Guest post: Ryan Carroll, GSD&M, on getting hired.

This is Ryan. His partner, Scott Brewer, is much better looking.
This is Ryan. His partner, Scott Brewer, is much better looking.

I met Ryan Carroll when I worked at GSD&M in Austin. He was a young writer then, and now he’s a big shot, group creative director and won’t take my calls. It was his team that came up with last year’s Radio Shack spot on the Super Bowl: “The ’80s Called.”  You can read a bit more about that spot and about his partnership with Scott Brewer on FWA. On a recent phone call he told me he was frustrated, looking through too many junior books to find a good creative hire. I said, dude, write a guest post for me, and he did.

Most student books look/feel/sound alike and most CD’s I’ve talked with agree. This shouldn’t be too surprising. There are really five or six solid portfolio schools out there. Schools teach a method and students apply that method and so perhaps it’s no surprise most books look similar. The gene pool is pretty shallow.

So as you build your book and your site, it’s more important than ever to find your own voice and style. Just like you do for the brands you work on, you need to make your own brand stand out; to take those lessons you’re being taught and make them your own.

Here are some things I look for when reviewing a book:

1.) I want more than just ads. I want to see you solve business problems. Identify a problem for a brand and then show me how your idea can make the client money. How your idea will attract more customers or make people look at the brand in a completely different way.

Here are two great examples from a student book. His name is Maxx Delaney and we just hired him.

Citibank

Netflix

As you can see in the video, for Citibank, he (and his partners) invented a product that would attract an entirely new group of investors. And in the Netflix video, his idea gives millions of users an entirely new reason to use the product. These are the types of problems modern creatives need to be able to solve. This is much more than advertising. It’s about business.

[HeyWhipple’s note: I love Maxx’s About Me paragraph: “Maxx Delaney likes to think about stuff and then write about those thoughts that he thought while he was thinking about things.”]

2.) More than integrated campaigns, I want to see you execute an idea brilliantly with a given technology.

Too often, I see this – an integrated campaign that shows me how your pantyhose idea can work for TV, works on Facebook, works in a bus shelter and then – drum roll – an iPhone app. (Because we all know people can’t wait to download another brand’s app.) The problem is that the extension ideas are rarely as strong as the initial idea.

When I see this, I believe the student is trying to convince me it’s a big idea because, look, it’s in all these places. Instead, just pick a technology (mobile) or platform (Instagram) and show me a brilliant idea that makes the most out of that technology or platform. Make me look at using Instagram in a way no one’s thought of and I will love you forever. Or at least hire you.

[Ryan had lots of other cool stuff to say and we'll be posting that in a week.]

Don’t Show me Something-About. Show me Something.

This is not an idea yet.
This is not an idea yet.

“So we have this idea, okay?” says the young creative to the creative director.

CD goes, “Great. So what do you have?”

Creative says, “Well, okay, it’s not totally formed yet but it’s something about … “

Let’s hit pause on this scene right here, shall we? Roll the tape back to the part where the guy  …  stop … right there.

“… it’s something about.

Today’s lesson is about that. Don’t ever present somethin’ about. Present something.

See, the thing is this. Your creative director?  He or she can’t do anything with your somethin’ about. Because it’s not an idea yet. An idea fits in a sentence; an idea can be written on a Post-It note. But a somethin’ about takes a whole bunch of explaining.

And please, never defend your somethin’ about with, “Hey-I’m-just-an-idea-guy.” Unless, I get to be an idea guy too. In which case my idea is, “Go away. And don’t come back until you have something to show me.”

See, the main problem with somethin’ about is you’ve left your audience to figure out the problem for you.

Don’t get me wrong, somethin’ abouts can be an important part of problem solving. Because problems are rarely solved in one flash. Good ideas come after a lot of digging around. Used this way, somethin’ about is a fine way to suggest, “Let’s dig around in this area for awhile.” It’s what you say to your partner, not your boss.

And definitely not to your client.

Can you imagine if your doctor said the cure for your illness was “Ohhh I can’t say exactly how to keep you alive but I have this kinda idea, it’s somethin’ about ….” No.

Or if the guy at the garage thinks your car needs somethin’ about a….

Somethin’ about is soft thinking. If an idea is a bullet, a somethin’ about is a cotton ball. Only one of them can make it into somebody’s head.

