Inspiration Hunting

Being creative is like breathing to some folks. They are just naturally able to see things differently and to create something amazing. But in advertising, you're surrounded by people with breathe and sweat creativity, so you really need to try a little harder to keep up and stay in the cool crowd. 

Think of it as creative work out sessions. Go to the gym to keep your body in shape and hunt inspiration to keep your mind in shape.

Before coming across 29 Ways To Stay Creative, I had made a list of ways to constantly stay inspired that I shared with the MAIP 2011 interns. (Wish I'd found that first, could've just jacked it.)

My basic point was that you have to hunt inspiration. You can't sit and wait for it to come to you, you have to go out there and find it. Collect all the tangible and intangible things you come across and examine them, flip them, educate yourself about them, indulge in them, morph them, take them apart, interact with them. See what it holds. And what it doesn't hold. There is so much out there to stimulate your creativity, but you have to fully immerse yourself in it - being inspired is active, not passive.

One of my fav quotes I still remember from my days at Ogilvy is "We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles."


The rules: Seek things that are new, different, opposite, foreign, weird and unknown to you. When it becomes familiar, move on to the next.

Read books, blogs, reviews.
Go to the museum.
Flip through magazines.
Talk to strangers.
Get lost.
Listen to someone else's music.
Read quotes.
Spend time with children or pets. Or pets people treat like children.
Take photos.
Take photos upside down.
Bake, cook, build, create: Make something
Write something. Anything. Letters. Reviews. Notes. Dreams.
Check out a classic. (Movie, book or album)
Go to a concert.
Go to a play. 
Listen to your music on random.
Watch movies, videos, documentaries. 
Learn another language. 
Eat something ethnic. 
Ask why?
Ask why not?
See how something is made.
Visit the market
Discover something new. 
Discover something old. (aka "Play Columbus")
Move around the furniture.
Take a walk.
People watch. (my fav)


Mailbag: Second Job Hunting Tips

Q: You have lots of good advice for juniors; any advice for mid-level creatives? People always focus on getting your first job, but what about preparing for your second? - Cameron, copywriter

A: So true. But honestly, it's pretty much the same, but a bit easier - partially because you're more aware of what you like and what you're good at, and less of a risk to potential employers because clearly you can't be a full idiot if someone else hired you.
* Talk To Yourself. First off, look at what you want next in your career. Where do you want to work and what do you want to work on? A new job isn't a magic pill to fix all your problems. You don't want to jump from frying pan to fire to boiling cauldron of lava and cayenne. So really take some time to think about why you want to leave this current job and what you're looking for our of your new job and where and how your needs can be met. And really take some time to think about what you need to change to be a better creative and employee as well.
Check yo'self before you wreck yo'self. (This sounds so awkward coming from me but I'm leaving it. Deal with it. *b-boy stance*)

* Update your portfolio and resume. Feature your best work. And only work you had a large contribution to. (Being in the room when it was presented or doing a resize for a banner doesn't count.)

* Use Your Connections. Talk to everyone you know who is at an agency you'd like to work at. Ask if they're looking and if so, if they can e-intro you to the creative recruiter or their CD. Even if they're not looking, ask to be introduced.

* Call in the Reinforcements. Reach out to 2 - 3 headhunters. Be clear on where you are and where you'd like to be in your career. The more honest you are, the more they can help. Also, make sure to let them know which agencies you've sent your work to on your own or through other folks so there is no overlap.

* Utilize All Resources. Contact creative staffing firms and see what they have. They usually send emails that fit your needs and there are sometimes little gems in there - especially freelance work.

* Search Your Networks. Look on LinkedIn, TalentZoo, mediabistro etc and see what's posted. Check out agencycompile, AdAge, AdWeek and other ad trades and blogs to see who is hiring, firing,winning and losing accounts. New business win = hiring, so go where there is water. 

* Don't Be Shy. Email people at places you want to work even if you don't have a contact there and wow them with your wit and skills and kick ass portfolio. Check out these email tips.

* Give It A Test Drive. Freelance if you can so you can get a feel for a place and they can get a feel for. There's nothing wrong with testing the milk before you buy the cow. (Is that how the saying goes? I'm not into cows nor milk so I'm not sure. I should've stuck with the driving analogy but I'm even worse with that...)

* Know Your Worth. Research salaries (ask your colleagues or try Glassdoor, Payscale or salary) to see what someone with your experience gets and think realistically about your needs then set a salary range that you can live with.

