• Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #19: Mandy Stevens

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    When I look back on my first day in advertising, it’s pretty hilarious actually. My art director partner and I were a Chicago start-up’s first hires (they’re still in business). Fresh out of Portfolio Center in Atlanta, we had no idea what to expect and, boy, were we in for a rude awakening. It would take the agency about six months before they could afford to lease proper office space. We commuted out to the suburbs of Chicago and cranked out campaign after campaign while sitting at wobbly folding card tables haphazardly situated in a tract house basement lit by blinding incandescent bulbs. That was my beginning. Full of “you can’t write this stuff” kind of stories. We lasted there almost a year before we hopped on the big agency bandwagon for a while. Here are a few things I would tell my junior copywriter self if I was just starting out on what I hope continues to be a long, interesting advertising road ahead.

    Here’s the most important thing to figure out.

    Always do work you’re proud to put your name on.

    Here’s what you need to ignore.

    What everyone else is saying.

    Here’s what you need to pay attention to.

    What everyone else is doing.

    Here’s what you need to work on most.

    Learn to start a project without overthinking it. A thought-starter doesn’t have to be perfect. Come back to it again and again and again. Whatever you write will eventually become exactly what it needs to be.

    Here’s what you need to embrace.

    The pressure never goes away.

    Here’s what will get easier.

    Your confidence in your craft.

    Here’s what won’t get better (so get used to it).

    Your first pass at something will never be approved as is.

    Here’s what’s pretty cool.

    Every project is a chance to impress yourself with what you’re capable of creating.

    Here’s what fear will go away.

    Do I have what it takes to make it in this industry?

    Here’s what fear won’t go away.

    Do I have what it takes to continue to make it in this industry?

    Here’s what should motivate you.

    Everything everyone is doing inside, but more importantly, outside of advertising.

    Here’s what will get you into trouble and hold you back at times.

    Stupid integrity.

    Here’s what will allow you to sleep at night.

    Integrity that’s not so stupid after all.

    Here’s the most important thing you’ll realize 15 years from now.

    Be open to every opportunity you have to learn something.
    Open your eyes.
    Open your heart.
    Open your mouth.
    And the rest will follow.
    Hopefully.

    Wishing everyone a great 2014!

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #18: Norm Shearer

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    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #17: Christopher Cox

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    Dear younger self on your first day in this upside down world,

    You thought you were hot shit in college but the next 14 years is going to be a succession of personality beatdowns that will both humble and harden you. Starting with nearly losing your only brother in a car accident the year you graduate it’s going to be a long road to finding yourself spiritually and creatively. Every time you try to climb up on your egotistical high horse you will get knocked down.

    If I can tell you one thing and one thing only it is not to be afraid. Do not approach things with fear. Banish it if you can. It will always be a challenge and it is even now, but try not to start with fear as the motivation for your decision-making. It’s okay to work for yourself. Not everyone was born to work the same job their entire life no matter what your parents say. But there are two sides to that equation, and the other is to not be afraid to commit. Don’t be afraid to commit to the people who love you. Don’t be afraid to commit being a good husband, father and friend. And yes being a father is amazing. You’ll put it off forever because you are being a self-centered douche bag but when you finally throw caution to the wind it will be the best decision you ever made. I’d tell you to do it earlier but you act like a spoiled kid for a long time so it’s probably best that you wait anyway.

    If someone needs you then be there for them. Part of working to banish fear is banishing expectations. And banishing expectations of others is almost harder than banishing your fear. If someone is using you though, or you suspect they are then move on. Don’t be afraid to say no and on the other side of the coin don’t be afraid to say I’m sorry.

    Be nicer to your wife. She’s actually even more of a beautiful person than you initially thought. Way more beautiful. She approaches and handles nearly everything in her life with an innate grace. Learn from her. And listen to her. She deserves it.

