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.
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.
OK, fine, I’ll elaborate. But just a little bit. No reason to overthink things here.
For the most part, traditional ads for TV and print are one-dimensional. They don’t require a whole lot of effort to understand. They’re like wide-eyed puppies sitting in the window, desperate for attention. No one struts down the block looking for puppies. But sometimes they’re just so darn cute or funny or meaningful that people pay attention. As a traditional creative, your job is to get people to stop in front of the window. That’s it. (Never mind if puppies have it easier than brands.)
You see a TV spot, you know what it’s for and what it’s trying to do. Sell yuppies more boat shoes. Get moms to upgrade their laundry detergent. Convert teenage girls from that shampoo to this one. Digital campaigns, on the other hand, are rarely one and done. Blame integration. A banner begets a Facebook fan page begets a web app begets a microsite begets an online contest that begets three web pages to register and enter. It’s tempting to figure out how to incorporate every social network and technology under the world wide sun. But that doesn’t make an idea better. It makes it more confusing. Every added step is another burden. An obstacle in the way of your message. Squeezing too many moving parts together doesn’t make a better-running machine. It makes a campaign that’s more likely to break down.
Digital campaigns need to be accessible. They shouldn’t require a bachelor’s degree and twenty minutes. When creative directors are flipping or clicking through books, they want to see brilliant thinking, writing and art direction. Not case studies. Take thisMovie Maker for Sprite. It’s ridiculously easy and it’s fun to play with. It’s not intrusive. You can explain it in five words.
Don’t confuse complex with smart. And don’t mistake simple for dumbed down. It’s hard to do easy. In digital, it’s very hard to do easy and cut through the clutter at the same time. That’s what I like about thisbanner ad for Toyota. What it sacrifices in mindblowingness, it makes up for in effectiveness. Is it intrusive? Not at all. Fun? A little. Interesting? If you’re looking for an AWD vehicle, it is.
The best idea is one that has been boiled down to its most basic essence. Not watered down by whatever technology or social network is getting the most buzz. Just because everything on the web can be connected doesn’t mean it has to be. If people had to press a button and fill out a form to see puppies, pet stores would end up with a whole lot of dogs. What I’m trying to say is when in doubt, cut it out. Sorry that took so long.
After two large projects and a handful of smaller ones, I’ve seen what digital looks like beneath the surface. I’m always working with different people. With different skill sets. I’m not working with the same art director day in, day out. No one is. Creatives aren’t split up into teams. We’re all individuals, manning our own chosen specialty. Every project is a revolving door of pixels, wireframes, code, calls to action, looks, feels, copy decks and dark roast. Every project has different creative needs. Different creative wants. Calling someone my “partner” may be great for confusing my family at Thanksgiving dinner but it’s not great for executing digital.
Makin’ Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the second in that series. Read the first here and follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch
As I mentioned in a previous post, Makin’ Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the first in that series. Follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch
A few weeks back Makin’ Ads asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest piece. The subject: what it’s like to be a copywriter at a digital agency. I leaned back and pondered. It sounded like a worthwhile subject and a useful read for anyone coming out of portfolio school.
Suddenly my head cocked. It actually sounded like a relevant topic to anyone in advertising. The industry has been changing at such a rapid pace and I’d only recently joined a digital agency full-time. I’d never really stopped to consider the differences. My philosophy had always been that a writer is a writer is a writer.
Uncocking my head and glancing around, I had to admit that Greg and Jim had a point. There are major differences between how digital and traditional agencies operate. Not just in the work produced but the process. In the people. And in the philosophy.
I agreed to cover the story for Makin’ Ads, but only if they met one condition. Instead of writing a guest piece, I put together a guest series. For one thing, there was too much material to squeeze into one article. For another, every time I gazed beyond my laptop I caught a glimpse of another difference between digital and traditional.
Let’s kick things off. Here’s the play-by-play of how I got into digital.
I started out doing traditional work at traditional agencies. There wasn’t much digital going around. They were very good agencies and their formula worked. They had no reason to tinker with a medium they didn’t own and they focused on what they were great at. Agencies can’t escape their DNA – that goes for both traditional and digital shops.
Two years ago I started freelancing and digital was everywhere. But as my book was making the rounds I kept hearing the same rejection. I didn’t have enough interactive experience. The old chicken and the egg routine.
Gigs came and went, and enough places liked my print and TV work that they asked me to take a shot at their digital projects. It was mostly boutiques that did a little bit of everything or traditional agencies tackling digital. After a few projects, I realized the latter was like a linebacker lacing up skates and playing hockey. I pursued interactive hoping it would lead to more interactive. Which would lead to an interactive portfolio. I started small, but that’s exactly what happened.
Taking a roundabout path into digital is one way to do it. As I can vouch, it’s been done. A better way is to choose which pill you want to swallow, traditional or digital, and gulp it down. Just don’t end up in that murky grey area of having too little experience in either.
That’s all for this week. More background than foresight, I know. But everyone has to start somewhere.