* Never Turn Anything Down. If they're interested and want to meet, follow through even if you're not sure. Think of it as practice. You never know who you could meet, what you could learn, or where something can lead.

* Don't Bite The Hand That Feeds You. If you're still employed while you're looking, be sure to still give your all to work.

* Manage Your Expectations. Just because they reply to your email doesn't mean they'll interview you. Just because they interview you, doesn't mean they'll offer you a job. Just because they offer you a job, doesn't mean you should accept it. Weigh all your options and make sure you're making the best move for you and not just making a move because you're ready to move.
* Give It Time. Sometimes it can take 3 - 6 months to find the right thing. Patience is a virtue. (I'm never too sure what this saying is really saying, but at least I know I got this one right.)

Happy Hunting!

Interview: Things Recruiters Love + Hate

Nothing beats hearing it from the horse's mouth.  Five recruiters and headhunters share some of the things you do in emails that they love and hate.


E-mails that clearly feature your title, level, current gig, link, referral (if applicable), and whether you're into freelance, full-time, or both, and your breadth of experience. – Kati

When you inject a dose of personality into your email. So I can get a feel for who you are as a person. – Cecilia

Tell me how you came across my name: did someone refer you to me, Linked In, Twitter, etc.?  - Laura

Always make sure to leave full contact information including all links to portfolios. – Kimberly

Simplicity of navigating sites – Lori

When they send me a follow up link with updated work 6 months to a year later. I may not have had a job then, but I might in the future. – Cecilia


When you ramble. 6 paragraphs are 4 too many. – Cecelia

Unfinished portfolios: if you can't coordinate your own book, my agency will have a difficult time hiring you and I will have a hard time placing you.  – Laura

Long-winded explanations of each piece of work. – Lori

There is nothing worse than a glaring typo. Check everything (spec copy, name of the person you're emailing, company names, etc). Typos are a reflection of your own attention to detail.  – Kimberly

People who are lazy email communicators, who type 'r' instead of 'are,' 'ur' for you're & your.  Please email me like I am a colleague, not your drinking buddy.  – Laura

Overkill on the follow-up; recruiters can definitely use follow-up e-mails, but please give us a couple days to respond before trying again. – Kati

There you have it. Be nice, be concise, be buttoned up and be patient.

See more email tips The Art of Emailing and Email Dos & Don'ts

Happy emailing!

Special thanks to my wonderful and informative interviewees:
Cecilia Gormam: VP, Director of Creative Services, Y&R/Wunderman Irvine & Owner, Creative Career Management 
Kati Llewellyn: Associate Creative Recruiter, Draftfcb Chicago
Kimberly Easley: VP, Director of Creative Resources/Recruiting, Publicis Modem NY
Laura Bonetti: Creative Recruiter, Kay & Black NY

Back2Work: Presentation 101

This post is late because I had a presentation today and 99% of the rest of the world ceased to exist. It's over now. Welcome back.

Presenting is a mandatory in Advertising. If you don't like opening your mouth, speaking in front of a group and expressing a point of view then you may want to rethink your career choice.

You're always going to have to present in some shape or form. We're in the business of selling things - starting with ourselves and ending with a product or service. So whether it's presenting your skills to a hiring manager or presenting your ideas to your partner, your creative director, the account team or the client, being a good presenter is essential to your career advancement. (I know people who could take the turdiest idea and make it sound like foie gras.)

Here are some basic presentation tips to get you going.

1. Lay it out logically. Put everything together in the way people think – look at the initial problem and how what you’re doing is solving it. Have your presentation and work unfold in a way that makes sense and let each part build off the other. Don’t leave any room for someone to ask why but always keep them with a sense of “Ooh, what else?”

2. Make notes. Before you get up to talk, sit down and write. List the main points you want to say. Write down the buzz words that are relevant to the client and the campaign. Put whatever things you’re worried you may forget or mess up on. Write a guideline for how you want to go through it from beginning to end. It doesn’t have to be a script, think of it more of as an outline or a cheat sheet.

3. Speak, don’t read. BeDon’t read from your presentation – especially if it means you’ll have your back to your listeners. Paraphrase, give an overview and let them read for themselves. Also, consider just writing key phrases instead of full paragraphs – that way people can focus on what you’re saying.

