We had hung out once before, working the bar at a portfolio evening and after a long night and some drinks we had jokingly said that we should work together one day. I didn’t think she would actually want to work with me and that was just the booze talking. So I shrugged it off.
Then, the following year, I got a brief. We all had briefs. She followed me and called out. She said she would be keen to get together and come up with some ideas. Sheepishly, I agreed.
And it’s funny because a little over a year and a half ago, when I started this blog, I was unemployed and my art director and I had just broken up.
I found myself evaluating my passion for the line of work I’m in.
Now, one-hundred posts later, I’m in an identical situation.
And once again, I’m re-evaluating how much I love what I do.
How perfect is that for an element of symmetry in the blog?
Two months ago, I triumphantly returned to New Zealand after spending close to a year and a half working in Malaysia and travelling to various places around the world.
For a month I chilled out and finished polishing off my portfolio.
People kept asking me if I was working and I would reply in a way that suggested that I taught Fonzie all he knew.
"Nah, man, I’m in no hurry. Just chillin’ get used to things again. No worries. Eyyyy!"
But eventually, a job had to be sought out and my unemployment officially started for me.
I’ve emailed, follow-up emailed, called once, twice, left messages to no avail.
These Creative Directors are about as easy to pin down as a feather in a tornado.
All the while, the niggling questions and comments of concerned family members verbally prod me on a daily basis.
"You know, there’s a lot of marketing jobs out there…"
I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again, perhaps with the added drama of a foot stamp and an index finger pointed skyward; I will not turn to marketing even if the money is better.
Frankly, I’d sooner pass kidney stones for a living.
Money isn’t an issue, frankly. If I can make rent and my phone bill with enough left over for a decent burger every now and again, I’m sweet as.
You hear the same old crap again and again; junior creatives getting exploited and under paid for the work they do because the profession is so ridiculously competitive.
Yeah, that sucks, I guess.
But it’s how things have been for years and years; I’ve read it in book after book.
The bottom line is you’re still doing what you love.
There are also plenty of times where you watch people who remorselessly and unemotionally piss all over your work and tell you to start again.
It knocks you down hard enough for the ground at rock bottom to start to crack and give way.
But you get back up again because you’re still doing what you love.
Not a “creative”?
What do you love? Chocolate? Watching movies? Having sex?
Imagine if you did any of those things and someone said “I don’t like the way you did that. Do it again.”
Would you oblige?*
Hell, I’d give anything to be sitting in a bar venting about those very same problems.
I’ve arrived at a point in my mind where my career path is so narrowly fixed on advertising, that you have to turn sideways and shimmy to traverse it.
Sooner or later, working hard over the desk at home will cross fade into working harder over a desk in an unorthodoxly decorated office by desk lamp light, the midnight oil drooling lazily down the night’s candle.
Nick Toh is an art director at Lucideas. I worked with him on many projects during my time at the agency. He is insanely funny and usually doesn’t mean to be. He has something to say on almost every subject, which earned him the nickname, Nickipedia.
As a side project, I created this blog to show people the hilarity that ensues at Lucideas, caused single-handedly by this one guy.
It seems that there is a new reason to quit the advertising industry each week.
It could be you’re fed up that at the end of the week, there were more days than hours sleep you got.
It might be that nagging Account Executive has brought the deadline forward for the last time.
Maybe it’s the fact that if you’re not talking about advertising when with your friends, you’re not talking.
A lot of the time, as far as I’ve noticed, it’s the clients.
They can be real bastards sometimes.
Between demanding the work be done yesterday, cutting the budget and wanting the logo to be large enough so that the magazine ad will be noticed by the guy walking his dog 500 meters down the street, dealing with clients can be taxing.
A lot of the time, these people don’t seem to be in tune with what people like and respond to, or what will make their brand stand out from the thousands of others they battle for attention each day.
They cower at any idea that is remotely controversial, or unique and insist we tailor their communications they way everyone else is doing it or how they’ve always done it since the business started in 1946.
They are the reason we don’t get to do cool work.
If you agree, you just activated my trap card.*
"Cool work gets done because of cool clients."
This is a common mistake that most junior creatives tend to make. I shake my head in disappointment to think I strongly believed this once.
Every single client in the whole world is shit to deal with.
Yes, even the one you just thought about with really cool advertising; yes, the Skittles, the Old Spices and the Coca Colas of this world are all crap and wouldn’t know an really creative and awesome idea if it crawled in their ears and introduced themselves.
There’s no getting away from it. Those marketing people were simply not taught to think like those at an advertising agency does. They think about making money and selling product. That’s why ideas get whittled down.