    Don’t be afraid to change. This is part of banishing fear-based decision making. Actually you are going to have to change. A lot. The first 10 years is pretty much a succession of admitting wrong doing and being an overbearing jerk. Sure you mean well but it doesn’t come off that way. It’s going to take a while before you learn to project positivity even when you feel your negative upbringing tugging at your pant leg. You will lose people along the way and have to admit you were wrong many times. Choose to be self-aware as much as possible. Self-help books exist for a reason. Read them.

    Don’t be afraid of time. It doesn’t exist. Everything is in flux. It seemed like things were changing back when you were handy in Flash, but you would not believe what’s happening now. It’s too weird to even describe. It’s hard to even know what advertising is anymore or if marketing is actually effective at all. The entire experience of it has changed so much in the past 15 years that it would sound like science fiction to you now. Two things do remain constant though and that is good design and old-fashioned artistic talent. You can always come back to that. When those two elements combine they are still capable of solving many problems.

    Oh and please write more. Write as much as you can. Even if you aren’t great at it it’s one of the best ways to learn how to develop your ideas. And pick up the pencil before the mouse (or the Stylus pen (but you don’t even know what that is yet). You may not like hearing this but clients will pay more if you think before you act. Brain always trumps brawn in this industry. It makes the art direction side a challenge and puts a moving target in front of you but just remember to think before you act whenever possible.

    But overall, just don’t be afraid. This industry is even stranger than you could have imagined. A lot of people will try to fill your head with bullshit but it always boils down to the simplest ingredients. It’s about relationships. You gotta work at that, kid. Hard. Just keep trying to get better at it. People will put you down. There’s nothing you can do about it. It will hurt. It always does. Learn what you need to from the criticism but don’t let it slow you down. You can always improve yourself despite the odds. You’ll have to work at it every day but it’s the only thing that will make your career move forward. You can always start over and will have to many times.

    Just remember to choose at the start of every day not to be afraid. And smile when you do. There is love in every moment of life if you look for it.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #16: Tom Van Ness

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    Tom’s Top Tips for Young, Stupid Tom. (Or any young creative for that matter.)

    Be obnoxiously curious. If you don’t know exactly what’s going on, just ask. Now is the time to be naïve, not eight years from now. Ask a question. Then ask a few more. It’s better to look curious and eager than dumb. More importantly, you can get yourself in a lot of deep shit by just nodding your head when you don’t know what something is. It’s a trait that will benefit you for a lifetime.

    Become an MBA on the side. Well, it doesn’t have to be MBA level, but the more you can learn about business, the better. After all, advertising is business, not just creativity. An ACD or CD or even junior creative that knows about how the bottom line becomes the bottom line is a very valuable commodity. How does the agency earn money? What can you do every day to help profitability? This too will serve you for a lifetime. Especially when you try to open your own agency in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s.

    Practice your presentations. Your life depends on presenting. Well, the career side of things at least. Improv. Just do it. It’s ridiculously fun, and it not only helps your presenting, it helps your brain think quickly and in different ways. Voice classes, why not? Public speaking. Hell yes. Then practice your presentations. Even the little ones. As a creative, you’re on stage every time you present. The more often you kill it, the more often you’re the trusted go-to. Remember, any good actor rehearses. Great actors rehearse until they vomit. Rehearsals give you the chance to build the bridges between ideas, and polish the concepts so that you can sell what you want to sell.

    Sorry for being so practical, young Thomas. I would have woven some heart-wrenching, emotional storytelling into this letter, but there’s a guy here in the future they call Jim Elkin. And he owns that shit.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #15: Jasper Gray

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    To young Jasper,

    This is some advice for your first day on a film set. Because you don't know yet that you even work in advertising. You'll learn that eventually, but not today. You don't even know who those stylish people are behind the video-assist monitor or what they are doing. Although I will say it's good to get to know them as most of them will turn out to be pleasant company and good to have a drink with. And after all they did come up with the idea in the first place and are really the reason we are all here. But that's way too much for now and we can get to that much, much later.

    So first things first...

    Get to set early. Seriously. Not right on time and definitely not late. Double check your call time, the map to location, and your calculation of the time it takes to get there, but especially your alarm clock. This is going to be a tough one for you, I know. But you will have to learn quickly because if you show up late you won't get get hired again and your film career will be short lived. So take this seriously and I promise it will make you a better person. Or at least a better prepared one — which is almost the same thing.