4. Take them along with you. Your presentation is like a story. It has a beginning, middle and end.
Give some background – What’s going on in the client’s world? The target market’s world? Why’d you do think of this idea in particular?
Say why it's great – What makes your idea relevant and amazing? Why does it work? This is where you really sell.
Use words from the brief – Planners and clients will love you for this – it shows that you paid attention and were thinking strategically.

5. Look the part. Dress smartly.  Wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Unless it's a client presentation, you don't really have to dress up dress up. But if you look good, you feel good. And if you look good, people will take you more seriously.

Note: Avoid distracting clothing or jewelry. You want them to focus on your work and nothing else.

6. Engage Them. Speak slowly and clearly. Make eye contact. Be excited about your work.  Tell a small story. Give an example.

7. Acknowledge your flub. It's ok to say you're nervous. It's ok to make a mistake - sometimes you want to say hi or maybe hello and somehow hi-lo makes its way out of your mouth. Or maybe you said agitate instead of aggregate. That's ok, correct yourself, laugh it off and keep going. If you don't make a big deal out of it, they won't.

8. Don't undersell. If you say they probably won't like it, they probably won't. Don't say you just threw this together - you sound unprepared, unprofessional and unreliable. If you don’t believe in your work, no one else will.

9. Invite advice. If there's an idea or execution you're not sure about or think needs work, ask your listeners to give suggestions. Be humble and open to criticism and changes. Just fyi, there will always be criticism and changes. And after that, there will be more criticism and more changes.

10. Give them what they ask for. And then some. Make sure you check off on the list of deliverables, and then if you have anything extra and awesome, add it at the end as sweetener.

Over all advice:
-       Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them. Repetition helps people remember and helps you stay on track.
-       Practice makes perfect. Go through it once or twice in front of a mirror or to someone else. Get used to the order, the words and the flow of it.
-       Smile.

Give yourself time if you’re not perfect. Keep working at it and it’ll get better.

Even after several years of doing presentations at work, pageants, poetry readings and one drunken night of singing on the 6 train, I still get nervous.

How to Switch Into Advertising

You know how after a little close to too much drinks you love everybody? Well I'm like that with Advertising. All the time. I love it. Even when I hate it. Even when I haven't slept more than three hours in four days. Even when the client/budget/legal team is ruining everything. I love it and want to throw my arm around it and sing Don't StopBelieving at the top of my lungs.

Last night I attended an event hosted by the Madison Browne Fellowship and Howard University's Center for Excellence in Advertising (CEA) at R/GA. I usually enjoy networking events because of the free food, drinks and Journey songs ( don't judge me) but this one was especially awesome because it deal with a relevant topic to me, you, and anybody else trying to break into the business. And it reminded me of how much I love Advertising. 

I've been fortunate enough to have been born with a notepad and pencil in my hand (it was a particularly painful August for my mother) so I've pretty much always been a writer and once I found out what it was, I've been on the path to be a copywriter. 

But a lot of people are coming to the realization that they're not exactly happy where they are and perhaps can find joy somewhere in the coin-flip heaven and hell that is Advertising.
So this post is dedicated to all of the folks who realized a little too late that they were too creative and too awesome to be in whatever major/field they are currently in.

The topic was "Lateral Movement" which  are businessy words for "Switching Industries" and the panel of 9 awesome professionals discussed really valuable tips on how to stand out, reach out and get hired. 

Luckily for you, I have magically fast fingers and take great notes.

Here's what I learned:

-       Be engaging, curious, driven, passionate, unafraid, tenacious, persistent, and thirsty.
-       Be a team player. A hard worker. A problem solver. A creative thinker. An innovator. A doer. A maker.
-       Be able to convey your thoughts clearly
-       Be constant and consistent. Reach out to as many people as possible. Don’t stop trying.
-       Be social. Network. Make connections. Get to know the people who work where you want to work and do what you want to do.
-       Be a subject matter expert. What are you good at? Knowledgeable in? What’s your area of expertise?
-       Be involved in the world.
-       Be a student of advertising: Read the trades, blogs, websites and tweets focused on advertising.
-       Be thick skinned. Learn how to accept and grow from rejection and criticism.
-       Be ready to work your way up. You may have to start from the bottom and work more, work harder, work smarter to make it to where you really want to be.
-       Be patient.

