If you want to know what it's like to work at an ad agency, don't rely on Mad Men and The Crazy Ones. (Our lives aren't that dramatic.) Even AMC's The Pitch doesn't capture ad life as it truly is.
I recently discovered one of the better fictional accounts is actually a book, Truth In Advertising by John Kenney. (I actually purchased the book last January, but taking a train to work every day has now given me the luxury of catching up on my reading.)
The story centers around copywriter Finbar Dolan. He's a star creative at a New York ad agency who has just had Christmas canceled on him, because he's leading the work on a last-minute Super Bowl commercial for a diaper account.
Working during the holidays isn't a big loss for Fin, since he was planning to vacation alone. He recently dumped his fiance right before the wedding and he's not close to his brothers, sister and their families. His holiday is thrown more off course when receiving word that his father is dying — the same man who walked out on Fin's family when he was a child. Understandably, Fin's siblings want nothing to do with dad, but the whole matter causes Fin to examine his life and choices.
As an experienced creative, Kenney describes a pretty accurate day-to-day of an ad agency. I found myself identifying with a lot of it and laughing at some inside jokes. I, too, know what it's like to work on Christmas and struggle to come up with Super Bowl campaigns. The brainstorming sessions described are so true to life, outsiders may have even less respect for the work we do.
In an overall enjoyable book, the one flaw to me is Finbar Dolan. Being a "flawed" character, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to like him. For example, he's attracted to a co-worker in the story and I kept thinking she could do better. Fin also gives off that snobbish creative vibe, so I couldn't see us hanging out in the real world. But despite his issues, I enjoyed watching him work.
Throughout your advertising career, friends and family will never truly understand what you do for a living. This book will give them (and you) an idea of what it's like (minus the personal drama - you can create your own).
So if this book hasn't been on your radar, seek the "Truth" as your holiday read.
Marina Shifrin may seem like the everyman hero today. She quit her job in a fashion most of us only dream about - and she went viral.
We've all had jobs from hell. Your boss, clients or co-workers could even be Satan in human form. But do yourself a favor - take the high road. Don't turn quitting into a spectacle (and please don't go viral).
It may feel good at the moment, but you may feel the pain in the end.
Advertising is a small community. We all know each other. Or we know someone who knows you. That means you may not be able to escape your reputation.
Potential employers don't think very highly of prospects that may embarrass them in the future (especially when you hand them proof). So don't give your new employer reasons to have second thoughts about hiring you.
Also, people in the ad industry move around a lot. There's a chance you may end up working with those hated co-workers again. (So much for your fresh start.)
Same thing applies when you get laid off. You may feel betrayed, but don't burn bridges. Leaving with dignity may open doors to options you never thought you had.
But what if you've won the lottery or suddenly become independently wealthy? Then burn baby burn...
Sure, it's the largest city in history to file bankruptcy. So what? Bankruptcy is not an ending. It's a chance to start over and rebuild into something new, something better. So if you're looking to launch a startup or pursue what seems to be an unreachable dream, Detroit may be your perfect launch pad.
I was a copywriter at Campbell-Ewald (now Lowes Campbell Ewald) for 12 years. During that time, there was always a rumor that we'd move from suburban Warren to downtown Detroit. Now it's finally happening (it figures, after I leave). Recently, my former co-workers created a video pitching Detroit as the nation's next creative mecca.
Maybe soon the Motor City will be claiming that line made famous by the Big Apple: If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere...
You may or may not have heard, my former agency Campbell-Ewald in Detroit was part of a big win. Hopefully, that will mean a lot of people will keep their jobs and the agency will be hiring.
Over at Fallon, I'm hearing some may be out of a job.
These are the ups and downs of winning and losing the Cadillac account — or any account.
This is the nature of the business. Your ability to work in this industry is based on how well you handle the wins and losses. So if you can't handle the stress of uncertainty, don't work in advertising.
Look forward to a lot of late nights. Pitching new business is a pain.
Then keep up the same creative energy that helped you get the account.
If you lose:
Put your energies toward the remaining accounts to sustain you. (If you can't work on them, there may be a layoff in your future.)
Always make sure your portfolio and resume are current.
You may be able to follow the business to the new agency. Sometimes ad agencies need to staff up for a bigger account. They often look for people who have the experience needed to help them hit the ground running. So it's not unusual to see the same faces working on the same accounts at different ad agencies.
Always make sure your portfolio and resume are current. (Deserves repeating.)
Creatives either like to hash out ideas alone or have a meeting of the minds - brainstorming. Sometimes brainstorm sessions can be so intense, they'll go on for hours, even days. (You'll look at your co-workers differently when they are glassy-eyed and haven't showered.) Here's some tips to weather your next brainstorm and make it more productive.
Walk in with ideas. Take some time to gather your thoughts. Get the ball rolling quickly with some thought starters. There's nothing more counter productive than staring at each other until an idea pops into your head.
Go first. Yes, this is an ego thing. Don't wait to see if someone in the group has a similiar great idea. Put yours out there first and get credit for it.
Never remain silent. You where brought in to speak your mind. No one can read it. Here no one has use for a deep thinker who can't share.