    Shut the fuck up. At least at first. No one is going to want to hear about your student film, your experience gained shooting your student film or your shot by shot breakdown of Hitchcock's Vertigo. You are working with professionals who have more experience than you can imagine and sometimes you have to shut your mouth to open your eyes and learn and this is definitely one of those times. There is no way that you can impress them with what you think you know. But through a willingness to learn and by busting your ass you can at least earn their respect. Maybe, just maybe during lunch someone will want to know about your student film award or why Tippi Hedren wore a green dress but probably not. This is also going to be hard for you. But soon you will learn not only how, but why.

    Now that is out of the way….

    Absorb everything. The fascination you feel right now will be your greatest asset. It will drive you to learn about every aspect of filmmaking. It will give you the enthusiasm and energy to make a career in the filmmaking. When you don't yet have the experience, the connections or the know-how, this is what will drive you through.

    You are going to work with hundreds of crews, thousands of people, all over the world. And every new day on set you will have to prove yourself all over again. Some people are going to yell and scream, some people are going to test you, tell you what you can't do, even try to demean you (hey — it's the film business, and sometimes it's like that). Smile politely and then work to prove them wrong.

    But more people will take you under their wing and mentor you. Sometimes this will go beyond filmmaking, some will also be your mentors and role models in life. Repay these people with the utmost loyalty, and when the time comes follow their example.

    And when the Prop Master asks you to separate the best cornflakes from a case of cornflakes boxes do this with pride and whatever cornflake wrangling skill you can muster. Make sure those 'hero' flakes are set and ready for their close-up when the time comes and that you have even more triple A+ flakes in reserve. Try to realize that one day you may need someone to do something like this for you, and if they half-ass it then it's your shot that could suffer from shitty looking cornflakes. And if that's too abstract then just do your best because you want to get hired back and because everyone on the crew gives their very best work even on something that seems completely trivial.

    And through all of this make sure that you enjoy yourself. Because you've just stumbled into what could possibly be the greatest job in the world.

    Oh, and yes, that table full of snacks, you can help yourself — just try not to overdo it.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #14: Jim Glynn

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    Dear 22 Year Old Jim

    Congratulations on surviving your first day at Foote, Cone.

    Sorry the Chief Creative Officer got so pissed at you for not bringing any ideas to the Shout gangbang.

    How was he supposed to know it was your first day?

    The memory of the door jam shattering when he stormed out still makes me laugh.

    It does get better, but why ruin the surprise.

    I do have two pieces of advice, though.

    Every time you meet a girl with any ties to Indiana, run.

    You’re gonna have to trust me on this.

    And in 1980, a company called Apple will start selling stock.

    Hock everything and buy all you can.

    Love

    Slightly Older Jim

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #13: Mike King

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    Dear Me,

    I am writing to you from December 2013. I am now in my thirties, married and have a 7-month-old baby. But that’s a different letter. Today we’re going to talk about your career in advertising. By this year, you will have worked at five agencies. Five. So yeah, I have some advice for you.

    1. Hone your writing skills. You’ve probably been skimming through a 2003 Archive saying, “I wish I’d have done that” about a visual solution for what most likely is a fake client. But the truth is, you’re going to need to know how to write a good headline, radio script or website in a pinch more often than not.

    2. Scare yourself. You’re going to be presented with opportunities that will bring you out of the state and out of your comfort zone. Feel them out and if it feels right, don’t be afraid to go for it. A new city, new agency and new people will teach you more than you thought possible.

    3. Get serious about digital. Don’t just concept microsites and banners, learn to create them. Even if you’re terrible at it. Trying means learning and learning digital will be more important than you could ever imagine.

    4. Sweat the small stuff. The details matter. Do your research. Triple check things. Stress over words that seem insignificant. Spend hours finding the perfect music or voiceover for a project. The little things can make a big difference. Sometimes, all the difference.