-       Show your intellect. Don’t be a smart ass but show how you can process and channel information in ways that will be beneficial in any line of work.
-       Show the trade offs: What you lack in experience you make up in enthusiasm, discipline, ninja skills.
-       Show how your life experience translates in the office, in the industry and in the client’s marketplace
-       Show that you can manage situations, different types of people and adversity.
-       Show off your interpersonal and communication skills.
-       Show what value you bring to the agency and the client.
-       Show how you could be a financial asset to the agency and the client.
-       Show how having different background means you bring a different perspective – which can fuel new ideas
-       Show all sides of your creativity – professional and personal.
-       Show that you’re worth taking a chance on. 

-       Research everybody, every place, every little thing. Pretend this is Jeopardy and you’re in it to win it.
-       Know the agency, what they do and what the culture is like. Know the job description and requirements.
-       Do informational interviews with HR managers and people in that job or at that agency to get a better perspective on the expectations and environment.
-       Know what clients and departments you best fit in based on your interests and background.
-       Speak the language. Show that you know the terms, the challenges and opportunities of the agency and the industry.
-       Send a note with your resume. Introduce and sell yourself first. Don’t just send an attachment blindly.
-       Know your story. Have 3 – 5 points you can say to sell yourself.
-       Look at your transferable skills. Highlight what things from your previous/current job are relevant in this new position.
-       Use examples of specific situations you excelled in to demonstrate your skills.
-       Freelance where and when you can to get more experience if you can.
-       Access your six degrees of separation. Reach out to people you know who know people. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow people on twitter. Ask to be introduced.
-       Follow up with people, even if they didn’t have time or a position for you, keep in touch and build a relationship for the future. You never know.
-       Talk to a lot of people. You never know who can help you how. Overwhelm yourself with knowledge.
-       Ask questions.
-       Follow and find chances to interact with the people you want to work with/for on twitter.
-       Find a mentor. (Post on this coming up soon.)
-       Make coffee dates. They may not have time for an interview but coffee and tea are easy ins.
-       Fail. It makes you stronger and smarter.

I thought these were great tips for everyone from people wanting to get into advertising to people in already advertising wanting to switch agencies.

Thank you Madison Browne, CEA and R/GA.

Connect with Madison Browne on twitter @madisonbrowneny and on Facebook to find out about future events.

The Art of Emailing

Advertising is kind of like dating. (Except I'm good at advertising.) The agency you want to work at is that hot guy or girl that everybody wants to get with.

How do you get his/her attention? How do you approach him/her? How do you make them see that you two will make the most beautiful kids together? And how do you get them to talk to you instead of the other jerkwads in the room?

The awkwardness, anxiety, insecurity and excessive sweating will  probably still be the same, but at least advertising you can approach that person via email, at home, in your pjs, with a tall glass of Pepto to calm your nerves.

Let's discuss the Art of Emailing.

1. Who to email:
a. Find out if you know someone who knows someone. If you can have someone that works at that agency introduce you to the creative recruiter or creative director, then all you have to do is jump in and start tap dancing.

If you can't get an introduction, then you have a bit more groundwork to do before you can start the show.

b. Ask around to find out who the best contact is. The creative recruiter is usually a good bet because they will have the scoop on all the open positions, so if they like you, they'll introduce you to the creative directors.

2. What to say:
a. Subject Lines. Be as clear as possible here. If someone recommended you contact the recruiter, drop their name. If you met them before, say when. If you are a one-legged copywriter with interactive experience from Buenos Aires, feel free to lead with that. Just don't bore their eyes to dryness with "Hello" or "Copywriter" or "Hire me."

b. Message. Greet the person by name then introduce yourself and state your case.

In 3 - 5 sentences, say who you are, why you're writing and what's so special about you.  (Here is where you do your fancy footwork.) Say why you like Agency X and why Agency X would like you. Include your link, one or two relevant skills, awards or fun facts.

Don't be generic. Don't just copy and paste. You wouldn't use some lame pick-up line on the hot chick/guy, so don't use the same old same old here either.

Keep it short, interesting and to the point. They get 982 emails a day (give or take 4) so make sure yours will stand out in their inbox and make them want to reply. (See yesterday's emailing tips

End by saying you'd love to talk more and give your contact information.

c. Spell check and proof read. 

d. Spell check again.

e. Send. 

3. What next: 
Wait. They may not answer for a few days, or at all. Follow up in a week and see if anything happens. (They're probably just busy and remember how I said work email and I aren't friends? I imagine it's less friendly to these folks.)

