[SPECIAL GUEST POST FROM THE VCU BRANDCENTER’S ASHLEY SOMMARDAHL.]
[SPECIAL GUEST POST FROM THE VCU BRANDCENTER’S ASHLEY SOMMARDAHL.]
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.
Q: As a junior, how realistic is it to get to work on anything other than the “bill paying” projects?
Greg says: That depends on the size of the agency. If you’re in a small shop with only a few teams, you’ll work on pretty much everything. If you join a larger shop, the chances diminish. That’s why you’ll hear the mantra, “Take advantage of every opportunity.” You only get to work on tray liners? Make them tray liners worth entering into the One Show. You’ve only got a table tent? Make it more than a table tent.
Jim says: I wholeheartedly agree. Every project counts. And if it’s a tray liner, do the best tray liner anyone has ever seen. Then bring ideas for posters and napkins and in-store posters and anything else you can think of. I was offered my very first job because of an assignment to re-design the McDonald’s employee application during an internship. My partner and I wanted more stuff for our books, so we did in-store posters, drive-thru posters, menu signs and, yes, tray liners. The creative was okay, but the creative directors were just impressed that we took the initiative.
As a junior, you want to prove that you’re a source of great ideas. And nobody’s going to fault you if you say, “I know the assignment didn’t call for stunts, but we had this idea we thought could be really cool.” Just MAKE SURE YOU DO THE ASSIGNMENT first. It’s not “We didn’t want to do tray liners so we did a spot.” It’s “We did these tray liners AND had this other idea.”
Q: How long should you do that before you can expect to start building your professional book?
Greg says: You start building your professional book the day you start earning a paycheck. Not feeling like you’re getting enough great creative? You’ve got two choices: 1) quit and find another job, 2) start doing great creative. Give the clients something more than they asked for. If it’s good enough, most agencies will pay to run and enter it. Or go out and get a pro bono client. I shortlisted at Cannes this year with a client that I went out and found on my own. I had some great creative directors and producers help bring it to life. But if I hadn’t made the cold call, I wouldn’t have it on my reel.
Jim says: Keep in mind, high-profile assignments aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. There’s a lot to be said about the tiny assignment nobody cares about. As a writer, I LOVE to do radio because (and shhhh, this is a secret), nobody gives a shit about radio. Creative directors nod along and check their blackberries when you present it, then it’s usually a junior client approving it. Compared with political, high-profile projects where you might have 9 creative reviews before the work even leaves the agency, assignments that nobody else cares about can be rewarding in more ways than one.
Yesterday, LC posted a few very good questions:
“Once you’ve got a job, how long is it cool to keep student/spec work in there? And is it mandatory to put produced work in your book? What if you’ve done TV, but it isn’t anything of note. Having the experience is valuable to a potential employer, I’m sure. But what if the spot isn’t book-worthy?”
Keeping Student Work
After 8 years, I still have one student campaign in my book. I’m proud of it. I’ve been told by people I respect to keep it in. I’ve even tried (unsuccessfully) to sell it to the client to make it legitimate (and so I could enter it into award shows). It’s not a showcase piece anymore, but I still include it. That said, I think that’s pretty rare.
Produced Work vs. Spec
It’s not mandatory to put produced work in your book. I interviewed with Guy Seese when he was at Cole + Weber, and he said he thought it was cool that I had spec work in my book. When Mark Figliulo hired me at Y&R, it was partially because of the same spec campaign. That said, professional spec work looks much different than student spec work.
Putting Subpar TV on Your Reel
If you’ve done TV, but it isn’t anything of note, have a reel for it, but don’t tout it as “your reel.” If you show someone “your reel” and it’s full of impressive spots you’re communicating two things:
1) you think it’s work worth showing (bad)
2) you can’t sell a great idea to the client (even worse)
For my first two years at Y&R, I only did promotional TV for Sears. I had done over 50 spots where the main message was a laundry list of things like “Get 20% off sweaters!…All treadmills half off!…Plus free delivery on all home appliances over $299…Hurry! This sale won’t last long!” I had a ton of TV experience, and nothing on my reel to show for it.
But I did keep a CD of the work in case anyone asked. And in two interviews during that time, people did ask. It’s interesting to note I didn’t get either job (and because I ended up being able to do great work on Sears, I’m glad). TV experience is great. But only great TV experience is worth putting on your reel.
A couple of posts ago I asked “Who will you work for?” My answer (which most of you hit on in some form or another) is this:
I work for my book.
It sounds selfish. Ego-centric. A little self-absorbed. But it’s the only answer I’ve found that really makes sense to me.
When I work for my book…
I win. Because I know I’m pushing myself creatively, and I’m more likely to end up with a breakthrough idea. If my end result doesn’t garner any awards, I’ll still know that I didn’t phone it in, and I’m that much sharper for the next assignment.
The agency wins. For all the reasons listed above. The agency gets another number by its name in the index of the One Show and/or I’ve become that more valuable to the office as an employee.
My creative director wins. For all the reasons heretofore listed.
The client wins. I can’t do great creative if the client’s not benefiting from the effort. It’s not creative if it doesn’t sell. And it probably won’t sell if it’s not creative. Also, outside the industry, when a great ad appears, it’s the client who becomes famous, not you. Happy to live with that.
Your alma matter wins. No matter what portfolio school you went to, they get to say that you went there as a recruiting device.
The industry wins. I think we’d all agree at least 90% of the advertising out there is garbage. Work for your book and you’ll automatically be in the top 10%. Better yet, you can be part of the effort to push the percentage of bad advertising down to 89%.
My bank account wins. Keep your eye on the ball. But, yes, this too will be affected.
Work for your book. It’s the only thing guaranteed to follow you to the next gig.
“You can’t do well in investments unless you think independently. And the truth is, you’re neither right nor wrong because people agree with you. You’re right because your facts and your reasoning are right. In the end that’s all that counts.”
– Warren Buffett (interview with Fortune, 11/11/02)
Now, replace the word “investments” with the word “advertising.” Is the statement still true?