Going Where the Talent Is

I’ve been invited to the recruiter session at the VCU Brandcenter this week. I’m looking forward to seeing the work coming out of that place. Brett McKenzie from ihaveanidea.org blogged about this event last year, and it looks pretty intense. When I graduated from portfolio school, “online advertising” meant taking your print headlines and putting them in banner format. I left school with a black briefcase full of double-page spreads. Not sure that student book would get me a job in today’s market.


April Fools and a Great Book Piece

As an April Fool, designer Matt Stevens rebranded the second biggest retailer in the country, and launched a site announcing the change. Whether you like the rebrand or not, you have to admire the scope Stevens put to the project. He’s not just plopping new logos on storefronts and hats. He’s put some thought to everything from gift cards to aisle signage to NASCAR sponsorship. (He’s had practice. He’s done this before.)

He’s not a student. But more and more, I’m seeing student books that include not just ads, but an entire rebrand for a company. Not a portfolio full of them. Just one, maybe two, nestled among some other great work. For me, these books tend to edge out student books that are just full of ads. It shows a greater depth of thinking, and a desire to take on something bigger than a double-page spread.

Take a look at the work Stevens did. And see if it gives you any inspiration for something you could do even better.

Young Ones Portfolio Review

One of the very best things I did as a portfolio student was attend the One Club’s student portfolio review sessions. As a first year student, I had Mike Shine, Bob Barrie, Sally Hogshead and a bunch of other marquee names look at my work. I wasn’t looking for a job (at least not that year). I just wanted to hone my book. And in a single afternoon, I had feedback from about 30 different top tier professionals.

You hear one thing, you can dismiss it. You hear it twice, still better to trust your gut. But to get specific feedback about the work in your book, and have it repeated over and over by the people who drive this industry does wonders for the bubble you might be creating your book in. It definitely worked for me.

So put Monday, May 9 on your calendars. Even if you’re not in New York (I was eight hours away in Richmond), it’s worth the road trip. It won’t be cheap. But it should be worth it. Keep an eye out for admission prices and registration here.

The Student’s Paradox

I just stumbled upon the three new channels Mini is featuring on Pandora: Snow, Asphalt, and Dirt Road. Really fun to listen to. And as one of my friends pointed out, “It’s the little things that make up a brand.”

Here’s the problem: As much as I love this idea, if I saw it in a student book, my reaction would be a resounding “Eh.” Not because it’s not brilliant. It is. But if I experienced it as an idea in a student book, and not as an actual, working piece of communication, it would have been entirely forgettable.

It’s not really fair, I know.
If your student book had an entire campaign about how Pandora is now integrated into each Mini, and a really good print or web campaign were the focal point, and these Pandora channels were more of a sidebar, that would be great. (In fact, that’s pretty much what Mini, and I’m guessing their agency Butler, Shine, Stern + Partners did.)
But it needs to be pointed out again and again that peppering your student portfolio with single digital ideas like this isn’t going to make your book stand out. In fact, they will probably take your book down a notch.

Your Book vs. Your Agency

So you’ve probably already heard that the new CEO of CP+B is Andrew Keller (seen below taking a punch from CCO Rob Reilly).

Here’s an interesting quote from Andrew in Creativity:

“At the very beginning, I felt like I did something different than what the industry teaches us to do…I wasn’t thinking about my book, I was thinking about how to make the agency the best it could be.”
This goes against advice I’ve given in this blog, and to students my entire career. I still think it’s a solid philosophy. But I also think it’s a pretty interesting approach Andrew took. (And probably one of a ton of reasons why he is where he is today.)
What do you think? Who should you be working for?

The Mentor Effect

Having taught a lot of portfolio school students, I can say that what most junior creatives want – almost more than anything else – is a good industry mentor.

And having worked in advertising agencies for a long time, I can say most junior creatives aren’t really getting what they want.

So several months ago, I started talking to junior creatives, students and creative directors about their expectations of each other. Turns out there are some gaps no one’s really addressing. That’s “The Mentor Gap,” and you can see what I mean in the SlideShare presentation below. And having a good mentor (or being one) is more than just lucking out or being a good person. There are some ramifications for entire agencies. I call that “The Mentor Effect.”

You can read the whole report here, or just watch the intro below. Since these points apply to portfolio school students, junior creatives, CDs and even agency principals, I think it’s worth discussing. So if you like what you read, feel free to tweet it, post it, share it. Thanks.


Agency Web Sites and Your Portfolio

A friend of mine is helping her agency put together their website, and she wrote to pick my brain about what I liked and disliked about agency sites.

First of all, I think the work is the most important part of any agency site. This is especially true if the site itself can be counted among the agency’s best work.

As of this writing, here are what I’d consider the best agency websites of all time:

Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Boone Oakley


What makes them remarkable? Two things: 1. Innovation, 2. Bravery. It’s not easy to pull something like this off. But if you can, you win.

Some agencies are incorporating newsfeeds and their own blogs – not buried somewhere in the backwaters of the menu, but right on their landing page. If you have interesting things to say (or if other people are saying it for you) it says a lot about who you are. My favorites include:

Butler Shine Stern & Partners

The Martin Agency

Zeus Jones

Sites that have great design are worthy of note. So are sites with some level of interactivity.

I’m not a huge fan of agency sites that show introductory videos on the landing page. Nor am I a fan of background music. I think the more features an agency tries to build into their site, the slower (and consequently, the less interesting) it gets. I don’t have time to wait for your site to load. I’m sure your potential clients don’t either.

Sites need to have personality. You can go overboard with this. Or not. I guess it depends on the type of clients you want to attract.

What does this have to do with you? An agency site is basically the portfolio for the office. When you’re putting together your book, you should ask yourself if it’s as good, as memorable, and as innovative as the best sites you’ve seen.

Like the best ads, and even the best student portfolios, I really appreciate agency sites that are simple and direct.

What do you think makes an agency site good? Have any favorites I’ve missed?

An Interview with Lionel Carreon

This is a great quote from an insightful interview with Lionel Carreon, senior creative recruiter at AKQA (full interview here):

What do you see over and over in portfolios that makes you cringe?
Thankfully, there isn’t much that is consistently cringe-worthy, apart from the occasional misguided idea. What I have noticed is that digital components have become as much a checklist item just like a TV spot or a print ad. They are often included in student campaigns for the sake of having them, often without any relevancy to the overall brand message and lacking any true innovation or stokes of genius. Two years ago it was an iPhone app, last year it was Twitter, this year Foursquare.

Very relevant to what I often see in my portfolio development class as well. Especially when it comes to that final quarter, students are often looking to check boxes. If it’s not a great concept, it doesn’t belong in your book, period.

Last night in class, someone set up a concept with “This is a Facebook idea.” Alarm bells went off right then. If you’re not setting up the idea with an insight about the brand and/or consumer, you should ask yourself if there is an idea. I heard the same theme consistently from speakers at Cannes this year: TECHNOLOGY IS NOT AN IDEA.

I completely understand the need and want to show that you are up on the latest technology, but without a relevant idea, it’s nothing. Ironically, agencies often do the exact same thing when they pitch new business–at the last second, they’ll say, “Shit! What’s our Twitter idea? We need a Twitter idea!” No, you don’t. You need a good idea, and maybe Twitter will be the best way to bring it to life.

Questions for your Portfolio

I’m teaching a portfolio development class at Miami Ad School again this quarter. For many of the students, it’s their final quarter of getting their portfolio in shape before heading out to look for a job. For the first class, I put together a page of questions to ask yourself about your portfolio before you take it out there. Let me know what you think or if you have anything to add.