because I want to know what kind of work they like to do most. And know what questions you want to ask about the agency. Here’s a good starter list.

4) The followup. When you’re interviewing, write down the names of the people you talk to. Ask them each for a business card. And then send a thank-you note afterward. It can be a card, which is nice, or simply an email. It shows the person appreciation for the time they spent with you and, more importantly, is another opportunity to connect with them.

5) The negotiation. If you’re a student, there shouldn’t be much negotiation, really. Getting into a good agency where you can learn and grow and do good work is invaluable coming out of school. So whether you making $40k or $50k a year isn’t as important as the kind of work you’ll be doing. I know that $10k sounds like a ton when you have school loans, etc., but going to a place where you make less but have the opportunity to build a great book will pay off multiple times over in the long run.

Finally, here’s a post Greg did about the timeline of the whole process.

Good luck in your search.

Directors Reels and Student Books

This is a room in my agency full of directors reels. Each one of those DVDs on the shelves feature anywhere from one to six different directors. And each director may be showcasing three to eight spots. And there are a few more walls full of DVDs you don’t see in this picture.

This isn’t too different from a creative director or agency recruiter sifting through the sea of portfolios they receive each week. So here are some of the things we can learn from a room full of directors reels:
  1. Most directors (and usually the best ones) are represented by a production company. Just like most students tend to come out of portfolio schools. I can tell you which production companies tend to rep the best directors. And I can tell you which portfolio schools tend to produce the best graduates. Nothing’s guaranteed; I’ve worked with bad directors at some of the best production companies, and I’ve seen poor student work come out of the top schools. But generally, talent produces talent.
  2. I can tell you which directors I want to work with without even looking at their current reels because their reputation precedes them. Building a body of work like that might be a little difficult for you as a student. But it’s something to shoot for. I keep about 10 directors in my head, which is better than being one of a thousand on these shelves. Entering student award shows and trying to get into CMYK is a good way of jumping off those shelves.
  3. There are other directors who are less famous (either because they’re new, or simply haven’t been discovered yet), that I really want to work with. I get to know about these directors when their reps come to the agency and offer to screen their reels for anyone willing to watch. Not every screening I attend is amazing. But I do keep a list of the names that stand out to me. That’s not too different from a student who invests time and money traveling to different cities for interviews, instead of waiting for an agency to call them. I want to work with the people I know best. And if I don’t know you, your chances are that much slimmer.
  4. I don’t always have work for directors I like. Maybe they’re not right for my current project. Or we’ve already awarded the job to someone else. Or we need someone with a little more experience. But I still keep my list of directors I want to work with one way or another. It’s the same with students. The agency you want to work for may not have an opening for someone in your position. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hire you the first chance they get. So be sure to stay in touch.
  5. Imagine a director who calls me once every couple of weeks to see if I have any jobs for him. That would get annoying. Unless that director were calling me to share his latest spot that was truly worth sharing. Then I’d think they were hard-working, dedicated, talented and prolific. Students who send me new work are always more interesting than students who want to “remind” me of the same book they showed me a couple months ago.
  6. Imagine a rep who comes in to screen a directors reel, and decides that the best way to help that DVD stand out in this sea of reels is to put it in a silly case with green feathers sticking out of it and macramé all over the casing. Would it stand out? Sure. Would it make me want to hire that director? Nope. Because I only want to see the work. If it’s bad, it will make the dog-and-pony packaging that much worse. If it’s good, I’ll wonder why they thought they needed anything else cluttering it up. Students, beware of conceptual portfolio bindings and resumes. Let your work speak for you.

Dear Sir: How Not To Approach Me



About once a week, I get an email from someone asking about job openings or looking for feedback on their portfolio. And back in the spring, I sifted through over 170 applications for our internship program. Through all of this, I’ve made a short list of ways not to approach someone when you’re looking for a job. Check that–ways not to approach a creative kind of person. This probably doesn’t apply if you’re looking for a job at a bank.

1) The overly formal approach. “Dear Mr. Bosilajjajemcinavac, I am writing to request an informational interview with your firm. I believe I have the necessary skillset and experience to benefit your creative department blah blah blah.” Yeah, this isn’t a bank. Your job here will be to relate to normal people. Talk to me like I’m normal and you’re normal.

2) The artist statement approach. “I burn with an passion for self-expression. Since my mother first handed me a box of crayons, I have never ceased to explore new avenues of art, performance, and creative thinking. I believe that we can touch souls with blah blah blah.” To be honest, this person kind of scares me a little. Passion is good. Put it in a portfolio.

