A Copywriter Writes

A Tumblr Blog

Kiwi copywriter.

Illustrator on the side.

This blog is filled with stuff that simply comes to mind that's too long to tweet.

It's mostly my observations as I try to make it in the advertising industry. It keeps me writing and, hopefully, gets you reading.

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  • July 16, 2013 10:00 am

    Five things people wish they did to get work

    I was the ghost-writer for SevenTwenty Career Partners and wrote this article giving Australian university students tips on finding work after they graduate. 

  • September 23, 2012 9:35 am

    My Favourite Ten: The Gospel According To Dan or, Twenty-Two Tips For Interns


    A reblogging of my top ten posts since I started.

    NINE: POST #46 (25 May, 2011)

    Over time, younger ad kids coming out of university have talked to me about getting an internship. Some have asked for tips and other times I’m thrown my two cents at them like a passerby to a man in the street juggling hackie sacks.

    Either which way, during my time studying and working I’ve picked up a few tips and walkthroughs that I think can be very helpful to the clueless intern, the timid junior or even the unsure fish-out-of-water worker.

    Read More

  • August 28, 2012 8:02 pm

    My Favourite Ten: Great Ideas Aren’t Everything or, How Sucking At Selling Chocolate Helped Me To Sell Ideas


    A reblogging of my top ten posts since I started.

    SIX: POST #29 (29 Mar, 2011)

    Great ideas: the be and end all of success in the creative industries.

    You wish.

    Read More

  • September 16, 2011 3:00 pm

    Humble Advice or, Rubbing Shoulders With A Malaysian Ad Genius

    Last week, a very friendly and humble man by the name of Yew Leong Tan came into Lucideas for a chat.

    Now, given this guy’s experience, I would be almost certain that he is one of Malaysia’s more influential ad men, along with his late wife, Yasmin Ahmad.

    The two of them were responsible for the famous Petronas ads.

    I was told earlier this year that if Malaysia had to put up any ad work that would make them known around the world, it would be those ads.

    It was a rather pleasant evening as he modestly shared with us his 16 years experience working with Leo Burnett Malaysia.

    Three points stood out for me as we sat, sprawled on bean bags as Yew Leong perched himself on the couch, talking to us all.

    SAY ‘NO’
    As an agency, learn to say ‘no’ from time to time. People tend to think that you show your power and popularity by saying ‘yes’. Define the work you would like to do and the kind of client you would like to work for and say ‘no’ to your clients freely, but within reason, of course. He illustrated with an Apple analogy:

    "Electronic stores probably have hundreds of iPhones in the back, but they’re told to sell only 80 a day. Even though they can satisfy their customers now, Apple says ‘no’ by bringing the product out a little bit at a time. Saying ‘no’ creates a bigger demand."

    'No' is a strong word that gives you power when used correctly.

    You know that feeling you get when you get shot down, by a client, your boss or even co-worker? First, that fleeting moment of dread and then that rumble in the back of your mind: a figure of bulk and muscle, covered in sweat and dirt, sitting on a giant anvil surrounded by roaring fire, noisily chewing on a rusty iron pipe and starting at you with burning coal eyes and growls deeply:

    "Keep going."

    Well sometimes, that’s hard to maintain. But no matter what, always fight to keep that optimism:

    "Whenever an idea of yours is rejected, for whatever reason, think of it as a sign that you are meant to come up with something better."

    Technology and trends have come and gone in the advertising industry and they have changed the way we work and the way we’ve communicated to our audiences.

    But one thing remains constant. Always has and always will. Storytelling.

    Ever since man could pick up a stick and draw in the dirt, we’ve been capturing each other’s attention and imaginations by telling stories. If you can tell a good story, you win them over.

    Yew Leong advises that this will always be the core element of our communication.

    After he’d reached the end of his own story, we all sort of sat there in an awkward silence. Yew Leong sat, content and perfectly comfortable to look at us all before someone would speak.

    "Wanna go for a drink?"

    "Love to."