The agencies they work with bust themselves to give them work that is so phenomenal, that even when it’s whittled down to something a little less that the client can deal with, it’s still diamond-studded gold.
I like to think that Wieden+Kennedy pitched something far more fantastically creative to Old Spice than 'Old Spice Guy: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like', but when the client had a go at it, rejected some of the more outrageous ideas and changed a few things, they were still left with a piece of creative treasure.
That’s what happens when the only thing the client has to choose from, is quality or more quality.
My theory may not be right, and Old Spice might be on the same page as W+K and a dream to work with, but that’s the picture I prefer to paint.
I’ve been in numerous presentation situations where the strategy was to present a really good idea and a safe idea to under sell and make the good idea look better. Then everyone gets pissed off when the client chooses the safe idea.
That’s easy to solve. Don’t give them a choice between a good idea and a bad idea.
Clients don’t think like you. More times that not, they’ll choose the idea you think is bad.
To further illustrate:
Last year my art director, Kishan and I were working at JWT Auckland. We were doing a small job for Nestle as part of a campaign for Milky Bar to search for the next Milky Bar Kid.
Our task was simple: do up some concepts for an internet banner ad to inform people that the top 10 kids who auditioned were chosen and it was time to vote for the winner.
We did a whole bunch, naturally, and two were put forward. One was a bland concept with straight copy using the stock campaign imagery. The other was a neat little animation about a classic western ‘baddie’ dressed in black coming out of the saloon, looking around and then jumping into a nearby barrel and the line comes up:
The Milky Bar Kid is gonna be back in town.
Choose who it’s going to be here.
Or something to that effect.
Also, there was little budget for this so, the illustrations I did would have to be used. The concept was funny, it was likable, and it meant that something I drew could get on the internet.
I was excited. The Account Director happily took it to sell.
She came back and said the client bought the safe, bland one.
A good client can recognise a cool idea.
A better suit can sell a cool idea to a hesitant client.
The best creative can work around a client that still says no.
Basically, my long term goal is to one day (hopefully in roughly 12-15 years) be a Creative Director of a sweet agency.
If you were to talk to many creatives my age at once, that life goal gets really old quick.
But it’s my goal and even though the needle on my experience dial points just above ‘Fuck All’, I’ve taken to already preparing myself for the role.
This means I’ve carefully watched and learned from the CDs I’ve already had the privilege to work for in my short, but illustrious career to date.
There are a number of qualities that I both admire and dislike in CDs I’ve observed or just heard about that I wish to either emulate or avoid.
However, I tend to think of them as I see them and say to myself,
"I want to be just like that when I’m older."
"I must not let myself become like that when I get older."
So I shall talk about these qualities one at a time.
Starting with one of the most important, in my book.
From what I’ve learned, if a creative feels comfortable with their CD, then they’ll show them any old crap they’re working on and seek an honest opinion, the way it should be.
Alas, sometimes the creative is shit-scared for their CD for a number of reasons, and so they self-judge themselves heavily and end up presenting what they think are their best two ideas, or at least what ever that they think is worthy.
Sometimes, this may be due to something that the CD simply cannot help. For instance, if the CD is incredibly successful and influential and thus as intimidating as the meathead dating the girl you’re crushing on.
I know I’ve been there, I’ve worked for a CD who I could only dream of working with in my uni days. When that time did decide to grant itself to me, all I thought about was not disappointing him. All he had to do was enter the room and I’d be sweating bullets faster than a gatling gun.
This can be good for a creative; a nice motivational kick every day. But it’s a bit too far when you panic at the thought of showing the ideas you’ve come up with to them.
Other times, the CD is just gruff and speaks their mind, no matter who gets wounded and maimed in the process. That probably works for some, for the rest it has us trembling so much we can’t hold our Moleskines properly.
Being able to simple stroll into your CD’s office and spit across some first thoughts at them without taking a second one is a crucial factor to a young creative’s development, in my humble opinion.
I had a CD once who had approachability down to an art. He would saunter into the office, ask us how we were and not even ask to see our ideas sometimes. When we offered, he would simply shrug and say,
"Yeah, sure. I mean, if you’re ready. No rush."
And just like that, we’d be at ease.
And no anxiety meant less pressure.
It also meant a desire to impress, as opposed to a desire not to screw up.
Big difference. Especially when you’re talking about creative productivity.
All, in my eyes, dependent on how approachable you are as a CD.
Despite knowing this he couldn’t help falling in love.
Well, that’s all well and good for the romantics out there, but it’s bloody silly when I think about it.
Mind you, I think about it with a degree of hindsight. I’m reminded about the silliest thing I’ve ever done in my young love life.
