How to Become The Go-to Creative In Your Agency

This is a guest post from AKQA creative and frequent Makin’ Ads contributor Nathan Archambault.

Julian Edelman, diminutive wide receiver for the New England Patriots, would have made a fantastic advertising creative.
Seem random? Not at all. Not when you understand his approach to making it in a highly competitive industry.
After playing quarterback at Kent State (not exactly a football powerhouse), Edelman was drafted by the Patriots in the 7th and final round of 2009. The odds were against him having a successful career in the NFL but as of today he’s 6th in the league in receptions, just ahead of a superhuman they call Megatron.
Here’s the approach Edelman took that separated him from everyone else:
“The more you can do, the more valuable you make yourself to a team. Sometimes, lying and saying you’ve done it when you really haven’t done it. Put my head down, worked my tail off, watched a lot of great guys ahead of me over the years … You watch Tom Brady and learn how to be a professional. You’re around that, and it becomes your life … Punt-returning, kick-returning, playing defense, whatever the coaches ask you to do. Blocking a kick. When you’re younger and you’re a seventh-round draft pick, a rookie, you basically do everything you can. You could be a camp body … Everyone’s fighting for a job. Any time a coach needed a guy up, you had to go sprint up there and try to deal with it … You saw a lot of guys, Wes Welker in the huddle, Joey Galloway, Randy Moss, even though they’re different body types, they’re such smart receivers. You could always take something away from everyone. When you’re green, you grow; when you’re ripe, you rot. You gotta constantly learn. My father tells me that all the time. We’d be practicing out in the backyard, and if I had a bad attitude or I was talking back or something, he’d go, You think you have all the answers. When you’re green you grow, when you think you’re ripe you’re gonna rot.“
Now replace Tom Brady with your creative director’s name. Replace football responsibilities with advertising projects. Replace Moss and Galloway with your favorite senior creatives.
If you’re a junior trying to make it in advertising, channel this attitude. Become the Julian Edelman of your industry. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the biggest, strongest or highest drafted. Know what you have to do to become one of the best at your position. 
[Nathan Archambault is a Senior Copywriter at AKQA in New York. Check out his advertising blog at maybegravy.com and follow him on Twitter at @nkarch.]

What the Movies Can Teach You About a Big Idea

This is a guest post from AKQA creative and frequent Makin’ Ads contributor Nathan Archambault. You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch

.

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 14.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri; color: #1a1a1a} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 14.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri} span.s1 {text-decoration: underline ; color: #0000fb} span.s2 {color: #1a1a1a} span.s3 {color: #000000}

Greg has written before about the importance of having a great elevator pitch. Here’s another way of looking at it. This is something I picked up on after attending the Creative Week panel The Idea Matters… Still.
Your best idea should be like a great movie plot. For any great movie, you can reduce the plot down to a single sentence. For example:

Boy’s parents murdered, so he starts wearing a cape, fighting crime and talking in a deep, gravelly voice (Batman).
New York cop single-handedly stops terrorists from robbing an office building, all before the helpful proliferation of cell phones (Die Hard).
Nerd steals website idea from good-looking jocks and becomes an awkward billionaire (Social Network).

Your best ideas should be this simple and accessible. Try this test: take one of your ideas, write it down in a short sentence on a blank piece of paper. No visuals, no technology, no strategy, just an organized jumble of letters.