  • August 28, 2011 1:27 am

    In-situ or, What I Learned When I Was Being A Weasel

    Last year, I spent my Easter holiday hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A phenomenal experience. If you’re ever in New Zealand, and only do one thing that’s naturery, make it that.

    The day my friend, Abby and I completed the hike, we went to steak house near our lodge. We shared a table with a boisterous couple who were going to do the hike the next day.

    We got talking, and it turned out that the woman was an executive for DB Breweries. A dream client.

    Now, at the time there was a small rumour going around at the time that DB was putting themselves up for pitch following an enormous change at Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland with the CEO and the ECD leaving the agency thus undergoing a significant leadership change.

    So I figured I’d dig.

    I commented on a billboard I had seen for Heineken in downtown Auckland. It was executed on a particular ad space that covered two sides of a shopping mall. The headline ran along and around the corner of the building, making it only readable from a very particular angle. Most of the time, you only saw half of the headline from where you were on the surrounding streets.

    She agreed. It wasn’t one of their billboards she was most proud of.

    She said to me,

    "When they showed us the layout, it was one, long strip. And looking at it like that, it looked great. What we should’ve asked for, was to see it in-situ."


    A lot of advertising looks great on the screen of the designer’s Mac, or on your Creative Director’s desk, or on the boardroom table. But the question you have to ask is how does the work look in the real world?

    As creatives, we are always being reminded that the work we do is not principally for us, but for them, the consumers.

    And one important element to consider rather thoroughly is the context the ad is in.

    Where is the billboard? What magazine is it in? What website? What are the people likely to be doing when they view it?

    When all these questions (and many, many more) are considered and creatively answered, you get something closer to effective and cool.

    In a previous post about portfolio advice, I quoted Bob Barrie, ECD for BDM*. The one thing he asks when looking at a portfolio is, are the ideas real-world applicable? It’s one thing to have creative ideas, but something else entirely if you have creative ideas that work.

    Looking at your work they way your audience will see it will, quite simply, help pick out all the grit you only tend to notice after the ad has run, otherwise referred to as when it’s far, far too late.

    *My god, the ad industry is alphabetical, isn’t it?

  • August 17, 2011 2:11 pm

    "Believe in your fucking self.
    Stay up all fucking night.
    Work outside your fucking habits.
    Know when to fucking speak up.
    Fucking collaborate.
    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.
    Fucking network.
    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."

    - Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher, creators of Good Fucking Design Advice

    Two things I love about this:

    1) It’s laid out, in black and white, clear as anything, simple and straight to the point, all you need to know to do well in your creative career (not just for designers).

    2) I love the word ‘fuck’. A lot.

  • August 5, 2011 9:14 pm

    Abolish Caution or, Why I Now Order Prawns Like A Boss

    It was a special occasion and my family decided to go to the local steak house for dinner to celebrate the said special occasion.

    I was eyeing up the seafood menu, at the king prawns, specifically. I had my first nibble of those juicy underwater dwellers at a barbecue the weekend prior and had developed a taste for them.

    I ordered them with much excitement and anticipation. An eagerness for food that is borderline unhealthy, to be honest.

    The waitress finally came over. Here we go.

    She served me soup and walked off as fast as she had set it down.

    Now, I’m usually very polite in restaurants, and in general public for that matter, but this was mildly urgent.

    "Excuse me! HEY! Sorry, excuse me! Miss! Yeah, sorry. I didn’t order soup, I ordered the king prawns as a main. Thanks."

    I held out the dish for her to take with a look that confidently said:

    Hey, it’s fine. These things happen. People get mixed up, don’t take it personally. I’m not angry.

    My parents snorted and the waitress smiled.

    "Actually, that’s your finger bowl. For when you eat your prawns."

    Red as a cooked crustacean, I set my bowl of lemon water back on the table.

    "Oh. Then thank you."

    Everyone else at the table spluttered with laughter.

    Why can’t we look this silly all the time?

