Showing Your Work Around

“I don’t know what’s good anymore.”

We’ve all had this experience. We work on something so much, for so long, that we completely lose perspective. We’re too close to it. We can’t tell if something’s clear, funny, stupid, or so stupid it’s funny. At times like this, it’s good to have a few go-to people.

“Hey, what do you think of this?”

You need someone who’s smart, has good taste, and will be brutally honest with you. Sometimes it’s good to have a few of those people.

“One person I showed thought that the cat kind of reminded her of aliens, because this one time she had a dream about alien cats.”

If you focus-group an ad around long enough, you will get some pretty strange feedback. We all know the chronic focus-groupers. Sometimes they’re legitimately confused, but often they’re just fishing for compliments, or searching for the one person who will tell them that their crap ad is brilliant. Don’t be that person.

Have your few trusted brains. Use them as necessary. If they all agree that the ad’s not working, take that to heart. But don’t take every piece of thinking that you ever poop out and show it around to everyone. It’s annoying and, because everyone will have a different take on it, it will just confuse you.

As much as learning how to come up with a good idea, you need to learn to evaluate a good idea. Trust your gut. And when your gut is full, trust the guts of a few smart people around you. But don’t trust the guts of everyone in the school, or everyone in the agency. That just leads to a big, gooey, gross, gutty mess.

It’s the Music, Stupid, Part III: Demo Love

Jim recently posted a great piece on music. He mentioned the trap of demo love. Here’s a quick story on how very real this molotov cocktail can be.

A couple years ago, we presented a rough cut to our client. We went to great lengths to explain how rough it was. We vigorously explained that the music (ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”) was place-holder.
While the edit was coming together, we found an awesome piece that fit spot perfectly (“Energy” by The Apples in Stereo). The Apples song had everything going for it:
  • The lyrics, theme and feel of the music aligned with the spot. “Mr. Bluesky” sounded good, but had nothing to do with it.
  • The album “New Magnetic Wonder” was barely a fortnight old. “Mr. Bluesky” had already been used in approximately 1,732 commercials.
  • The album was getting great reviews, was a breakthrough work for the band, and the client could have ridden that wave.
  • Most astonishingly, The Apples in Stereo were asking $50,000 for unlimited licensing. Jeff Lynne of ELO wanted $250,000 to use “Mr. Bluesky” for six weeks.

So which one did the client pick? Let’s just say Mr. Lynne probably bought himself a case of new shampoo/conditioner, and we weren’t able to help fund one of my favorite band’s European tour. And yes, after the 6 weeks of ELO licensing expired, the client didn’t have enough to renew and we had to use needledrop.
Resist the siren song of demo love. It is very, very irrational. And very, very real.

Career Warehouse


Your career is a warehouse. It’s got an inventory. And you decide what comes in, and what you keep in storage. Unless, of course, you stop paying attention.
That’s when crates of 20-second legal copy start to show up in the shipping office. That’s when the forklifts bring in palates of “ACT NOW!” starbursts. You sign for these deliveries because the client or your creative director promises “just this once.” Or maybe you let them pile up because you’re “just paying your dues.”
But then the shipment for the One Show has to go out. And you look around your warehouse and realize you’re out of creative stock. There’s nothing good on the shelf. All you have are some moldy cardboard boxes marked “CONCEPT STILL IN TESTING” and “POLISHED TURDS.”
The easiest way to keep your warehouse from being cluttered is to keep an inventory. I recommend monthly. Quarterly at the very least. Figure out what you need more of and find a way to go get it. It’s the end of the month. Why not take inventory right now? It sounds like a Stephen Covey aphorism, but a little self-evaluation is better than hoping you catch a break on the next assignment.
Going a whole year without getting into the One Show isn’t so bad. Going a whole year without having anything to enter into the One Show is.

Why I Suck at Foosball

I am a horrible foosball player. I ended up sitting out all the pickup games at my last agency, because office rules held that you played for a dollar, and I got tired of always losing dollars.

I think one of the reasons I’m so bad is because I tense up. I take foosball much too seriously. Especially for someone with such poor foosball skills. Last December, when my nephew and niece were creaming me in a game, my wife made fun of me because because, in her words, I looked like I was “trying to save the world and losing.”
I used to tense up when I sat down to make ads. A blank piece of paper. And I’m the one who has to fill it. I was trying to save the world, and I was afraid of losing.
I don’t approach ads that way anymore. It’s counterproductive and counterfun. I work hard. But I know that if I whiff on an assignment, I’ve got either another round or another assignment headed my way. 
I’m a lot more successful and have a lot more fun coming up with ads than I do playing foosball. Because to me one’s a game. And the other is a competition I’m trying to win.

Check you’re emails for typos.

The number of portfolio school students on the market has spiked this month. If you don’t believe me, check the in-boxes of almost any creative in the business. It’s not quite a flood of pdfs, links and requests for interviews. But it’s definitely high tide.

Here are a few things to avoid:

  1. Typos. There is no excuse for this.
  2. Not getting to the point. Most creatives don’t have a lot of time to wade through attempts at being clever. Introduce yourself, tell me how you got my name, and ask me to look at your book and give you feedback. Feel free to use my response (almost all creatives will give one if you ask) as an opportunity to continue the conversation. But don’t try to cram your shining personality into an email. It’s all about the work.
  3. Mass emails. Quick story: My sophomore year in high school a really pretty girl wrote some very nice things about me in my year book. She talked about how beautiful my eyes were, how funny I was, and what a nice smile I had. I had no idea she was attracted to me. Summer break was looking good. But when my friends and I realized she had written the same thing in all our yearbooks pretty much word for word, our attraction to her plummeted and she became a joke. Moral: Bait as many lines as you can. Just realize that my art director, the creative recruiter and I all talk on a regular basis.
  4. Cut-and-pasted emails. I recently received an email asking if I knew the creative recruiter at BBH. Even though there’s no BBH in Chicago. And my email is @yr.com.
  5. Portfolios set up on Blogger. A couple of you have done this to get feedback on your work. That’s fine when you preface it as a rough draft. Totally understandable. But I’ve seen a couple finished books that are actually set up in this format. Please don’t do this. This blog may not deserve a better showcase, but your work sure does.