Now stare at it.
Does it still seem like a big idea? Does it pop? Does it wow? Do you look at that sentence, want to fold it in three and overnight ship it to Gerry Graf, Jeff Goodby and Dan Wieden?
Or, without all the glitter, does it seem empty, boring, unspectacular, less than large?
If, sans glitter, it’s not ready for the limelight, then figure out what it needs. Is it too complicated or gimmicky? Is it just a tactic? Is there something missing or is there something there that doesn’t have to be?
Boiling your idea down to a single, naked sentence can separate the great ideas from the good ones. Because all the glitter we sprinkle on our ideas makes them look better than they really are.
We’re storytellers, after all, and part of telling a story is making an idea seem bigger and better than it is on its own. When we present, there’s always more than the idea. There’s backstory and visuals. A beautiful presentation. People with varied areas of expertise go into an exorbitant amount of detail about each carefully-thought-out step of the process. Then, once sufficiently built up, the big idea is revealed with reserved aplomb.
And it’s glorious.
But if you start with a less-than-great idea, the final product will always have something missing.
Greatness.
So before you put all that effort into presenting and selling your idea, write it down in one single thought and stare at it.
If it still seems like the best idea you’ve ever seen, you’ve got a winner. Just imagine how great it will be once you add all the glitter.

An Idea Isn’t Everything

This is another in a series from AKQA creative Nathan Archambault. You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch.

Concept is king. It’s all about the idea. Your goal with every brief should be to come up with an idea so big that other big ideas become jealous. Right?

Not so fast. Coming up with a big idea is just one of the many steps that it takes to produce great work. And it isn’t always the most important step to a client. Sometimes it’s not even the most important step to an agency.



The details matter

Lately I’ve been seeing student books that feel like they’re full of high-level case studies. Videos that present the idea but don’t actually explain how it comes to life. After nailing a big idea, you’ve got to figure out the minor details. Not every big idea translates to a great ad. Without thinking through the small things, you’ll never know if your big idea is anything more than a great starting point. When it comes to executing a campaign, an idea isn’t everything.
The strategy matters
Clients don’t want ideas that come out of left field, even if it’s a great idea. Your campaign needs a foundation. You need to be able to explain the insight that led to your idea. Be perfectly clear about why this idea will be an effective one for the client and the target. When it comes to thinking strategically, an idea isn’t everything.
The client matters
Don’t forget that we work in a service industry. Our clients aren’t in the business of supporting the advertising industry. They’re in the business of making profits and selling products. They’re only interested in one type of idea – the kind that grows their business. When it comes to client needs, an idea isn’t everything.
The budget matters
A client isn’t going to toss more money at a project because an idea is so freaking awesome. Doesn’t matter how much they love it. If the best idea goes over budget, the next best idea moves into the starting line-up. Or, even worse, you’re asked to rework your great idea until it’s nothing but a sad shell of its former self. When it comes to sticking to budget, an idea isn’t everything.
The presentation matters
Part of the job is getting clients pumped up for your big idea to become a big reality. That may mean some theater. It may mean bravado. It takes a different approach for every client and every presentation. Just remember, clients weren’t there during your brainstorm sessions. They may not fully understand the thought that led to your idea. You’ve got to set it up for success, making it sound revolutionary. Make it seem like anything but your big idea would be disaster. When it comes to the presentation, an idea isn’t everything.
The objective matters
Every ad has a job to do. Your great idea should lead to action, interaction, or whatever the goal may be. An idea can be cool, but it also needs a nerdy side. A side that accomplishes the very straightforward and quantifiable goal put forth by the client in the first place. When it comes to building a brand, an idea isn’t everything.
There are a lot of factors that can make or break a campaign. Do all these things well, and your big idea becomes that much bigger. It also moves that much closer to becoming a reality.

12 Ways Digital is Different Than Traditional

We’re proud to feature the following article, another in a series from AKQA creative Nathan Archambault. Thanks for the insights, Nate. (You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch.)

I’m a creative, you’re a creative. Right?

Not exactly.

In some ways we’re the same. We’re briefed. We concept. We revise. We present. Hopefully, we sell. But behind closed agency doors there are a lot of differences between what digital and traditional creatives do. And while I have a writer’s perspective, all this stuff applies to you, too, art directors. Don’t reach for your Wacom tablets just yet. Now where to begin…

Digital creatives don’t make ads. That’s what traditional creatives do. TV spots, print ads, billboards, all that good stuff. Digital creatives develop experiences. Anything that involves a click and a call to action is more than an ad. It’s content. Sites, mobile apps, social media. Videos, products, services. These are all experiences that interact with people differently than traditional ads, both intellectually and physically. Even a static banner that drives to a website is an experience. Unfortunately, that’s why so many banners are ineffective – confused creatives think they’re making an ad.