3) The crazy-ass weirdo approach. “I collect marmot figurines. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can never have enough marmots around. I will tell you this, though, do not feed them peanut butter. blah blah blah” I don’t like weird for the sake of weird. Not in ads, not in introductions.

4) The overly egotistical approach. “My creativity is off the charts. If you’re looking for a real go-getter who’s ready to turn the ad industry on its head, you’ve found him. I was born for advertising. I lust after gold lions. blah blah.” It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Don’t tell me how awesome you are. Let me see it in your book.

5) The blatant kiss-ass approach. Listing every ad my agency has done and then telling me that they’re all tied as your favorite ads seems, well, like a big steamy pile of bullshit.

I’m not saying this to be a dick. Even when someone sends me an email that takes one of these approaches, I’ll usually give them the benefit of the doubt. When I was in college, I submitted a short story to a magazine along with a letter telling them why it was perfect for their publication. The editor wrote a letter back that started something like: “Because you seem sincere, I’ll give you this constructive criticism.” He then went on to tell me the many ways my letter made me sound amateurish. That’s all I mean here. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve stepped through the door.

So what do I like?

Again, an email that talks to me like a normal person. Tell me who you are or how you found me and a little about yourself. You can mention some of my/the agency’s work if you truly do like it. It’s nice to hear, but I don’t give points for it. And then tell me what you’re looking for–a job, feedback on work, whatever. If I was writing to Greg, I might say something like this:

Hi Greg-

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I’m a regular reader of your blog and thought I’d reach out and see if you had a moment to take a look at my portfolio. I’ve just graduated from the copywriting track at VCU Brandcenter and am starting my job search. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate any feedback you can give. And if you like the work, I’d love to talk further about any openings at The Richards Group. Here’s my link: mylink.com

Thanks for your time.

Best,

jim

Negotiating Moving Expenses

A friend of mine recently asked my advice on negotiating moving expenses for a job. This advice won’t help you build your portfolio, but it could be helpful if you’re looking for work. So I’ve included sections from my email to him here:

I’ve received moving expenses three times in my career. The first was when I moved to Chicago for my first job. I think they gave me $2000, and I think I had to ask for it. I had no idea how or what I would be using it for. It was just kind of free money.
When I moved to Europe, it was a little more complicated, naturally. They paid the airfare for me and my whole family, another $7500 to move my stuff from Chicago, and fronted the money for the downpayment on my apartment (local laws required 3 months, so it came to  about $9000).
When I came back to the States, my current agency put me up in corporate housing for a month, but typically they would have only done it for a week (I was their first transocean move). I paid $5000 to move all my stuff from Europe to America, but negotiated to have the agency move my furniture from our old house in Chicago to our new place. (We’d rented our house in Chicago and kept it furnished.)
I think the key is to figure out what you need and then tell them and negotiate from there. Go on pods.com and get a quote on moving to your new city. If you’re driving, figure gas money, and maybe even one night in a hotel. Just make your plans as if you were paying for it yourself, and ask the agency if they know any way to make it less expensive. I gave my current agency an estimate from pods.com, but they had a corporate account with a moving company that was less expensive, and I was fine using them.
When I moved to Europe, the agency offered $5000 to move, which I didn’t think was going to be enough. I wrote to them and said, “Since you’ve flown me business class twice for interviews, I assume you’ll fly my entire family business class when we move. How about you fly us all coach, and give me half the difference in moving expenses, which will be about $5000.” The CEO wrote back and said he had planned to fly us coach, but could offer an additional $2500 to move, but no more, which was totally fine with me.
Be honest. Be fair. Negotiate for as much as you can. And realize that however much they’re giving you is probably coming out of someone’s Chirstmas bonus or the office holiday party.

Boutiques vs Behemoths

Jim Lansbury, a CD at RP3 Agency has some advice for portfolio grads on ihaveanidea.org. Big agency vs small shop was something I debated when I left school. There are pros and cons to both. Here’s one of Lansbury’s pros…

“Why think small? For starters, you’ll build your book a lot faster. Small agencies don’t have the luxury of putting multiple teams on every project. They don’t mine their juniors for ideas that don’t go anywhere, or worse yet, for ideas that someone else ends up taking credit for. They expect everyone to produce. And everyone does.  In a small shop, there are no bad groups or tough accounts to get stuck on. Everyone works on everything. (At least that’s how we do it here.)”


I’ve worked and had success at both big and small agencies. Which would you rather work at as a first job?