The Secret Under 30 Reel

When you go in for a job interview, you should already be familiar with the agency’s work. You know what Super Bowl spots they’ve produced, what innovations they’ve been making in social media, what campaigns have put them on the map.

But when you’re interviewing, ask this question:

“What kind of work have your creatives under 30 been producing?”

The agency probably doesn’t have an official under 30 reel. But you should still ask the question.

Because 45-year-old seasoned creatives are usually the ones who get the plum assignments. They produce the TV spots that run during the Oscars and the NCAA Championship games. They do the groundbreaking social work. They’re the ones who get written up in Adweek the most often.

Part of that is because they have a ton of experience that helps them work better and faster. Part of that is because they’ve paid their dues at the agency and in the industry.

 

But ask an agency, “Can I see some of the work your under 30 creatives have produced?” and you’ll get an idea of the kind of opportunities that particular agency has in store for you.

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First Impressions

Ads have to work fast. Almost light speed.

They have to be simultaneously clear and intriguing.

If they’re muddled, irrelevant, or boring, no one will pay attention.

This is equally true for ads in student portfolios.

Just 30 seconds before writing this post, I was looking at a student’s book online. The first four examples were case studies that looked more like brochures than ads. They weren’t ads. They were explanations of executions.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have time to sit and read paragraph after paragraph designed to help me better understand the problem, the target audience, what they currently think, what they should think. That’s a creative brief. And I don’t have time to read your creative brief.

I have time to read a few quick headlines that are thoughtful, engaging, clever, provoking, interesting, and clear.

I want to see your creative.

I don’t have time to read your explanations.

“But print is dead,” you say. “Digital solutions need more explanation. They need to be set up.”

Fine. Then set them up. Quickly. And clearly. Then get out of the way, and let the work speak for itself.

And never discount a quick, well-written headline. It’s the easiest way of showing me you can think. If you can write a great piece of copy, I’m willing to bet you can create any kind of compelling content a client needs you to.

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This is what reading paragraphs of set-up copy feels like.

Don’t phone it in.

I’m going to talk about voice overs first. Then I’m going to talk about student portfolios. Walk with me.

I just listened to about 190 voice over auditions. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s not the most glamorous part of being a creative. But it is necessary.

Here’s the thing: voice over auditions have grown much sloppier over the years. Here are some major glitches I heard in this last round of 190:

  • Echo in the room.
  • Talent flubs a line and doesn’t bother to re-record.
  • I can tell the talent has a cheap mic.
  • I can tell the talent is recording with their iPhone.
  • Volume is mixed way too low.
  • Volume is mixed way too high.
  • Talent didn’t read the casting specs I wrote (e.g., an energetic 20-year-old guy auditioning for the role of a laid-back 50-year-old.) 
  • I hear the mic stand wiggling in the background.
  • Sounds like talent was on a plane. Maybe it was just someone vacuuming in the background.

There’s one reason why voice over auditions have grown sloppier: technology. Mics are less expensive. Garageband. Apps. It’s easier to set up a home studio. It used to be VO talent would go into a professional studio and record their takes where nothing was left to chance. I’m all for home studios and convenience. But not when it allows you to be lazy.

If the talent’s voice is exceptional, I can overlook poor quality. It’s just an audition, after all. But if there’s even a question (and with 190 voices to choose from, there always is), I go with quality. Because quality shows me that the talent cares. They care about their career, this particular opportunity, their craft, and my script.

Now, here’s how this applies to student portfolios: technology can make you lazy, too.

Art directors can search Getty Images and plug in cheap stock. Copywriters can use a Microsoft Word thesaurus. Creative teams can use nicely designed printouts and Keynote presentations to sell an okay idea without really pushing it as far as it can go conceptually.

Whether you’re a student trying to get your portfolio on a creative director’s desk or a creative director trying to win a pitch, quality and craft can be the difference between a win and a loss. As Sally Hogshead says, “The difference between an A- book and an A+ book is all the difference in the world.”

This is your career we’re talking about. Don’t phone it in.

Highlights from the Maker Generation

Last month, I was in Richmond, Virginia for the recruiting session at the VCU Brandcenter. I saw a ton of books – copywriters, art directors, and creative technologists. I continue to be amazed by the Maker Generation. When I graduated VCU forever ago, I left with a suitcase-shaped black portfolio full of double-page magazine spec ads that had been trimmed with an X-acto blade and spray mounted to black mounting boards. But today, if students have an idea, they go make it. Here are three examples from the VCU Brandcenter recruiting session that stuck with me (shown with permission).  

banethatcher.com

After Margaret Thatcher died, Maddison Bradley and Jon Robbins were listening to some of her quotes and thought, “These sound like the kind of things Bane would say.” So they created banethatcher.com. I don’t know British Conservative politics of the mid-1980’s well enough to comment, but I’m amazed that they pulled this together in a couple of days.

Harry Potter Ipsum

When Olivia Abtahi and Christina Chern needed some lorem ipsum, they thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if this weren’t just gibberish, but Harry Potter gibberish?” So they created Harry Potter Ipsum. Feel free to accio your own text on their joint Most Auspicious.

Dragon Grips

Sam Cantor, Nick Marx, and Hunter Pechin didn’t just go to portfolio school to make spec ads. They came up with Dragon Grips, an actual, functioning product. (That just happens to be surrounded with some well-thought-out marketing.)


“People’s Choice Award” Winner: DragonGrips from Nick on Vimeo.

How I Judge A Book

Jim and I were just at the VCU Brandcenter portfolio review. As usually, there was some very impressive work on display. By my count, I looked at 22 art directors, 22 copywriters, and 10 creative technologists. Some were good. A few were great. All made me feel I’m glad I graduated when I did, because this generation is a lot more competitive than mine was.

Let me explain why.

When I look at a student book, I typically look for two things:

1. Craft. Can the writer write? Is the art director a real art director, or just an ad director who knows Photoshop. Craft shows passion, and it’s easy to see who has it.

2. Thinking. Is the strategy smart? Or self-indulgent?

But now there’s a third thing I look for:

3. Jealousy.

Let me explain.

When I left school, I had double-page magazine spreads spray-mounted to black boards. That was it. And we all got jobs based on how good those spray-mounted ideas were.

But this is the Maker Generation. If you have an idea for an app, a website, a product, some kind of technology, chances are, you can go out and physically make it. Or at least have it made. And I’m pretty jealous of that.

So if you’re putting your book together and you have an idea for an app, don’t just mock up what the program would look like on your iPad, go make it. That’s what a lot of the students at the VCU Brandcenter were doing. And it was pretty inspiring.

Advice from Maria

If you’re a student putting your book together, here’s some advice from Maria Scileppi, director of 72U:
Lead with personal projects. That’s what people really want to see; how you’re thinking, how you’re solving problems, how you see the world. Show the process if you can. And then have three or four campaigns to show that you can blow out an idea. But personal projects are a must, and I would lead with that. That’s how people get hired. Agencies want to see that you can make advertising. But what gets you hired is the personal project, because it resonates with us. It’s contributing to the culture. It’s not just giving a message. It’s being relevant in culture. And that’s what advertising wants to do. That’s what brands want to do. That’s why we connect more to these personal projects. They’re a reaction to the world we live in.