Digital has to work harder. TV ads have no competition for your attention. They pop into your living room. Then they’re gone. But digital work will only be effective if people choose to spend time with it. It needs to be entertaining, provide utility or both. It takes much more strategic thinking to create a successful digital campaign. You can’t just throw ideas against the wall until one sticks. You’ve got to have a damn good reason for throwing an idea at that specific wall, at that certain time, at that very spot.

Digital doesn’t just talk. It starts a conversation. Digital isn’t about getting people to think something; it’s about getting people to do something. Click here. Proceed to check out. View this video. Take an action, any action, whatever it may be. Traditional media passively connects with people. It interrupts TV shows or appears in between magazine articles. Look at all the TV ads that drive to a brand’s site. Digital is where brands can really interact with people. Take AKQA’s recent award-winning Fiat Eco:Drive work. It’s not targeted at people buying cars, exactly. It’s aimed at people who are trying to decrease their carbon footprint. Fiat listened to them. Now they want to hear more from Fiat.

Digital knows how to multitask. The best traditional advertising does one thing. Spreads awareness, makes something cool, provides entertainment, gives a brand a voice. It falters when it tries to do too many things at once, or tries to reach too large an audience. But digital work has to do everything at once. It has to be functional and entertaining, clear and thorough, concise and explanatory. You don’t know who is viewing your work. Copy has to appeal to different users. A site isn’t going to talk to a first-time visitor and a diehard fan the same way. That would alienate both groups of people. If someone doesn’t like the experience you’ve created, they’ll go surf somewhere else.

The creative departments aren’t built with the same pieces. Traditional agencies are a 50/50 split of art directors and copywriters who usually work in teams. That’s not the case at digital agencies with design- and tech-heavy projects. (I’m not just talking about visual design. There’s user experience design, too.) Digital creative departments are a mix of copywriters, art directors, visual designers, user experience designers, and creative developers. That means writers work on more projects. Art directors become better designers. And everyone thinks more strategically.

Digital creatives aren’t paired with a partner. That’s not exactly true. We’re actually paired with partners all the time. A new one every project. In digital-based shops, it doesn’t make sense to permanently pair a copywriter with an art director. Depending on what the client wants, I could team with anyone from the creative department. What creative really wants to be monogamous, anyway? It’s not natural. Especially for people who choose to get into advertising.

There’s been a shift in the balance of workload. Digital work comes in all shapes and sizes. There are copy-heavy projects and design-heavy ones. Tech-based projects and strategic ones. I’ve written copy on my own, like when I authored seven articles for a client’s microsite. Then there are projects, such as visual branding assignments or web guidelines, that doesn’t require much input from a writer at all. That doesn’t mean anyone gets off easy. Everyone is still on the same team. Sometimes I work late watching the designers work their magic. Maybe they’ll need copy, maybe not. My doctor thinks I could use more Vitamin D, but I’ve made way cooler websites than him.

Digital art directors do more than think. We all know one. Those art directors who can’t draw and fumble through Photoshop. Who knows, maybe they get by on their “ideas.” Well, they’d never make it in digital. Just being able to come up with an idea doesn’t cut it. Digital art directors need to be able to execute and nail the minor details. They can’t rely on storyboard artists, graphic designers and post shops to do the dirty work. They need more talents in their toolbox. Which makes complete sense. If you love design, you should know how to do it.

Digital isn’t linear. Traditional ads live in a bubble. They have a clear beginning and end. Once a commercial has been shot and edited, it is what it is. But anything developed for the web evolves. Before coming to AKQA, I’d never created a 40-page copy deck. But that’s what happens when a project has copy for a brand site, a Facebook page, online banners, digital promotions, and mobile apps. Not to mention all the other shapes that pixels can take.