I was on a school field trip in Rome. One of the girls in the group and I grew close.
Skipping past all the awkward talking about each other to our friends and each other’s friends, I asked this chick out in St. Peter’s Basilica, as you do.
She was the first girl I had ever asked out.
So, naturally, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
We spent the first day holding hands and sitting in the same chair together.
Her friends jokingly asked me what my intentions were.
"Oh, long term. For sure. She’s great."
I guess I meant it at the time.
On the second day, we were walking down the Via Nationale and we got the idea to buy each other gifts to commemorate the wonderful event of us finding one another.
I thought I’d be suave and go with jewelry.
No necklaces. Nothing was more important than her Virgin Mary necklace her mother gave her.
She didn’t like bracelets, either…
We stopped by a jewelry store to have a look. We spotted a diamond ring that was going for €89 (NZ$250).
I bought it for her.
*NOTE* Can I just say, that at the time I was a tourist and had lots of money in my pocket, so I had no real sense of value.
I said to her,
"I know this cost a bit, but it just shows how cool* I think you are and how I think this is gonna last a long time."
I told my friend about it.
"You’re a dumbass."
"Dude, you don’t just give a chick a ring after being with her for two days."
He told my other friends.
"Wow, that was stupid."
"It’s not what it looks like! It’s just a present."
"That was stupid present."
Eventually, my parents found out.
"Oh, for Christ’s sake, Daniel…"
Long story short, I realised about a month or so after coming back from the trip that the relationship could’ve been something more akin to a holiday fling and I broke up with her.
Thankfully, she gave the ring back** and I was able to get (most) of my money back.
The point is, I made the mistake that a lot of creatives tend to make.
I committed to the first good thing that came along, as soon as it came along.
Thinking about why we creatives do this and thinking about my past romantic ineptitudes, I can gauge an understanding:
A lot of the time, creatives go a long time without a great idea. Even though we put the effort into finding one, it usually doesn’t come our way. Then, when our minds do start to come up with something decent, we get excited.
We get so amazed by the fact a good idea had come our way, we jump to use it. Usually never stopping to consider how good it really is under the glamour of the initial reaction.
Others around us, like our colleagues, might say,
"Yeah, it’s a nice idea, but don’t just go full on with it, you’ve only known it for a few minutes. Try out other ideas, look elsewhere, see what else there is."
And you come back with,
"Nah man, this is it. I’m pretty happy with this one."
It takes someone higher up, more experienced, whom you respect, like your boss or Creative Director to point out,
"The idea just doesn’t work. Sure, there’s flare, but it doesn’t have depth."
That’s when the illusion shatters for you. And you slowly start to realise the things the idea lacks. Pretty soon, you’re sick of the idea and the thought of working on it repulses you. You finally make the decision to dump it.
Because you were so infatuated with this first idea, you didn’t consider others and all your precious time was put into nothing with nothing to fall back on in the end.
And so you have to start again, alone, without an idea.
Sure, there are those times where people come up with a great idea and everything fits, first time around. But you never use that as a model to follow, that’s just a moment when the stars align and people call out buzz words like ‘fate’ or ‘serendipity’.
It’s always good to make sure you’ve assessed all your angles and options before going with an idea to go all the way to execution with it. You may not invest as much as a diamond ring, but then again, you won’t always get it given back to you.
Creatives should heed Elvis when he says ‘only fools rush in’.
No, it’s not romantic if you can’t help falling in love with it.
*A word to young guys in love with someone. Never buy jewelry for a girl you think is ‘cool’. If that’s the only adjective you can come up with, put your wallet back in your pocket.
"Believe in your fucking self.
Stay up all fucking night.
Work outside your fucking habits.
Know when to fucking speak up.
Don’t fucking procrastinate.
Get over your fucking self.
Keep fucking learning.
Form follows fucking function.
A computer is a Lite-Brite for bad ideas.
Find fucking inspiration everywhere.
Educate your fucking client.
Trust your fucking gut.
Ask for fucking help.
Make it fucking sustainable.
Question fucking everything.
Have a fucking concept.
Learn to take some fucking criticism.
Make me fucking care.
Use fucking spell check.
Do your fucking research.
Sketch more fucking ideas.
The problem contains the fucking solution.
Think about all the fucking possibilities."
My first year in the advertising industry yielded no permanent positions in any Auckland ad agencies. Obviously.
That being said, I was tremendously lucky. There was never a time where I was unemployed for more than a week.
In between the various agencies I worked at, my art director, Kishan and I would get right back to work and set out to show our book around Auckland to the Creative Directors who gave us the time of day. All the while, hoping to find the new place we would be happily spending a third of our week in.
