"Better Than His Book"

I’ve been looking at a lot of portfolios lately,* and I’ve heard the same phrase about five times this week. Someone has sent me a book on behalf of someone else and commented, “They’re better than their book.”

I don’t know what to do with that. I totally trust the people passing these books on to me, but I can’t help but ask why the person’s book isn’t as good as they supposedly are. “They’re better than their book” is like saying “Our product is better than our ads make it seem.”

Your book represents you. It represents the way you think. So if your book isn’t as good as you are, you’d better get to work on making it better. If you’re not getting the opportunities, do something on the side. Give yourself some fake assignments. You’re competing with people whose books are probably better than they are. That’s the reality of the situation.

If your book isn’t as good as you are, then your book could be better. So why isn’t it?

*We’re hiring all creative levels. Drop me a line or send me your stuff if you’re interested.


Strategy as a Starting Point

The summer between my first and second years of portfolio school, I interned at GSD&M. (I don’t think GSD&M has hosted interns from my school since. Make of that what you will.)

We knew the agency was involved in a high-profile pitch, so we asked if we could help out. We were given the same brief as the other four or five teams, and went to work.

At the initial internal presentation, we went first. (Whether we were over eager or being picked on, I don’t recall.) About halfway through our stack of paper the group creative director asked us to stop. He’d seen enough. We were a little off strategy.

That was more than a little crushing. But the real insult was when he went next and presented an ad that was simply the strategy statement as a headline with a relevant photo. Not everyone oohed and aahed. But a few did.

We brought in a ream of envelope-pushing ideas, and you just art direct the brief?! Geez, I’ll be a GCD if that’s all you have to do.

I learned two things from this experience:

  1. Anything art directed is going to have more impact than something drawn with a Sharpie. In group presentations, quality is going to beat quantity. (That said, don’t waste your time laying out concepts when you should be thinking.)
  2. The strategy as a headline is actually a great place to start. And in retrospect, I think that was what the GCD was trying to do. It keeps you from veering off course. And when you’re able to root the execution in strategic thinking, it becomes substantially more sellable internally, to the client, and to the public. (That said, don’t use the strategy statement as a headline as anything but a jumping off point.)

Tools to Help Small Business

You will find a lot of frustration in the ad business. There will be many many people saying “You can’t do that because…” There will be many opportunities to throw up your hands and settle for something less than stellar. I want to share a time when I did just that and wished I hadn’t.

Years ago, I did a stint on the U.S. Postal Service. They were a tough client, with lots of layers and lots of rules. Probably no real surprise there–they’re the government. Anyway, we were trying to get some print ads out the door for a line of products meant to help small businesses. After rounds of rejected taglines, I just gave them a very straightforward one: “Tools for small business.” Approved.

Then legal chimed in. “Tools for small business” was being used (I think by IBM). I hate legal feedback like that. How could someone trademark such a simple line? Fine, I thought. “Tools TO HELP small business.” How’s that? Done. Approved.

A couple weeks later, I’m walking down the street in Chicago and I see a mail truck with “Tools to help small business” painted on the side. Turns out, all of the mail trucks in Chicago had my line on them. In fact, every postal service truck in every major city in the country had my line on it.

Was it a terrible line? I can think of worse. But it was a lazy line. And had I known it would end up being the most visible thing I’d ever write, I sure would have spent a little more time on it. Just something to remember when you’re tired of writing lines. You never know where they might end up.