    5. Be more creative outside work. Write that damn screenplay already. Or that book. Fuck, write a blog if you want to. Actually learn to play the guitar. Collaborate with friends on stupid ideas. Creativity outside the office fosters creativity inside of it.

    6. Fail smarter. This is one of the most worn-out expressions in the industry, but it’s so damn true: Accept failure. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Let it light a fire under your ass and push you forward.

    7. Don’t use exclamation points. Never try to make your own sushi. Travel more. Ride your bike. Drink good beer. Help people. Make shit happen. Have fun. Be happy.

    Best regards,
    Mike

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #12: Steve Babcock

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    SENT BY: Google FluxMail
    TO: July, 1999

    Dear Steve,

    Today is your first day as a Jr. Copywriter at EURO RSCG DSW Partners in Salt Lake City, Utah. You did it. You graduated from the mailroom. You’re officially official!

    And now, some advice. It’s a quote from David O. McKay.

    “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

    What does this have to do with advertising, you ask?

    As you’ll soon discover, the advertising industry is funny. It’s not just about making ads that drive results for clients. For many, it’s largely about creating work in hopes of gaining recognition. Whether that’s winning an industry award, being featured in an article, impressing the boss or outdoing a coworker.

    Everywhere you turn there will be opportunities to pursue recognition – all for the sake of feeling important.

    And by all means, please pursue these opportunities.

    But never let the desire to be important in the workplace outpace your desire to be important in the home.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t desire to go to Cannes. It just means that desire can’t be stronger than your desire to attend your daughter's piano recital.

    Definitely strive to impress your boss. Just make sure you never let up striving to impress your wife.

    Bring home all the trophies you can. Just make sure you bring them home in time for dinner.

    Get the idea?

    You’ll find that the advertising industry is a constant struggle to achieve balance. But an emphasis on home and family is an emphasis worthy of your pursuit. Home is the sure foundation. You’ll experience many jobs. You’ll get laid off a few times and even fired once. You’ll have ups and downs. Wins and losses. Times of happiness and times of utter insanity. It will be tempting to dabble in workaholism. None of which will truly bring happiness. Even the shiniest of titanium trophies will pale in comparison to the smallest of moments in the home.

    So go be great. Work hard. Be passionate. Earn recognition. Just remember that if you make your family your priority, regardless of what’s going on in your career, you will always be successful.

    Take care homie,

    Steve

    PS: SPOILER ALERT: The band never ends up making it big. Sorry. But it’s a fun ride anyway. Enjoy it.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #11: Pat Feehery

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    When I first got this assignment to write a letter to myself I thought, “Shit, I’d never read it.” It would lie on my nightstand next to unpaid parking tickets and prayer cards from my mom, who was probably scared I’d never make it through the Pearly Gates (and rightfully so). So I thought, where would impressionable me be? Ah yes, the bar. The Park Tavern to be specific. I can still smell the stench of cigarettes and cheap beer permeating off my oversized, blue-collar body. Look at you, Philly construction worker turned creative. You did it. Now here are four things I wish I knew when I started in "the biz."

    Have fun with advertising. When you start to stress out, realized that you’re one of lucky ones, not many people have the opportunity to do what you do. The stress of advertising is manufactured; it’s put on us, by us. Remember we’re not saving babies; we’re probably making them talk and use financial software.

    Keep your family and friends above advertising. Your professional loyalty is commendable, but don’t sacrifice relationships or experiences because of it. As much as you care about advertising, advertising doesn’t care about you, because it inanimate and it certainly doesn’t have feelings. This time around don't miss your grandfather's funeral because of work, I promise you'll regret it.

    Work smart, not hard. The more efficiently you work the more you will enjoy life outside the confines of Adobe Creative Suite. The more you enjoy your time off, the more you will enjoy advertising. Consequently the more you enjoy advertising; the more it will pay you back. So, yes Miller Lite will only be a life choice in the future, and not a budget conscious decision. Trust me you'll still drink it, they release this Vortex bottle that becomes a cult classic with you and all your juvenile friends.

