In the last year or so, I’ve seen a major increase in the polished case study videos that students do. Pretty professional case studies, for events and programs and guerilla stunts that never happened (though you wouldn’t know it from the slick comps and videos). I do plenty of these in my job. They’re a pain in the ass to do. So when I see students who can crank them out, part of me thinks “Yes! We should hire this person so I don’t have to make these damn things anymore.” But usually I think “Nice case study. Too bad the idea’s not that good.”
This past quarter, after a student presented his first round ideas with full-on comps in a seven-page deck, I asked him, “How long did it take you to build that deck?” Thinking I was complimenting his skills, he smiled and said, “Not very long. Like an hour and a half.” To which I said, “That’s an hour and a half you could have spent coming up with better ideas.”
I have given this advice over and over, and each year I feel like I’m shouting it into a stronger, louder wind of technology and “paperless” schools: DO NOT CONCEPT ON A COMPUTER.
If you don’t want to kill trees, awesome. Reuse the back sides of paper. One of my former instructors, a creative Jedi who really loves trees, Jelly Helm, suggests cutting your reused sheets of paper into quarters. However you do it, write your ideas down. Headlines too. Write them. With a pen or pencil or marker. On paper. Your brain works differently when you do this. You’re less likely to edit your ideas when you have to turn the pencil around and actually erase something. And that’s good–you shouldn’t be editing at the beginning. Just coming up with ideas, writing them down, and sticking them up on the wall. Lots of them. Like 100 or more. Then, and only then, pick your best and refine them. Make them better. Generate more.
When you jump to the computer, you’re skipping to execution. You’re cheating yourself out of the most important part of the project. You’re skimping on the idea. And you might end up with a nice looking video or well-executed comp, but if the idea’s not awesome, it doesn’t matter.
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:
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.
I just reviewed a student portfolio. Pretty good ideas, but typos and sloppy paragraph breaks were enough to take it out of consideration. This student apparently didn’t care about his/her book. Why should I?
Yesterday, Ad Age reported that BBDO Detroit will be closing in January, and is laying off 485 employees. Yikes. I don’t know any of them. But I feel for them.
I love multi-media campaigns.
There are few things as inspiring when looking through the awards shows than amazing ideas executed in ways you’ve never seen before. The Mini launch is a great example of creative media executions. There are countless others that are newer.
These campaigns often include complex installations and things that have never been done before, so a lot of explanation is often required. Fortunately for agencies, they have the means to produce submission videos to award shows to demonstrate the breadth, creativity and sound business results to accompany these innovative campaigns in a clear, comprehensive manner. My agency actually has several people dedicated to this job.
You have your book.
The target audience for your book is a busy group of people. Campaign after campaign of lengthy description multi-media onslaughts may not always be the best approach.
To be clear, I think it’s fantastic to see blown-out campaigns. Assuming they’re great campaigns and blowing them out makes sense. (Times Square installations and transit dominations probably don’t make sense for small start-up companies. Keep the realities of a brand’s budget somewhat based in reality. Somewhat.)
But sometimes, I just want to know you can knock out some killer print ads or OOH or posters or something I can look at for 10 seconds and think, “That’s cool,” and doesn’t have a gazillion moving parts.
And please know that blowing out your campaign doesn’t make it good. As a recruiter at my agency recently said to me, “Just because you’ve done an iPhone app for your idea doesn’t make it a good idea.”
So what’s the solution?
Before you blow out every single campaign in your book, make sure it calls for it. Make sure your book needs another blown out campaign. (I’d say two is the maximum amount I have the ability to fully take in.) Above all, make sure the ideas are great.
Show you can do something with legs. Show you can do things no one’s ever seen before. Show you’ll bring something invaluable to an agency.
But make sure you also, in easily digestible format, show that you can make a traditional ad campaign. Because once you start working, you’ll have to make good old fashioned ads.
Give Peter some love (or disagree with him) in the comments section. You can also get in touch with him at email@example.com.
In 2001, Pontiac introduced the Pontiac Aztek – an SUV crossover with a built-in tent that would later become one of Time‘s 50 Worst Cars of All Time. The article claims, “This car could not have been more instantly hated if it had a Swastika tattoo on its forehead.”
A lesson from Craig Ward.
Here’s a post from earlier this year. Please allow me to share it again.