4. What if they reply: 

a. They like you. Write them back in a timely manner. Thank them for their time, show a bit more personality, and try to set up an in person meeting. See if you can do that in 4-5 sentences.

b. They don't like you. Write them back in a timely manner. Thank them for their time, show a bit more personality, and ask for specific feedback and offer to follow up in a few months when you or Agency X are in better places to get down.

5. What if they don't reply: 
If you still get crickets after 2-3 weeks, they're probably just really busy but are definitely thinking about you...Yeah...

Grap a Kleenex, keep working on your book and keep looking.
photo by David DeLaRosa

Mailbag: Dealing With Deadlines

Q: So far, I have been given deadlines ranging from one hour to a few hours. Because I have so little time to work on projects compared to what I'm used to, I am usually not happy with the results. Can you please give me some advice on how to handle it all?
- Emely, a MAIP summer intern at JWT NY

A: First off, go in earlier and stay later.

This business is all about timeliness. You have to be quick. But you also have to be good. It's sometimes hard to manage the two. So when necessary, ask for a little more time. Don't do it too often, but if you think having another hour or two would make a significant difference to the quality of work, say that.

If you have several projects, try to prioritize and see which ones you can ask for more time on so you can focus on being really great when it really matters. Time management is your responsibility but if you need help/advice on what is most important, ask a project manager or your supervisor.

Honestly, some of the deadlines are probably stricter than they need to be because you're an intern. It's part them testing you and part them not trusting you. They need to see what you can do and need time for someone else to fix it if you mess up. (But don't tell anyone I told you that.)

Ask nicely and say in order to do quality work and prevent several rounds of revisions, you're going to need more time up front. Which is saving time overall because it means you can get it right the first go.

If you meet the deadline then find you have time, revise the piece later into to something you like more. This is good because you now have a piece you can use in your book that you feel good about. And you can submit it again and say you took more time and thought this was better because of xyz reasons. See if they'll take that instead or as well. Then you can say for the next round, if I have more time, I can do something really great like the one I redid that time. You've set a precedent now that more time = better work and they're more likely to trust you and try to get you more time.

However some times, you're going to have to just suck it up, work through lunch, ignore Facebook and put the pedal to the metal to produce something good in little to no time. It happens to everyone from time to time. Just take a deep breath and focus.

Put your all into every project. No matter how small or stupid it may seem. If you do good with small + stupid you'll graduate to medium + alright and eventually get to big + exciting. And that is why you got into this business, right?

Now get back to work.

Email Dos & Donts

photo by: Aymane Remmal

Personally, I love email. Professionally, I've come to regard email the way most people view going to the DMV. You have to do it to get what you want but there's always too much involved for what should really be an easy thing... forms to fill out, lines, rules, etiquette, overcrowding, people with attitudes for no reason...

Sigh. But email isn't all bad. When used for good, not for evil, it's a great tool to advance your career.

It's a quick and easy way to interact with coworkers, connect with people you won't usually talk to and show your personality and skills.

It's also a quick and easy way to make yourself look like a fool.

(People have been fired over emails. Is that what you want to tell your mom the next time you call home? That an email did you in? That you were thwarted by Outlook? Don't be that guy.)

  • add some personality (Be smart, witty and charming.)
  • use adjectives and adverbs
  • be clear and concise
  • spell check and proofread. Then spell check again
  • get to the point (People don't have all day.)
  • end with next steps and/or questions
  • keep it professional. (Save all of that banter for awkward elevator rides.)
  • follow up if you don't hear back within a day or two. "Hey, just checking in about..." 

  • expect people to read between the lines and figure out what you mean
  • use multiple or difficult to read typefaces or colors
  • use emoticons, ALL CAPS or !!!! (Even one ! is too much. This is an office, not a monster truck rally)
  • use slang, curses or unconventional spelling
  • say anything flirty, sexist, racist, homophobic or political (even if they're doing it)
  • email anything you don't want in writing
  • send out invites to your band's show/charity walk/ birthday party/ thing no one cares about
  • be sarcastic or flippant (they often come off the same in writing: rude)
  • overuse the reply all button
  • ignore emails. Always reply, even if it's a simple "Ok."

Back2Work: Creative Wannabe Work Commandments

Whether you're an intern or junior, there are certain rules you need to conduct yourself by to make people like you and want to work with you.

Sure you're great. You know it and I know it and your mom knows it. However, these folks at Agency X have no idea, and quite honestly are too busy trying to show off their own greatness to care.

