Q: Do I have to remit tuition with my application; and if I am not accepted will it be returned?
A: Yes and yes, promptly!
Q: Will I come out of class with a portfolio to send out for employment?
A: Despite our most valiant efforts, we have yet to find a formula for the “one-class-book”. It usually takes between one and two years to complete a portfolio that is conceptually developed to the level where it will be considered for employment in a major market ad agency.
Q: How long does it take to put a book together…that will actually get me hired?
A: see above
Q: How do I know which class is right for me?
A: In many cases, you won’t. A number of factors go into placement; and it is our job to make sure you are in the class which best suits your conceptual development and needs.
Q: Is there placement assistance?
A: If you stick with the program and complete a portfolio that is at a competitive level, we will do everything possible to assist in your placement.
BEFORE YOU SEND OUT YOUR BOOK, READ THIS! by Lauren Slaff
Nobody cares how creative and clever you are.
Yup. That’s the big secret that few people know and even fewer will choose to share with you. Not your teacher, your creative director, your headhunter, your mother…okay, well maybe your mom.
ESPECIALLY when they are looking at your book.
Sounds pretty ridiculous but I’m afraid it’s true. I’ve had the unique privilege as an educator, of gathering a wealth of information and experience throughout my career–as an independent recruiter (that’s a headhunter to you) and recruiting in-house at agencies both large and small. And because I have chosen to dedicate myself to the sometimes thankless, sometimes deeply rewarding task of trying my darndest to educate eager minds like yours, I have dug deep into the minds of the most talented and dedicated creative directors who have been generous enough — and from the standpoint of already having very little time for a personal life, masochistic enough — to conspire with me in my quest to continue to “feed the beast”.
If you want the whole truth, the deal is that agencies want to solve their problems. Think about it. That’s the reason they hire new talent. They want to take a look at your work and see how quickly and successfully you can jump in on a heap of assignments for their most demanding and difficult clients (and even the really fun ones, now and again), This means overdue briefs that are steadily piling up, back-to-back new business pitches and all of the other day-to-day crap that may not be glamorous, but has to be done, and done with some serious finesse.
This is not about art. You won’t be painting any portraits or writing any symphonies. This is business, baby.
“When I look at books, I look for someone who isn’t one-dimensional, who can write or art direct in different voices and styles, from raw to sophisticated,” says Rob Feakins, Executive Creative Director and Managing Partner at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in New York. “I look for someone who can operate and hit the ground running. At our size agency, I can’t wait to grow a writer or art director.”
So what does this mean to you and that portfolio you’ve labored over and probably spend a bundle producing? According to Wayne Best, Creative Director at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partner in New York, and veteran Adhouse and School of Visual Arts instructor “advertising is not about being clever, it’s about finding a truth that connects the product to the user” Hmmmmm. Huh?
Now don’t get me wrong here. Your potential employer wants to know you can do all the above creatively. More creatively than the hundred plus other books they will review for that single open position. And certainly more uniquely and originally.
And for products and services that somewhat parallel those that agencies actually work on. Even your dream agency rarely has clients like the Skydiving Society, the Zen Yoga Center, The Las Vegas Elvis Museum or purveyors of finely crafted baseball bats. They have clients like fast food chains, insurance companies, cars, banks, technology and telecommunication products.
See the thing is, the reason agencies take clients on is THEY PAY THEM! How else do you think they are able to pay you? They are real companies with real problems to solve with real budgets to allot to make their problems go away‚ so they can make more money. Not the local tanning salon but the national banking establishment that is offering lower mortgage rates in order to keep afloat in today’s sadly repressed economic situation. Not Stu’s Super Spicy Chicken Wing Joint with the singing waiters but the airline who’s numbers never bounced back after 9/11 and are beginning to tumble again in our time of war.
Not easy, but certainly possible. Not only possible, but if you too can nail a brilliant campaign or two for tough clients like these, you are so in. Look what Goodby Silverstein did for an innately dull and totally unpopular beverage like “milk”. I mean, who can’t come up with something wildly creative for “The Bible” (and I’d pay good money if you can actually find the agency with the Bible account).
In addition to this little pearl of wisdom, there is yet another pretty basic, yet indispensable nugget for you to chew on.
Creative Directors, despite a frustratingly broad spectrum of varying tastes and senses of humor agree unanimously on one thing. They want to look at your work and say,
“I never thought of it that way before.”