    Why can’t we just let go and ask the stupid question and get laughed at and feel like a dick head?

    Sure it’s mildly embarrassing, but the moment is fleeting in comparison to the rest of your life.

    And you learn. Boy, do you learn. You can be sure I know all about what happens when you order prawns. No more surprises, just the immediate nonchalant dipping of fingers, as if I’d been doing it right my whole life.

    Having said this, people, including myself at the best of times, are simply not willing to make such a small sacrifice; a moment’s stumble for a lifetime of strides.

    There’s too much of a pressure to be right all the time or to appear in control.

    I’m reminded of a creative team I studied with at university. They were given the chance to go and get work experience at Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland. That was big; a very good agency with a very prestigious name and some highly skilled creatives within.

    They came back to uni from a brainstorm session with the agency. They had to come up with ideas for the campaign they were doing that went across a range of media, including something called ‘eyelites’, something which they knew nothing about.

    "What’s an ‘eyelite’?"

    "We don’t know!"

    "Haha, didn’t you ask them?"

    "No, of course not."

    "Uh, why not?"

    "Dan, you don’t ask them those sort of silly questions. They’ll think you’re stupid. I mean, how bad would that look; not knowing what ‘eyelites’ are?"

    "I highly doubt they’d care, you simply ask and they tell you."

    "No, it doesn’t work like that."*

    I left the conversation totally baffled. Later, they found out that eyelites are what the guys at Saatchis called bus shelter ads, or what we had always referred as ‘adshels’. So that creative team knew what they were all along, they just called them a different name. Had they asked straight up, they’d have found out earlier and avoided unnecessary stress.

    As I’ve pointed out in a previous blog post, as a young person, the time to ask the stupid questions or make the silly assumptions is now, when you have little to lose in terms of your dignity and everything to gain.

    Besides, they make for great stories to bring the next generation of timid juniors at ease when you become a ridiculously successful watchamacallit.

    "Oh, I was just like you once, except worst! I screwed up everything! I couldn’t order prawns without looking like a dipshit."

    Just think of it this way: compare your possible embarrassment to the rest of your life. It’s will be a mere blip on the timeline that is your existence. Just like the entire universe couldn’t give seven shades of snot about what shirt you wear today. Once you get a little perspective, you’ll calm down a wee bit.

    Remember, no one knows everything, so there’s no point in trying to appear that you do when you don’t. It’s ok.

    So I’ve continued to order prawns with confidence to this day.

    Except that one time at the Japanese restaurant, where I plunged my hands into a bowl of miso soup.

    *Let me just point out that this is basically more-or-less how the conversation went. I’m not a tape recorder.

  • July 29, 2011 7:00 pm

    Portfolio Advice or, Taking The Sting Of A CD’s Critique So You Don’t Have To

    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.

    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.

    Creative Director, Barnes, Catmur & Friends

    A campaign has to have a big, bold idea behind it.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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:

    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.

    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.

  • July 22, 2011 7:00 pm

    The Writing Rules or, The Only Commandments I Recite Each Day

    The job I hold currently at Lucideas, I took from someone else.

    I say take, I mean offered. My copywriter friend, Alan, was working here before me and decided to move on. So he called me up in NZ and asked if I wanted to take over his job and three months later, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

    I was clearing Alan’s desk and making it my own when I came across a little gem Blu-Tacked to the wall at the desk’s corner.

    It was a simple piece of A4 computer paper. And on it, was a list. Scrawled quickly and without ceremony in what looked to be an black inked Artline with a 0.6 tip. There was no title, just eleven points.

    Any other writer would also not need a title.

    Its instructions were quite clear:

    1) Have something to say.

    Otherwise, why are you writing? If there’s no purpose, then it will show and people will stop writing.

    2) Be specific.

    You’ve worked too hard to have some Joe read your piece and not be able to recall exactly what you were talking about. Be sure to mention exactly what you’re trying to say.

    3) Choose simple words.