I went up to a mountain top (aka sat on my bed) and meditated (tried real hard to remember things from my internships + first year at work) and spoke to the advertising gods (napped) and put together this list of
Creative Wannabe Work Commandments.

* Never be late. Ever. Lightning will strike you down and kill you if you are. (Or not.) Get in before everyone and leave after them. 5:30 pm is midafternoon break time. Some of the biggest client changes - and biggest opportunities for you to get called to do some work - happen at the very last minute. Which is usually about 5 minutes before you're ready to go home.

* Dress like a creative, only better. There's no official dress code for creative types, so vans, torn jeans and Random Band #7 t-shirts are perfectly fine, but don't dress as if you're going to school, your friend's house, a party, a sleepover, the beach, the bathroom or a cocktail party. Dress in a way that if someone met you, they'd never assume you were an intern or junior and if the client were in the office the team wouldn't be ashamed to introduce you. Pick the best dressed person and use them as your template.

* Never get drunk around co-workers. Even if you're at a bar. Even if they're drunk. Even if it's your birthday. Even if they encourage you to have just one more. There's a lot of socializing over drinks in advertising, sometimes at work (shh) or outside of the office. Don't ever confuse your colleagues with your college buddies. You'll have to see them again tomorrow morning, sober and straight-faced. You can't take back anything said or done over scotch and tequila shots. Remember that. 

* Keep busy. If you have no assignments, ask for one. Ask your supervisor, ask his supervisor, ask her partner, ask everyone around if they need help with anything, if you can sit in on their meeting, if you can look over their shoulder creepily. If you're finished your work, Oliver Twist out in the piece and ask for more. Volunteer yourself, offer your services, step up and slide yourself into every opportunity to do some work and - here's what really matters - impress people.

* Limit Idling (On and off line). I love Facebook and Twitter as much as the average bear and I often use them to do research, but when people walk by my desk, there's no way they can tell if I'm skimming our competitor's fanpages to see what we can do better than them or if I'm buying a cow on Farmville. And that's what they'll assume. They also assume you're taking a long lunch if you're away from your desk too long, you're gossiping if you're talking to a coworker in the hall and you're taking a nap if you're in the bathroom for too long. (Confession: I've been guilty of this.) Always look occupied and engaged so they feel like they need you there.

* Don't say no. Never turn down an assignment or feedback. You're at the bottom of the totem pole and the best way to work your way up is to (wait for it) work. So if someone asks you to do something and it's late/you're too busy/you don't want to do it - don't say no, say you'll try to work something out, or you'll see if So Andso can help or ask for more time to get it done. Don't ever turn down an opportunity to show you're dependable, hardworking and amazing. If the client or account people ask you to do something creatively outrageous, you'll learn more diplomatic ways of saying no. My favorite is "Oh, that could be interesting. I'll try to work something out with that and see what other solutions we can come up with."

* Overdeliver. If they ask you to do three versions, do four. If they ask for "some" headlines, write ten. If they say "come up with a campaign" come up with three and flush them out in a wicked presentation that shows how your idea works across all media. Go above and beyond. Treat every assignment, no matter how big or small, like it's your final assignment and your entire grade depends on it.

*  Save the drama. I was going to say for your mama, but she doesn't want it either. This is a place of business, so put your personal life on mute once you step through those doors. Limit personal calls, conversations and visits. Don't stress about your boyfriend on company time. And God forbid, don't talk about that girl you may or may not meet up with later before/during/after the status meeting. No one cares. And you don't want them to. They'll look at you different and possibly like you less. You want them to know that you're a hard worker, a quick learner and a creative genius - nothing else matters. Nothing.

* Get a mentor and an ally. Find someone on your team or on another team who you respect and can ask for guidance, advice and introductions. (Advertising is very much about who you know and who they know. So make those connections.) And find an ally, someone on your team who you can share your work and ideas with, discuss projects and day to day things, and who can say they know you, like you and think that you're a hard worker, quick learner and creative genius.  Neither of these people should be your boss, and they don't even really have to have a big title or anything, your mentor should have about 5 years on you and your ally at least 2. Just make sure you have two people you can turn to if you need rescuing or a recommendation.

* Always take notes. Write that one down. Always have a pen and pad with you. Write down all the important things to remember during the meeting - and things to Google later (People throw around terms like "top of the line" and "POP" and "MCOW" like they're Skittles.) Jot down your first thoughts, doodle, write tag lines, make product pro + con lists. Plus having a pad always makes you look much more serious and involved than everyone else.