That’s all. And what is astonishing is how little of that is out there. In a search to hire a junior art director this past year I must have reviewed over one hundred books from schools all over the country and suffered repeatedly seeing what seems to have become a template for an ad ¬≠ one that looks the same, feels the same and says really the same thing for every client and product. I know that our goals as an agency are to provide our clients with compelling creative solutions to their unique problems that express who they are as a brand. Yours should be the same.
Mikal Reich, Creative Director of the new pure creative spin-off of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Mad Injection, and Consulting Director of Adhouse, sees more junior books than most people in the business and is always open to giving interesting candidates a shot at getting some real agency experience. “First I look for people who are smart. But what I really look for are personalities that I haven’t seen before. Different perspectives, heart, style” says Reich.
Wayne Best encourages his students to “find a point of view for a product, give it a personality. Don’t “do ads”, solve a problem” As a Creative Director what he looks for is “understanding of product, depth of thinking‚Ä¶something I can connect with. A variety of solutions, understanding who you are talking to and most of all something that surprises me.”
This wisdom carries over into the non-student job market as well. With less and less work being produced these days and even less that truly shows off people’s creative range, many of you folks are finding your portfolios stagnating, drying out, acquiring an unpleasant layer of mold. Everyone, students and professionals alike need to take a proactive, no, an unbelievably aggressive role, in embellishing the content of their books if they want to stand out in the insanely dense crowd.
That means never ever taking for granted that mind blowing, earth shattering campaign you presented to that #%$@*& client (who just never buys anything decent) or to that your son-of-a-%#&@ creative director (who clearly has no taste)and he killed before it even got that far. For crying out loud, that if that is the work you are capable of, stop blaming everyone else, comp it up and put it in your darn book. NOW! It doesn’t get any better than that.
There is no room for excuses these days. There is hardly room for you. The market is about as competitive as it has ever been and can possibly get. If your book isn’t getting you hired the way it stands, face it, it ain’t good enough. Stop whining and work on it and work hard. No matter what stage of your career you are in, you are only as good as the contents of your book. That’s all agencies have to go on. When I look at a book I start with the innate belief that the work I’m seeing is the absolute best you can do. We have nothing invested in looking beyond what is on paper and trying to give you the benefit of the doubt that “you’re better than your book” (famous last words). If you’re so much better, prove it!
Michael Guarini, Creative Manager for DDB New York, has spent years hiring creative talent and reviewing books at all levels. Always willing to take another look at a candidate that may have been previously passed on for an open position, “The thing that concerns me most is that I am seeing the same exact portfolio that I saw six months earlier when they first graduated. Most candidates are not taking this opportunity to improve their books‚Ä¶You have to make sure you have a portfolio that makes a creative director say that they can’t afford not to hire you. The same holds true for people already in the industry who have lost their jobs or are looking for a better opportunity.”
I guess all of this really boils down to one final thing and one true question to ask yourself. Is this what you truly and passionately want to do for a living? That’s the bottom line. You had better love, love, love working on spec ads. Putting your book together or making it the best it can be is not about getting the job of your dreams. Nope. It’s about doing the job. Every day and sometimes every night and weekend. Creating a portfolio’s worth of work or more every week. And not a clever format of a big ole’ photo with a logo stuck in the corner and maybe a quirky line discreetly squeezed in, but full blown concepts that reflect carefully constructed strategies complete with body copy, required visual elements and most of the time headlines of some variety. This is the glamorous grind you have to look forward to.
If the answer is “Yes Lauren, yes adworld! I want to do this job, I live and breathe it! It’s like a disease.” Well all I have to say is you better live and breathe it, sleep it, dream of it and eat it for breakfast. Or perhaps consider that other career you put on the back burner in dental hygiene. And you better think long and hard about what your book is saying to your future Creative Director because if it’s saying, “gee, I have a hangover and am full of more excuses than ideas” you can forget it. Be inventive, thoughtful, strategic, completely original, BE GREAT! In the eloquent and powerful words made famous by one of our dream-clients, Nike, “Just Do It.”
Lauren Slaff is the founder, president and director of Adhouse, a professional training program based in New York City. Slaff also handles all of the creative recruitment as the Creative Talent Director at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners*. Slaff began her career in 1989 at Chiat/Day New York where she developed her incredibly high standards and “tough love” philosophy. In the words of the late great Jay Chiat, “Good enough is not enough”. For more information, contact Ms. Slaff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*at the time article was published.