In digital, measurability isn’t a grey area. It’s black and white. Traditional has the luxury of being cool, philosophical or humorous because it’s building brand equity and setting the long-term tone. But there’s not a single brand in the world that would rather be loved than sell their product. Effectiveness is something that has to be taken into consideration for every digital project. Before a digital campaign launches, benchmarks are set. It’s clear whether any given campaign is a success or a failure. So while traditional creatives may say their project is cool, digital creatives can say their project was effective. And only one of those things is not subjective.

Digital happens faster. It takes a while for a traditional campaign to go from brief to launch. Factors like a shooting schedule and media buy can really bloat a schedule. But a digital agency acts as a creative agency and a production shop under one roof. Producing a project can be much more efficient. With the tech team across the room, we can see progress as it happens, instead of relying on outside vendors. That means less waiting around before an idea goes live.

The dinosaurs are going extinct. Being outdated and reactionary isn’t a problem for every traditional agency. Some of them are doing fine. But a lot of them aren’t. Some of them have become the places where creatives go to die. (Maybe not die – that’s a little harsh – but wrap up a career in peace.) As a young creative, the last thing you want is to be influenced by jaded industry vets who have already checked out. Digital doesn’t have the dinosaur problem. The whole industry is too new. It draws the best talent. The most eager talent. It’s not just people into advertising. It’s people into the latest trends and technology. I chose AKQA because of the people. More smart, dedicated people under the same roof than I’d ever seen before. It was something I wanted to be a part of.

If you’re breaking into advertising, you have a choice to make. Traditional vs. digital. David vs. Goliath. The blue pill vs. the red one. There’s no doubt traditional agencies are learning from digital ones, trying to avoid extinction. While digital agencies are busier than ever and getting more traditional assignments. Then there are these so-called integrated agencies popping up left and right, at least on letterhead. True integration is easier in theory than practice. The most important thing is to find a place where you can do the work you want to do. And then kill it.

Notice anything else? Leave a comment.

Simplify.

That’s it.


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 this Movie 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 this banner 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.




This is the fourth in a series of guest posts by our pal Nate Archambault on his transition from traditional agencies to digital. Follow Nate on Twitter@NKArch.

It’s Time to Break Up the Team

(The latest in a series by Nate Archambault on traditional vs. digital agencies.)

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.

It’s time to break up the team.

Teams have made sense for a long time. Lots of great work has come from an art director and copywriter concepting together, bouncing ideas off each other. That’s one way good ideas become great ones. But the traditional team has a few holes. Every digital project has a different scope, requiring a different set of talents. It doesn’t make sense to handcuff one creative role to another. Some projects are design-heavy, requiring multiple designers but only a few quick consultations from a writer. Others need to be populated with content, requiring little design but a boatload of words. Like this Snickers microsite. All it needed was a Snacklish translation for every word in the English language.

Digital creative departments are stocked with more than ADs and CWs. There are graphic designers, information architects, experience designers and motion designers. Plus specialists in mobile, social media, strategy and tech. People are still bouncing ideas off each other, but it’s not a two-person match. Team chemistry has been reformulated. Now the creative department feels more like dodgeball. Everyone has a chance to be a gamechanger. In print or TV, stories are told through visuals (art direction) or messaging (copywriting). Art directors and copywriters have the monopoly on where ideas came from. But in digital, tech can drive the idea. Cool technology can be synonymous with great execution. Take last year’s launch of the Volkswagon GTI. AKQA created a mobile app to promote the car. That’s it. No paid media. Just cool technology. The launch was a huge success. And the two Silver Lions it won last week aren’t thanks to a CW/AD team locking themselves in an office for three weeks.