The thing with ‘doing the rounds’, as Kish and I would say, is every CD is different and has views and priorities that contradict those of others. It was good because you were criticised from different angles, which only turn you into a sharper creative.
During that time, I collected advice from some of Auckland’s well-known CDs and kept it to myself, referring to my notes every now and again when I had lost my way.
Until now, that is.
A few talented CDs I met with shared some profound thoughts in the art of portfolio building, maintenance and distribution. One thing that has become prevalent since I started blogging is sharing is caring.
ROB JACK Creative Director, Special
The most important thing to have in the work is a nice thought behind it. Humour is nearly always the best way to go about it, too. You must also show contemporary thinking. It’s doesn’t matter what medium, a good print ad can still work.
Ideally, you should have 10 great pieces in your book. 7 campaigns and 3 one-offs. With a mixture of mediums, new and traditional.
PAUL CATMUR Creative Director, Barnes, Catmur & Friends
A campaign has to have a big, bold idea behind it.
PAUL HANKINSON Head of Copy, DDB
Each time you go to add something new to your book, make it the best work you’ve every done. Spend an entire week crafting and perfecting one ad campaign and in two short months, you’ve got 8 examples of your best work. There’s no rush.
GUY ROBERTS & CORY CHALMERS Creative Directors, Droga5
When thinking about ideas, it’s always good to write down those first thoughts to get them out of your head, but always push further. What’s a different way of looking at what you’re saying?
Do ads in your book about things you’re passionate about. When you’re excited about the work, your best comes out of it.
Guy and Cory were previously CDs at TBWA/Tequila working on the Adidas account, doing a lot of stuff for the New Zealand All Blacks. Being both rugby nuts, the quality of work was high.
MIKE O’SULLIVAN Creative Partner, Droga5
I’m 42 (then). I’m old. When I look at junior’s book, I should see something I haven’t seen before. In theory, a junior should be teaching me new things, not the other way around.
You need to have digital components and new media in your book.
PAUL WHITE Head Lecturer, AUT AdSchool
Just keep on going.
Here’s a couple of gems from that book, Pick Me by Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin:
BOB BARRIE Executive Creative Director, BDM
One question: are your ideas real world applicable? Having creative ideas is one thing, but creative ideas that work is a whole new level. Your ideas should work across a range, if not all media.
RICK BOYKO Managing Director, VCU Brandcenter
Online books and mini books make it a lot easier to cover a large group of CDs. Rick recommends you to come in with your book rather than send it. People hire people, not portfolios. It’s about who you are as well.
And finally, my own observations:
One thing that was said a number of times was if you can make your idea work in print, you can make it work anywhere. That’s a good test to see if a campaign has legs.
All the CDs you’ll meet will have contradicting views. In the end, it’s all about what you think is right. After all, your portfolio is a representation of you. Choose the CDs you respect more and want to work for the most and go with their advice.
Take up a CD’s challenge to meet again in a week with improvements made to the book. Even if you are sent away again and again, you’re building a relationship with that CD and if there’s anything as important as getting a job, it’s getting contacts.
Just because you haven’t got a job in an agency, doesn’t mean you don’t work like you do. Just saying. The passionate don’t need to hear this once, let alone twice.
A junior doesn’t necessarily have to be amazingly talented, as long as you show promise by means of your ravenous hunger for the work, you’re gold to any CD.
Great ideas: the be and end all of success in the creative industries.
When I used to take my portfolio around with my partner, the creative directors of Auckland would put forward comments and questions of a suspiciously similar nature:
"What’s the idea?"
"I like ads that show a big idea."
"I can see some good ideas."
"I need to be able to see the idea."
Ok, yeah. Idea is king.
Especially when you’re out and about showing off your portfolio of creative work to masters of the industry; the gatekeepers to jobs and sweet, sweet salaries.
But what about once you’re in? Things operate in a totally different way.
It reminds me of when I worked as a supermarket promoter. I used to love getting assigned to the popular products like biscuits, chocolates, chicken tenders; basically anything that was tempting to munch on inconspicuously when no one was looking.
The thing I loved most about these products is you didn’t really have to do much to sell them. People would see from the grocery aisle, come over, sample, buy on impulse and I’d make my quota.
One day in particular, I was sampling a product just like this (a new flavour by a particular chocolate brand), which I expected to fly off the shelves and completely sell out regardless of my presence.
So I got lazy and let the product do the talking.
The product didn’t sell out.