Dang. Sorry for the harsh image. Let’s end with a laugh. Like this cartoon from The New Yorker. It never fails to make me laugh.

miracle

 

How Not To Suck as a Creative Director.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.01.12 PM

I think it’s a shame that so many people, when they become creative directors, forget what it was like being a creative. Most of them seem to forget what it was they themselves most needed, back when they were a workin’ creative. They forget what it was like. They forget what they were like.

Me? When I was a young copywriter, I was (among other things) insecure, arrogant, clueless, impatient, and always cynical. Always cynical. And cynics are hard to lead because they don’t believe a thing most managers have to say. And the thing managers do that cynics find most grating?

Cheerleading.

“Hey, it’s not so bad we have to re-pitch this client! I just know you can come up with something better!”

Cynics hate cheerleading. Cynics don’t want account people to beat around the bush saying, “It’s okay, your ads are with Jesus now.” Just say “Dude, your campaign died because the client didn’t get it. And yeah, it sucks.” I’d counsel managers to share the creatives’ pain, to share their frustration. They don’t need you to come in and plop some whipped cream on the shit sandwich.  In fact, when one of my teams was told they had to do something that was stupid or just kinda sucked, I said, “Hey, when you have to eat a turd, don’t nibble.”

Cynics hate cheerleading. They also hate pretty much everything about corporate structure: memos, meetings, time sheets, expense reports, all that H.R. stuff. It bores them or irritates them. The smart creative manager will do everything he or she can can to streamline the corporate red-tape and act as a buffer against agency bureaucracy.

Cynics also hate meetings. They’re a huge time-suck. Cynics think, “Why did we even have that meeting? You coulda just leaned into my office and said it.” My suggestion: fewer meetings, more conversations.

Here’s another interesting thing about creatives. You’d be surprised how much torture we can take if you just tell us why we’re being tortured. Creatives like transparency. They wanna know what they’re part of. They wanna know why they’re being asked to do something, even if it’s a dumb reason; and in this business, it usually is a dumb reason.  Smart creative managers don’t try to “protect” creatives from the bad news; and in this business, it usually is bad news.

It’s bad news, so just say it. If you try to tiptoe around it, you’ll end up sounding like that guy in Office Space who was always goin’, “Uh, yeeeeaaahh, if you could just go ahead and come in this weekend.”

Another thing I wish I’d heard less of when I was a young creative?

It usually comes during a creative meeting. Someone in the back of room puts down their donut and says, “Well, if I could just be the devil’s advocate here for a sec….”

Dude, shut up.

Ideas are fragile. The bubble can pop so easily. Instead of being the devil’s advocate, why not be the angel’s advocate? Don’t just blurt out what you hate about something. Not liking stuff is easy. Anyone can do it. It’s harder to find out what’s good about the idea. The trick is finding that little coal and then blowin’ on it till it’s flame.

I forget where I read this quotation from writing coach Jay O’Callahan, but it went like this: “It is strange that, in our culture, we are trained to look for weaknesses. When I work with people, they are often surprised when I point out the wonderful crucial details – the parts that are alive.” He went on to suggest, “If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose our intuition to notice beauty.”

I found this very same advice from a venture capitalist, David Sze of Greylock Partners: “Anyone can tell you why something’s going to fail. The real trick is to find out why something will succeed.”

Before I wear out my welcome here, I’ll just close with one last piece of advice, this one from my old boss, the late Mike Hughes of The Martin Agency.

Mike said that rejection is such a daily part of this business, and so it’s important to remember creatives need to score a victory every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a huge win; just a little victory at the right time can keep creatives very motivated. He said:

“[A creative director should help find] relief for the people with thankless jobs – the copywriter on the account that has a new direction every week, the account person who deals with the especially difficult client, the project manager on the project that can’t be managed, the planner who’s partnered with a not-very-good creative team.

“Sometimes that relief means the top people at the agency need to get involved with a problem client or account. Sometimes it means moving people into different positions – even if it makes everyone involved feel a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it means creating or investing in projects that have a high likelihood of meaningful success, even if that success isn’t a financial one.”

Oh, how I miss Mike.

–Luke Sullivan

[Full disclosure: I didn’t plan for the essay to stop this abruptly, but the fall quarter is ending and I gotta run.]