    With most people, simple words are what we all know and love. The message gets across clearer. It’s nice to fiddle with English and explore its nuances, but if you come out looking like a douche, then there’s no point.

    4) Write short sentences.

    Short sentences are easy to read. They’re more punchy too. Biff.

    5) Use the active voice (SVO).

    Sentences sound better with an subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. It’s more active and quicker to say and read.

    'Joshua plucked out his grandmother's teeth' rather than ‘Joshua’s grandmother’s teeth were plucked out by him.’

    6) Keep paragraphs short.

    Keep to the point. Short paragraphs can get a reasonably long piece of writing read rather quickly. Long paragraphs look intimidating; the look of your writing will scare people before they read it.

    7) Eliminate fluff words.

    These are words that we tend to add to our copy that don’t actually need to be there.

    Quick examples:

    "He said that his father helped do his homework." Take out ‘that’.

    "We need to utilize his skills." ‘Utilize’ doesn’t do what ‘use’ can’t. 

    Some more examples in this article.

    8) Don’t ramble.

    Especially in ad copy. You’ve got 2 seconds to grab someone’s attention and 4 seconds to keep it.

    Your girlfriend’s father give you 15 seconds to convince him why he should let you take his daughter out. Do you stick to the relevant points, or prattle on about how you’re making a portrait of her using all the photos she’s tagged in on Facebook?

    9) Don’t be redundant or repeat yourself.

    Repetition is a language device, true. But most of the time it’s not used consciously. It’s annoying enough when people say the same thing over and over. It’s no different in writing. Sometimes, it can be used in a clever way in your writing, but most people don’t use it like that. Don’t you hate it when people repeat themselves all the time to you? You turn off, don’t you? Same goes for writing.

    10) Don’t over write.

    A lot of writers tend to have a thunderous need that comes from deep within their creative soul to express their thoughts with such great and wondrous illustration and elaboration, that it completely loses the reader in a jumble of articulation and eloquence. We would be wise as the oldest sage to be mindful of such a atrocious risk.

    11) Edit ruthlessly.

    Wow, that’s a really well-written sentence. Good use of adverbs. I see that it doesn’t really do anything for your message, though. You’ve grown attached to it? Aw. Get over it. It happens.

    If I have to condense them, the rules simply state when writing copy, keep it short and to the point, but not without your own bit of zazz. 

    Maybe Alan wrote this list, maybe it was up on the wall all along. Nevertheless, these commandments were delivered to me (much less dramatically than certain dudes that live in the clouds) and I plan to uphold them the best I can, like any good copywriter should.

  • May 27, 2011 11:07 pm
    therateofpi:  I am a Marketing Major, but in a Business Administration school.

    There are not a lot of Marketing Classes geared toward the creative side at my school.

    Do you have any suggestions for me to gain experience in the field before I jump head first into an internship?

    First, it is very flattering that you would ask me such a question.

    Now, judging by your own blog, I assume you would like to work as a creative who will one day be capable of writing an ad that will be shown at the SuperBowl.

    I’m not surprised there’s a lack of creative courses at a ‘Business Administration School’.

    For a creative, marketing is a good thing to study because you tend to focus more on how to make an ad work, rather than ‘wow’.

    However, if you want to write that crazy ad that will be seen by over 100 million people during the SuperBowl, you’ll have to take an extra year or so to do a creative course.

    Alternatively, you could read a few books and immerse yourself in ad annuals, magazines, journals, film, art, design and observe what good creativity is, but there’s no real hands-on experience.

    Also, you could throw together a portfolio and try and get an internship or ‘experience in the field’, but any mistake you make will have real consequences and I doubt you would want to deal with that if you’re not ready.

    So, I would recommend a creative course, where a tutor who has worked in the industry can help you develop your creativity in a hands on environment, without the stress of the demands of a boss or a company.

    Try and look for courses that promote industry experience.