    And last but not least, don’t be a dick, because you never know who that person you piss off turns out to be. Unless he’s an dude who went on your computer and stole your files. That dude you can still threaten to kick his ass with every being in your body, because that’s just not cool.

    In closing, just keep advertising a cool, humble place to work for yourself and others. I wish you realized this a long time ago, but know that one day you’ll be happier than a pig in shit. Oh and speaking of shit, stop smoking and lose some weight.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #10: Anne Macomber

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    Dear 22-year-old Anne:

    I have many bits of advice for you.

    Most of it you will never heed because you never really were one for listening, especially at 22. But you are a reader, so I’m hoping you’ll read this:

    If you don’t know how to do something, ask. This will come in handy at your first radio record, on your first TV shoot, and in at least a hundred other instances. You will look far less stupid asking what a “patch” is than checking every closet to see where the talent is hiding.

    Try, try, TRY and talk less. In fact, shut up. If that is impossible, at least shut up long enough to listen to anyone giving you anything that even remotely resembles advice.

    When presenting to Rich, remember to duck BEFORE he throws the coffee mug.

    When asking for a raise, it’s not because you need it, it’s because you deserve it.

    Pick your battles.

    Bite your tongue.

    And when in doubt, start a fresh email.

    Wear a less see-through shirt to the Clio’s in ‘99. Also, take a pass on that last drink and you won’t barf on Lane Foard in the cab on the ride home.

    If you’re banging on the front door and no one answers, go around and see if anyone’s left the back door unlocked. In other words: When force fails, try finesse.

    Since you are a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, consider wearing it under a sweater from time to time.

    A corollary to this is: Work on your poker face. It will come in handy more than you know.

    Do NOT take the tampon job.

    Do NOT let Amy Hudon move in.

    Do NOT say “sure, dude” when asked to smoke weed with your boss(es).

    Remember the lessons you learned as an intern. Because 90% of success in this business is “intern stuff” that you will end up doing for your entire career.

    Be a problem solver and you can accomplish anything. Solve problems with a smile and some creativity and you’ll amaze.

    Stay away from married men. Especially the unhappily married ones. They are nothing but a pile of heartache.

    Make yourself invaluable to clients, and you will make yourself invaluable to your agency.

    At the end of the day, people buy people. Be a person people want to buy, and you will never be at a shortage of clients, work or friends.

    As the years go in, take a moment to thank all the people who overlooked your flaws and loved you when you were a total pain in the ass.

    Kill your darlings.

    Keep the dream alive.

    Remember who loves you.

    And make shit happen. Thinkers and engines are what this business really needs.

    And finally, here’s some advice for the day before your first day. Because your first day will go just fine, but the day before it is when you will need it most:

    You will be an intern. And you will be asked to present in a meeting. A big meeting. You will do a great job presenting. And the client will be just about to buy your idea. And then, slowly, and sneakily, your ACD will take everything the client likes about your campaign and merge those ideas into hers. So slowly and sneakily, in fact, that you won’t realize what is happening until the moment when client buys her idea instead of yours.

    And then, you will start to cry.

    You will cry so hard that you have to be taken out of the client meeting and put in a car.

    You will be driven back to the agency, where you will sit in your office, waiting to get fired. You will wait for what feels like an eternity.

    And finally, your Creative Director will come. And he will call you into his office. And he will shut the door. And you will still be crying.

    He will sit next to you on the couch. He will hand you a box of Kleenex. And he will tell you he heard about what happened in the meeting. You will nod. And sniffle. And he will tell you something amazing. He will tell you you’re not, in fact, getting fired. He will tell you, instead, you’re getting a job.

    And through your runny nose and watery eyes and pile of tissues you will look at him in amazement.

    “But, why?” you will ask.

    And he will tell you that it’s because you have passion. Because tact, and judgment and poise can all be taught. But passion; either you have it or you don’t. And passion is a rare thing. So congratulations, kid. Congratulations, go blow your nose, and get back to work.

    Which, 20 years later, is still pretty good advice for all of us:

    Congratulations on having passion.

    Now go blow your nose.
    And get back to work.

    Love, me

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

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