* Be professional. Creative Departments are super laid back. People skate board, play Wii, drink beer, curse, slam doors, blast Kanye a little too loud and throw balls across the room. However, these people have been working there far longer than you have. One day, you will be that person. But today, you're not. So be on your Ps and Qs. Don't get too casual in conversation or email. Avoid slangs, curses, sexist/racist/homophobic statements or jokes, oversharing and being loud. Your coworkers are not your friends. Your office is not your house. You are here to work and make sure everyone sees that that is your #1 priority.

* Keep track of your accomplishments. People may not notice how much you're doing, what you've contributed or the kind of progress you've made. So create a folder or make a list and keep all of your wins so in 3 or so months, you can see how far you've come and most importantly, prove that you're an asset to that agency. Feel free to title the folder or list "Evidence of My Greatness." I won't judge you for it.

What's So Special About You?

In an earlier post, interviewee Qiana mentioned how in portfolio school she realised she’s no longer “The Creative One.” This is true for advertising as a whole.

This isn’t Kansas anymore.

In college or at home you may have been the most creative, interesting and artistic person, but here, you’re just another Dorothy. 

Get in line.

This industry is where all the creative souls, brave dreamers and cool weirdos flock to. So when you walk through the doors of an agency for an interview, you need to come with something better than “I’m creative.”

While we’re at it – Advertising has an abundance of people who are Funny, Quirky, Smart, Different, Artsy, Crafty, Witty, Eccentric, Colorful, Special, Hardworking, Sociable, Articulate, Dedicated, Talented, People Persons, Alternative Thinkers and Technology/Music/Art Geeks.

Which is great – now you’ll  be around like-minded people and feel accepted for who you are. But it also sucks because it’s harder to speak up and stand out when everyone’s voices, ideas and clothes are so loud.

So take a second, swallow your ego, humble yourself and then ask yourself this question:

what’s so special about me?

What makes me different?

Why should this agency hire me and not that other kid with a great book and a funky t-shirt? (Just a heads up, advertising is probably one of the only industries where even  if you make all your own clothes, you still might see someone dressed like you. I've seen my creative doppelganger once, and if we cross paths again, I'm going to kill her. There can only be one.) 

Find all the unique bits and pieces that make up who you are. The fact that you were born outside of the country. That you bind books by hand. That you were an economics major in undergrad but changed your mind the day after you started your first blog. That you speak four languages. That you were an eagle scout and had 23 badges. That your mother is Irish Catholic and your father is an East African Muslim. That you taught for America for two years. That you were head of the film club in school. That you can eat your weight in jelly beans. That you’re obsessed with extreme sports.

Whatever it is, as long as it’s you and it’s true – bring it to the table with your portfolio and personality as part of the overall package you have to offer.

Whether it’s experience that could come in handy on the job one day or just interesting things for water-cooler conversation and agency talent shows. As long as it makes someone remember you at the end of the day and pick you out from the crowd of strategically unkempt, big-glasses-wearing, ironically-tattooed, smarty-pants creative types begging to be hired.

Interview: Two Creatives On Portfolio School

And now, a word from the folks who went to Portfolio School. 

Meet Jax, an Art Center graduate and a senior art director and Qiana, a third quarter (first year) art direction student at the Creative Circus. 
Q: How did you know you wanted to be a creative?
Jax Jung
 Jax: Really was born with a marker in my hand. To NOT be creative was never even an option.
Qiana: I'd always been creative I just didn't know what to do with it and that you could actually get paid to dream up cool stuff.

Q: Why did you go to portfolio school?
Jax: Graduated a few months from undergrad early [with a fine arts degree] and figured I’d kill time by taking some night classes at ArtCenter. I picked up the manual and went down the list of classes still open for enrollment. Graphic Design was my first choice but the class was full, transportation design was next on my list and it was also full. Saw Advertising Design and they had one spot opened. So I signed up. And I loved it and started going full time.

Qiana Lee
Qiana: I knew I didn't want to work in a crime lab my entire life (I'm too plaid and polka dots for such a drab career) and I knew I had to go back to school.  After looking into a lot of different whack Masters programs that totally didn't fit my personality, a friend recommended portfolio school and it totally made sense.

Q: Why that school in particular?
Jax: The school was always decorated by amazing pieces of art and design by the students. It always made me want to go there.