I still work with partners. But now I work with a bunch of them. Different ones every project. Monogamy isn’t always the answer. It’s time to embrace the creative orgy. Come prepared, ready to party and open-minded. The next big idea could come from anyone.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 2

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

Last week I recounted how interactive freelance projects set me up for the switch to digital. The lesson, if any: you’ve got to be focused to land the job you want. This week I’m going to talk about how digital ads come from a different place than traditional ones.
Digital agencies start with a digital foundation. They’re not founded by general agency ex-pats who wanted to give the next big thing a shot. They’re start-ups founded by people who were born and raised digital. HTML is their first language. A true digital shop is not an evolution of the traditional agency. It’s a whole new model. There’s no age-old battle of Creative vs. Account. Work developed at AKQA comes from an equal combination of Creative, Account, Strategy, Information Architecture (IA), User Experience (UX) and Technology. Everyone works together like one big pixilated family, and each discipline’s expertise helps create stronger product for the agency.
The age of integration is far from over. Integrated agencies are great in theory, but the practice is far from perfect. We’re in the midst of the first generation of integration. There will be growing pains. Some can pull it off, but most efforts fall a little short. Traditional agencies try to build interactive work with a traditional toolbox, and the nuts don’t always fit the bolts. At the same time, clients are starting to trust digital agencies, giving them a chance to produce offline work. There will always be some agencies that focus on digital or traditional, while others adapt to do all things for their clients. One of the first projects I worked on at AKQA involved more print, billboards and POP than digital work. But what did all that traditional media do? Lead back to a mobile site. Our work isn’t limited to the computer screen. It’s limited to the best medium that communicates what our clients want to say.
Concept is still king, but tech is crown prince. While most traditional ad agencies outsource production, most digital ad agencies have in-house tech talent capable of pulling off amazing work, no outside vendor needed. If crowdsourcing has taught us anything, it’s that just coming up with an idea isn’t enough. If an agency is going to succeed, it must know how to actually do something. When I worked in general agencies, producing in-house was a last resort. It didn’t matter if I was recording radio, editing video or folding fitted sheets; top-quality production value wasn’t there. That all changes when tech gets a role in the creative process. Then the talent comes in-house and becomes a strength, not a weakness.
Pixels have more flexibility than paper. One of my favorite qualities of working in digital is that if I can dream it up, my agency can bring it to life online. Digital ads aren’t limited to predictable formulas like print and TV. There are expandable rich-media banners, site takeovers and microsites. Mobile sites and mobile apps. Social media strategies that span Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Viral, seeded, user-generated and branded content. Flash animation, video-tagging and augmented reality. These examples are already out there, and digital work continues to break new ground every other day. More often than not, the only boundaries of a digital agency are the creative team’s imagination.
Out with the obtrusive and in with the engaging. Content that hunts down and interrupts the viewer doesn’t cut it anymore. People have too many options of how to consume media. If content is going to succeed, users must choose to spend time with it. Good digital campaigns blur the line between ad campaign and product, like how this Smirnoff media player gives DJ Tiesto fans more of what they want. Interactive can be a tool, offering functionality and serving a purpose beyond pitching a brand. The ultimate goal of any campaign that lives online should be to empower the user. The digital process starts with the consumer, not with the product or media buy. That’s what makes it so effective.
These are just a few of the ways that digital agencies operate differently than traditional ones. If you’ve noticed others, drop a note in the comments. Next week, I’ll go over some things I’ve noticed about how the role of a creative in a digital agency is different from a creative’s role at a traditional agency. Until then, make yourself familiar with this list of the top 20 digital campaigns of all time.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 1

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.

Guest Poster: Nate

For the next couple months, we’re going to have a guest blogger who will be posting on Mondays. His name is Nate, and the reason we’ve asked him to lend his insights is because Nate is making the jump from a “traditional” agency environment to that of a digital agency. Of course, lines have blurred and it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish the two, but Nate’s new gig is at AKQA, a shop that is decidedly digital and decidedly good.

So we thought we’d ask Nate,
Nate, what’s it like to be a copywriter at a digital agency?

A little about Nate:
Syracuse Ad Program >>>>
Chicago Portfolio School >>>>
TBWA/Chiat, NY >>>>
Publicis, NY >>>>
Freelance >>>>>
AKQA.

He looks something like this >>>>

Welcome, Nate. Thanks in advance for your insights.