    Books I would recommend to get you started in thinking this way would be:

    • Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising And Staying There - Nancy Vonk & Janet Kestin
    • Cutting Edge Advertising - Jim Aitchison
    • Hey Whipple, Squeeze This - Luke Sullivan
    • Making Ideas Happen - Scott Belsky
    • Can I Change Your Mind? - Lindsay Camp
    • It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be - Paul Arden
    • Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite - Paul Arden

    Best of luck! I’d love to know how you get on.


    P.S. Should you, for some reason or another, decide you want to just get into it and hone your creative skills yourself, get back to me and I’ll recommend some stuff to do. 

  • May 26, 2011 5:09 am

    The Gospel According To Dan or, Twenty-Two Tips For Interns

    Over time, younger ad kids coming out of university have talked to me about getting an internship. Some have asked for tips and other times I’m thrown my two cents at them like a passerby to a man in the street juggling hackie sacks.

    Either which way, during my time studying and working I’ve picked up a few tips and walkthroughs that I think can be very helpful to the clueless intern, the timid junior or even the unsure fish-out-of-water worker.


    As soon as you’re settled, find the appropriate person and ask for a list of the agency’s clients. As an intern, there’s a chance you won’t see a lot of work for a first couple of days as you’re introduced to the agency and its culture. In the meantime, pick a client from the list when you have nothing to do and come up with some ads for them with your own SMP. This shows that you have initiative and you add value to the agency. Paul White told this to me toward the end of 2009, and I’ve lived by it ever since.


    Any proactive work you do during the week, compile together and show the Creative Director at the end of the week. You’ll look amazing if you can make this a regular thing. This shows the CD directly that you’re always thinking and don’t waste time. If any of it is good, you’ve got some work to go in the portfolio (GOOD), or gets run (AWESOME) or may even be award winning (CRAZY AWESOME).


    Before doing proactive work for the agency’s clients, do a quick round of the creative department and introduce yourself (if you haven’t already) and ask if you can get in and help on anything anyone else is doing. An agency appreciates a hungry intern. It gets you more relaxed and familiar with the other creatives too and you become more approachable to one another.


    Be talkative, smile and be approachable. Make sure people know you’re there. A small agency I once worked for took in a couple of interns who kept to themselves most of the time. After a month, the CD still didn’t know their names. In an agency with only 6 people in creative department, that’s awkward.


    As an intern, NEVER (without permission) drink the last beer/wine/spirit from the bar (if you’re lucky enough to get into an agency that has one). Psychologically, people tend to dislike whoever takes the last of something. Also, it can be perceived as a bit of a smart-ass thing to do. I found this out the hard way. I once drank the last of the whiskey at one agency and this news was quickly spread and was received with mild distaste. The senior copywriter even went as far as to make it a new rule and wrote an amendment to the agency induction document.


    Unless work is beating down on you like a drummer in an African tribe, always take up the invitation to join people from the agency for lunch or after-work drinks. Get to know everyone outside of the office. Who knows? You may make some industry friends and (if you’re a swell person) some solid contacts for later in your career.


    Get comfortable, but not too comfortable. It’s great if you’re one of those people who can easily adapt to a new environment, but careful not to rub others the wrong way with it. There’s a fine line between a cool intern who’s settling in nicely and cocky shit new kid on the block. One time, I was playing pool with the agency Managing Director and we were giving each other banter, as you do. He made a stab at me being fired if I won the game and I, in jest, made a remark along the lines of

    "Please, you need me." 

    To which he replied after a pause:

    "Sorry, who are you?"

    This was also a joke, but with serious undertones. Got me thinking. Always pack yourself a slice of humble pie for lunch.


    When invited to sit in on meetings, contribute. ‘Sit in’ generally means sit there, listen and learn about what’s going on and you’re not really expected to speak up. Show your enthusiasm by diving into the work and getting involved.


    Know that you’ll be working long hours. Expect it. Be pleasantly surprised if they let you go home at 6pm. It helps to inform your family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend.


    A rule of thumb with most workplaces if you’re interning is to be there before your boss and leave only after he/she does. Special circumstances aside.