In fact, the product hardly sold at all despite the samples, the posters showing an airbrushed chocolate bar with ‘NEW’ in big, red letters and the fact that this was CHOCOLATE; a food product that people buy copious amounts of whether it’s on special or marked up.
The people still needed to be told about what was going on.
Which brings me back to my point.
You could be sitting there, in your office at that agency you’ve always wanted to work at with an awesome idea; your work’s done for the day.
You have to be able to sell your idea.
If you’re going to make this thing happen, you’ve got to be able to talk about your idea in such a way that gets the movers and shakers on board and as keen as you to turn this into reality.
And you have to sell hard.
In order for your idea to avoid being reluctantly banished to the bottom drawer, you have to first get it past your own self doubt, then your partner, then your creative director (or perhaps some senior creatives first, depending on the hierarchy of your workplace). If it hasn’t been shot down yet, you’ve made it through the easy part.
The idea then has to travel to the land of logical thinkers (that area in the agency where all that phone-ringing and keyboard-tapping comes from) for the suits to look at it. An account executive will pass it on to an account manager, who may pass it on again to an account director, who may have a meeting with a strategist. All the while, dissecting the logistics, possibility and effectiveness of your idea.
It’s an advertising agency edition of Chinese Whispers. If somebody along the way screws up the message, you’re kinda screwed.
Three tips I learnt from various creative directors to at least give your idea a chance:
1. Simplicity. Get the crux of your idea down to a sentence so it’s easy to remember and takes a minimal amount of connecting brain cells to understand.
2. Evidence or Imagery. Hard evidence to support your insight goes down well or, a nicely presented argument or scenario.
3. Finished Form. If need be, mock up a semi-finished version of how the print/ambient/commercial will look like or play out. If they can picture it like you can, chances are they’ll be on board.
And once you’ve sweet-talked your way around the agency you can relax because you’re home free.
The client will probably nuke your idea, watch it burn and piss on the ashes. But more often than not, that’s a situation that you’ll have no control over, especially as a junior.
After failing miserably at first, the next day I decided to change my chocolate-selling game up.
"Hello sir, You having a good day? Have you tried X Chocolate’s new X flavour? It tastes great! Have a try!"
"Sorry, mate. I don’t eat anything other than dark chocolate. Always have, alway will. You know it’s got antioxidants in it? S’posed to be good for you."
"Yeah, I know. Ah, well. You have a good day then, sir."
"Sure will, matey. Looks good, though."
Like I said, out for your control. Sometimes they just want to do things the way they always have.
Should this happen, don’t panic.
There’s always next time. Just keep wearing them down.
In an industry as hectic as advertising, you are faced with deadlines, harsh criticisms, fear and self loathing on a daily basis.
Especially if you’re a junior; you find yourself at the bottom of this pile of wet shit trying to tunnel upward.
And in the worst of times, you’re juggling 6 different briefs, all due on Friday (which just happens to be tomorrow); a Creative Director strolls the corridor of the agency, waiting to pounce with an impromptu check up at the exact point you decide to have a break and watch shit on Youtube and nervous account executives wander in and out of your doorway with transparent small talk and questions about timing.
At this point, I think it’s obvious that the most ideal thing to do is curl up on a sofa or under your desk and have a big, fat, sooky cry.
It was at times like these that I figured that there needs to be something, anything one can hold on to when they find themselves in these very situations.
My train of thought then switched serendipitously to Douglas Adams, or more specifically, the line he uses to describe the front cover of the universal bible, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“it has the words ‘don’t panic’ inscribed in large, friendly letters.”
Never an imperative was uttered that people were more inclined to adhere to. Everyone benefits from this advice when it’s applicable. In fact, Authur C. Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey) said that ‘don’t panic’ was
"perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity."
And now, I’ve made it my personal statement.
It’s my statement to those with the gall to employ me:
"Don’t panic, I’m on the job and I assure you, I’ll do it well."
It’s my statement to those I’ve met who are having tough times and chance upon my card, hopefully striking a chord and making them feel better.
"Don’t panic, mate. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Otherwise give me a call, maybe hiring me will make you feel better."
Arial Rounded MT Bold was the friendliest font I could think of at the time. It seemed right. The white lettering on black stands out like a single light in a pitch black room; the words of hope and comfort - for me, anyway. The placing of which probably outlines my adman’s preference for the bottom right corner.
It’s a nice line not only for it’s calming characteristics but also for the cheeky hint that I’m the ideal man for the job. Any bloke with drive and passion is ideal of the job, so it might as well be me. If I wanted to go all the way, I could’ve made my brand ‘42’.
But I wouldn’t want to be dick head by going around saying I’m the answer to life, the universe and everything now, would I? How much more pretentious can you get?