Share every idea. People say there are no bad ideas. That's not necessarily true. There are ideas you use and ideas you don't use. An unusable idea helps strengthen the current big idea. If you have nothing to compare the big idea to, it's easy to doubt its strength as a concept.
Don't get defensive. If they don't like your idea, let it go and don't attack others for it.
Accept ideas from all sources. Don't let egos blind you to a great idea. I was once in a session were an art director came up with a better theme line and tag line than mine. Yea, it hurt, but I had to admit it was good copy - and the clients loved it.
Basically, it stated Ebert never allowed himself to become "that old newspaper guy," someone set in his ways and is slow to change. Decades ago, he made the jump to television when that was rare for newspaper reporters and he was an early adopter of the Internet and social media.
The mentallity "adapt or die" (or adopt, in this case) is why he flourished. You won't find too many people in their 70's working in a newsroom.
At age 45, like it or not, this business considers me to be an old ad guy. I don't allow myself to think like one. If I did, I should quit the business right now. I keep myself relevant by:
Education. I'm back in school studying for a master's degree in new media.
Reading. Aside from school books, I read as much relevant material as time will allow - from books to blogs.
Networking. I talk to vendors. attend ad club events, go to seminars.
I may be a "senior copywriter," but by no means am I a senior. I put in all of this work to keep me open to new ideas and opportunities. There's no room for old thinking for this "old ad guy."
Yes, my posts have been spotty lately. (It's good to be missed.) I was a bit busy with my new career. If you're a regular reader, take comfort in the fact that I practice what I preach. EVERYTHING I've told you about how to land a job in this industry are the same steps, I used to find my new career path.
In the end, I was picking from more than one job offer.
I'm now Sr. Copywriter and Communications Specialist for US Foods, one of the major suppliers to restaurants across the nation.
What? Not an ad agency?
One observation I've made is that it's a confusing time for agencies. Some are unsure about hiring, because of uncertainties concerning their accounts. Some clients are squeezing out agencies, building up their own marketing departments and doing the work themselves to save money. More important, they are staffing up with talent with ad agency backgrounds. So I refocused my efforts. The response couldn't have been better.
I got more calls.
I got more interviews.
And I got multiple job offers.
At my new position, the work is challenging. And the people are great. It's like working at an agency with only one client and fewer layers of approvals. (Gotta love that.) Here's a project I did on my first week:
Check out my old Ad Grad Project 2009 posts. I've always said that you don't have to work at an ad agency to do agency work.
Getty Images. iStockphoto. Corbis Images. There are hundreds of stock photography houses creatives go to for ideas, inspiration and to create. And everyone has their favorite image spot for shots. So when we all go to the same place, things like this can happen:
So I'm flipping through the pages of Chicago Magazine and find this finance ad. Just weeks earlier, my team and I were about to purchase the same shot for a healthcare ad.
Yes, the team behind this ad beat us to the punch, but they didn't purchase exclusive usage of the photo, allowing others to buy the photo, too.
We rely on stock photography because it's time saving and it's far cheaper than a shoot. But it's to your benefit (and definitely the client's) to spend a little more and buy the rights.
Imagine the cost and the embarrassment if our ads appeared in the same publications.
I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of teasers and sneak previews of Super Bowl ads. It's not that some aren't entertaining. When it comes to teasers, there's a risk of creating an expectation the spots won't live up to. (We all know Super Bowl ads go through harsher criticisms than other commercials.) And seeing ads days before the game is like opening presents days before Christmas. I prefer enjoying all the festivities at the appropriate time. That's just me. So don't watch these if you feel the same. (This is an advertising blog - I had to post some.)
So with all the hype built around Beyoncé at halftime and the usual commercial fanfare, do you even know who's playing on Super Bowl Sunday? Be sure to party safely.
So I'm standing in the Chicago cold waiting for my train to go to work. I'm frozen in place staring at some outdoor boards. One catches my eye, but for the wrong reasons.
It has a QR code.
My first thought: Standing on my side of the tracks, there's no way my phone or tablet would be able to scan it.
My second thought: If I was on the other side, why would I stop to scan it when I'm catching or leaving my train?
Over 15 years ago, I had high expectations for QR codes. I really thought it would revolutionize the way we shared content. It became a novelty, because a lot of uninspired marketing used it incorrectly, such as applying it to inappropriate places. The worst offense was giving users weak content when they made the effort to scan it. (I don't know if that was the case for this ad.) So by suffering through a lot of bad content, QR scanning turned into a fad. Sad.
This year, smartphones are predicted to surpass PCs as the most used device to access the web. But as cloud computing creates a bigger digital storm, we'll be more tuned into our services than our devices. We need to deliver on making the mobile experience bigger and more unique, not as a dumping ground for existing content.
Don't allow your clients or you to take a lazy route with today's innovations.
For example, I'm looking for marketers to create some great experiences with NFC (near field communications) and make people want to really reach out and touch someone with their phones.
Clifton Simmons, Chicago Copywriter known for creating promotional goodness for McDonald's, Coke, Chevy, Chrysler, USAA, Michelin and more. Also heavily involved in experiential marketing and new
trends. The fine print: This is my blog, so these are my opinions - not my agencies and their clients.