    If it’s 6pm and there’s nothing for you to do, stay. I mean, this job is mostly about long hours, you may as well start practising. Pull out that client list.


    Know that agency life will be exciting and magical for a first weeks, maybe, if you’re awesome, it’ll last a month for so. But sooner or later, the cherries, rainbows and fairy bread will dissolve and it’ll be crunch time and there’ll be tension and a sea of shit to swim through. But there’s always land ahead.


    Always check and confirm all meetings, no matter how minute, with your CD. For one, it’ll show that you’re on top of things and you’re proactive about your work. Also, a CD’s schedule is dramatically hectic and dynamic. Don’t be surprised if the number of times a meeting is postponed gets into the double digits.


    You’re never too busy. Having said this, be sensible. Take on all work opportunities that come your way, but there’s a point where you go from juggling multiple briefs to being ridiculous. Plus, as an intern (and in some cases a junior), you’re hardly in any position to turn people away.


    The receptionist is the gatekeeper of all things in the agency. She orders the new stationary, she keeps the taxi coupons in her top drawer and she picks the beer brand and biscuits to stock the fridge and fill the jar with. She loves gossip, talking about her (and your) day and dogs or cats or horses or possibly all three. And she loves doing favours for people who are nice to her. Most importantly, she is not, by any measurement, below you in any way. Give her the respect she deserves.


    Some of the more stressed workers in the agency (usually the creatives) would argue that it is not in fact a good morning or something that even resembles a pleasant evening. But wish them one anyway.


    If you’re going to complain about trivial tasks you are asked to do as part of being an intern, don’t trust this to someone within the agency. It’s never a good look, no matter how much they empathise with you. Always be modest in this respect. And never, NEVER describe a task as “tedious” when someone has the gentle kindness to inquire how you’re doing.


    The pay will be shit. Deal with it. In my opinion, this is a test of your passion (and budgeting skills). If you can’t survive on the paycheck you’re getting, get a part-time weekend job.


    Sooner or later, you’ll hit the metaphorical fork in the road where you decide whether or not to get involved in the office politics. Try to avoid for as long as possible. If you do, remain as impartial as possible.


    Office gossip: collect as much as you want, just don’t be the source of it. It’s fun, I’ll admit, but not worth the crappy consequences. You’ll be surprised at who’s loyal to who and who’s connected to who.


    Attitude is everything. A smile when people enter your office is loved. A groan or a sigh when brochure/mailer work is given to you is not.


    Careful about the bosses you try to impress. You’ll have two. The Creative Director and the Managing Director. In a large agency, you’re probably not going to have much to do with the MD but in a small agency, you’re likely to run into him/her now and again. These two people will have different work ethics. Example: one CD once told my Art Director and I that he didn’t care when we came into the office, as long as the work got done. This led to a couple of times where we sauntered into the office around 11am. The CD didn’t care, but the MD raises an eyebrow to this stuff. Bottom line: who actually does the hiring?


    Always give them more than they asked for. If they want 20 concepts by Friday, go for 40. I once heard about a intern creative team who went into a major car brand creative meeting with one idea. Try not to impale yourself on that end of the spectrum. 

  • May 2, 2011 9:54 pm
    dalilahahah-deactivated20120704:  I was wondering if you had any advice for a someone studying advertising in school?

    God, where do I start? There is so much to comment on! Perhaps something more specific?

    First of all, read these books:

    • Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising And Staying There - Nancy Vonk & Janet Kestin
    • Cutting Edge Advertising - Jim Aitchison
    • Hey Whipple, Squeeze This - Luke Sullivan
    • Making Ideas Happen - Scott Belsky
    • It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be - Paul Arden
    • Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite - Paul Arden

    Know how passionate you are. Know the shittiest things about the advertising industry and still love it. Only the most passionate will survive and succeed. This doesn’t mean you have to be excited all the time. All you have to do is KEEP GOING.

    Keep questioning your work. Keep asking yourself how it can be better. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as finishing your work early in the ad industry - keep pushing your work right until the last second before the deadline. 