Qiana: I had talked to a few people at the various schools across the country and the most welcoming, caring, genuine people I found at the Circus.  Plus you had gone here and you're doing awesome and who doesn't want to be able to say "I just quit my job to join the Circus."

Q: How was/ is it?
Jax: Intense. I remember first day of school, a teacher had asked his students "Who has a boyfriend/girlfriend raise your hand." Then he said "Wow.... that's a lot of hearts that will be broken because by the end of the term, you'll all be done." Sure enough, he was right. School took over your life.

Qiana: I can't remember the last time I was this challenged.  In a good way. We work crazy long hours (15 hrs of sleep a week is a treat). I'm not the most creative person here (which I'm not used to and pushes me to do things and come up with crap I didn't know I had in me

Q: How did it help you grow?
Jax:  You lived at school so you became really close to everyone. You learned from each other. Everyone is their own photographer, art director, copywriter, designer. It really came in handy when I started to work professionally because I didn't have to depend on too many people to make things happen.

Q: Do you think you could've gotten to where you are without portfolio school?
Jax:  No. ArtCenter played an integral part of my career. The training I got in the 3 years in school really prepared me. Plus I always run into old school friends who are in the business. The networks you make are very valuable because half of advertising is who you know as well.

Q: Any advice for someone trying to decide if they should go to portfolio school?

Qiana: Surround yourself with amazingly talented people you'll be glad you did.  
Have fun bc that's when the creative gods rain down on you.  
Experience life bc every dumb random thing to do and experience will help you.  
Grind, because while you're sleeping someone is working extra hard.

See Jax's work at and look out for Qiana's in about an year. 
Here's a list of some portfolio schools you can check out if you're interested.

Breaking News: Miami Ad School NY Accepting 1st Year Students Fall

This is great news! New York is the best and now you can go to a great 2 year portfolio school at one of the best schools.

Pratt, SVA, FIT and Parsons are great too, but they're more design/art director focused, and most of them are longer than 2 years, so this will be great option for those who already went to undergrad and my fellow writers.

Here is the official press release

Registration is open. Go to Miami Ad School's site for more info

Interview: Creatives who made their own way

Meet Sy and Simeon, copywriters who did not go to portfolio school and worked on their books on their own.

Sy started in proofing department at Arnold in Boston and is now an award-winning ACD-level freelance integrated copywriter. Simeon also a copywriter, is a student competition winner and recent graduate currently looking for work.

Q: How did you know you wanted to be a creative?

Sy: Grammar is lovely, but I had too many opinions to be a proofer.

Simeon: I remember picking up a magazine ad and showing my [high school] guidance counselor. "I want to do something like this," I said. He told me that I should study graphic design. Hated it. Sucked at it. I discovered copywriting eight years later. Loved it.

Q: Why didn’t you go to portfolio school?

Sy Ingoglia
Sy: To be honest, I didn't even know there was such a thing until I saw all the other folks on the team paste up ideas after a long weekend brainstorm. How in the hell did they get the balls to do that? All those concepts and presentation skills. It was completely alien to me. Then someone said they learned it in school. Sneaky.

Simeon:  My decision to not go to portfolio school was based on the amount of opportunities I had to develop spec campaigns under the guidance of the people who I wanted to impress and would eventually hire me.

Q: How did you get to where you are?

Sy: I can say I was extremely lucky in my career evolution.  As I was working on my first book I weaseled my way into a writing job on the Interactive team for Volkswagen and I never had to show it. 

Simeon:  A true creative finds solutions to problems and that's what I did. I went to a nearby school and I built my major around creative advertising. It's been stressful working full-time and going to school full-time while working on my book.

Simeon Coker
Q: What did you wish you knew then?

- That there are a million people doing what you do, but only one who's you. 
- There's a delicate balance between confidence and arrogance. 
- Be your own best editor. 
- Write it again, but better this time.

Q: What have you learned?

Simeon:  Patience. I know I'm not alone when I say I suffer from Creative A.D.D.. My attention span is short and I expect everything to happen within that window. I've learned that you have to wait to do great things like quit the job you hate to do the one you love. Stress has humbled me and has given me a new outlook on life - good things come to those that use their waiting time wisely.

Q: Any advice for someone trying to decide if they should work on their book alone vs going to portfolio school?

Sy: No one can teach you how to think of ideas, and that's the real trick. 

Simeon:  Your 3 a.m. brain is not as smart as you think it is - I learned that working on my book alone. You need another set of eyes. You need someone to call you on your BS.