    Be a total slut. Work and partner up with as many people as you can to get experience working with all types. Different people can help to unlock different parts of your thinking and broaden your creative horizons.

    Welcome rejection and criticism like old friends, because they’ll be visiting often.

    Share your ideas, get opinions and invite feedback. You don’t learn if you keep to yourself.

    Most of all: DON’T PANIC.

    I hope this is a good starter!

    Do check my #Advertising posts that go into detail about all this and more. But if you want more elaboration, I’m more than happy to help. 

  • April 19, 2011 1:41 am

    Judge An Ad School By Its Ads or, Getting Schooled Again

    Is that an eagle wearing a trencher? Christ…

    My agency, Lucideas recently did some work for a new client, a local advertising school which had some God-awful stuff trying to cram 27 messages into one print ad.

    My Creative Director, Zac Labang said that this was one of those blatant opportunities to do something cool and award-winning. I suppose you can’t ask for much better when the client themselves ask for something award-winning, not to mention the client is an AD SCHOOL; one of the best kinds of clients.

    I instantly lit up. I felt like I was back at university, getting briefed and, like all university ad briefs, there were no rules; no brand guidelines, no sponsor’s message, no Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

    Just a simple idea to go on a page in the newspaper.

    Rather relaxing, compared to what is usually asked of an ad campaign these days.

    And like university, I found myself being schooled once again in things that you really ought to remember when creating advertising.

    Having said that, we’re always re-learning stuff. Droga5 Creative Director, Guy Roberts once said to me before giving me advice,

    "Here’s something I was taught when I was 17, and again when I was 19, and again at 21, and when I was 25…"

    What I re-learnt this time:


    Zac reiterated what Paul White first taught this to me a couple of years ago. It’s the ‘zig when everyone else zags’ principle; it’s part of what Paul Arden meant when he wrote ‘Whatever you think, think the opposite’. Simply look at the competition and go in a different direction to what they do.

    Looking through the newspaper at all the colleges’ ads ‘persuading’ students to come to their open days, the first point was to do an ad that was simple and uncluttered. The sea of stock photography of smiling students said to us that an actual idea in our ad would make it stand out.

    This was too easy. The above ‘zagging’ is what you should be doing anyway. The fact that schools boasting effective communication courses were not doing their ads like this to begin with is embarrassing.


    Again something you learn right off the bat in any ad school worth its salt. In this case, we saw one ad in particular that sang out amongst the bullet points, text boxes, sponsor logos and the other three headlines (no joke) that they ‘develop you to be an industry-ready communicator’. How? By showing exactly what not to do? Talk about irony.

    Don’t state the claim, simply prove it in the way you do an ad ESPECIALLY if you’re an ad school. I mean, shit, practice what you preach.

    Helps cut back on the body copy too.

    Speaking of which…


    In your communication, there could be a slight chance that the reason you think you’re hot shit means nothing to the consumer.

    A student looking for a good college isn’t trying to compare their ability to equip them with global skills in a borderless world nor is interested in the fact that the university has leading research intensive facilities.

    Research does come in handy when figuring out what your audience what’s to hear. If you know what they want, then talking to them will be just like drinking through a straw without tipping the bottle up: simple enough, but if you still have trouble, then you’re kind of retarded.



    You can make kick ass ads, but if they don’t say what needs to be said, the they’re about as useful as a mesh condom.

    When coming up with the initial concepts, I read the brief once and went to work. Each half decent thought was quickly drawn up and stuck to the wall, by the time it was time to meet, I went in with about 20-odd ideas.

    More than anyone else who came to the meeting.

    All of them off brief (by a smidge).

    Yep, felt like I was back at university. 

  • March 30, 2011 10:00 am

    Great Ideas Aren’t Everything or, How Sucking At Selling Chocolate Helped Me To Sell Ideas.

    Great ideas: the be and end all of success in the creative industries.

    You wish.

    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 wish.

    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.

    You wish.

    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.