HOW TO BE AN ADVERTISING CREATIVE IN 3 EASY STEPS (THAT ALL MUST BE CARRIED OUT CHRONOLOGICALLY AND ALSO SIMULTANEOUSLY)
so you’re interested in the Creative Profession. you’ve seen mad men. you want to be like peggy and/or don. maybe you watched abstract on netflix and thought hey that seems cool. or you have some friends that say they’re “designers” or “creatives” and they’re like the dumbest people you know and you could probably do it better. putting aside the should and assuming you want to have this job, how does one go about getting it? i will lay out start to finish how to do this. there are in fact Three Easy Steps. but before that, you need these three attributes: TALENT + PERSISTENCE + LUCK.
TALENT comprises a few things. talent, taste, ambition. talent is democratized, grows on trees, comes from anywhere. the raw stuff can be found all over and if you have even a little coal within you, you can blow on that ember. a side of talent is taste: being able to look at stuff and see that it’s not so good. do you see a way to improve it? you may have some taste. preference. opinion. vision.
PERSISTENCE is the hard work that you bolt on to your weird mystical intuitive talent. trying, failing, trying, succeeding, failing, failing, trying. not taking no for an answer. beyond “not giving up,” it’s the hard work you put in to craft that raw talent and hone it to the sharpest possible edge. if you are competetive, this is part of where advertising becomes a contact sport: not burning out, not running out of patience, sticking with the Hard Work whilst you wait for the
LUCK. if you run into the right people, don’t rub them the wrong way, get into a decent to good agency, and put in the work, at some point the universe will align and luck will strike you and you’ll either have an idea bigger than the brief on your desk, or someone will come along and put a brief on your desk asking for a big idea. if you continue to be lucky, it will go well, and this is your moment to show the world you are (at least) a mid-level genius artist worthy of the big creative asks.
okay, so you’ve got a pinky finger or hopefully a big toe full of talent. you are gritting your teeth and accepting you will have to work hard for several years to prove it, which isn’t so bad, because you’ll be financially compensated for doing so. you also consider yourself to be a reasonably lucky person. your eyes are clear. what are the three steps?
1: be an artist.
spend plenty of personal time on creative pursuits. as much time as you can. write, draw, take pictures, record music, make memes, anything. doesn’t matter. do it. if you’re the kind of person that feels they need a kick in the pants to make stuff, consider this your kick in the pants: if you don’t turn yourself into a damn artist (or as close as you can get) before entering into this career, you’re setting yourself up for misery. you’re setting yourself up for misery either way but this will be worse.
we need artists who are willing to get their hands dirty. by that i mean we need artists who are honest about how dirty their hands have always been, and don’t pretend to be somehow ethically superior. advertising gets a bad rap, but have you ever looked into the contemporary art world? at least advertising is honest about existing mostly to fill the pockets of rich dudes.
if you’re not a creative person, meaning you don’t have creative interests, get out now. when i’m being charitable, i’d say that if you’re not that good you can just go make workman-level stuff at any ol Ad Agency and that’s fine. but the truth is you’ll be in the business of making poison and the world does not need more shitty “creative advertising.” we need stuff that redefines what those words even mean and stuff that people don’t hate for its existence. therefore you are not allowed to be anything but an artist.
2: put together a book.
this can be a lot of things, but it’s a (usually digital) portfolio that shows off the best stuff you’ve made. you can make it on your own (more work), or go to a portfolio school and make it alongside other creatives and instructors (more money). either way it will take roughly a year or two to get it good enough. you can’t rush this. be hard on yourself. only say something is ready for the book when it’s really ready. the cool stuff you do on your own as an artist, put that in there. write a bio for yourself that isn’t more than two short sentences and doesn’t reference your childhood, please for the love of god.
then we need to think about the spec ad work, which is what you need to show to get hired at an agency. you need to prove you can actually do an ad. the best agencies will hire you off of your own personal creative work, but you need to check this box. but keep in mind: there’s no reality here, there’s no clients and budgets, just you and photoshop and some vector logo files. this your book should function like a runway show. go wild. explore ideas and theories. make it a thesis. do it like we haven’t seen before. look up and read the books and advice that’s out there on how to get started thinking, and then you can start making the ads.
there are two general approaches to making your first work:
- if you don’t know much about advertising: start reading anything and everything you can about the ad industry, find the agencies and creatives at those agencies that you admire. if you see a spot run on TV that you like, google it. find out who made it. who wrote it, who art directed, who creative directed. then google their books. see what else they’ve made. at the bottom of the page they usually put the names of who they worked with. go look at those books. read industry vet blogs. find out who was where and made what and went where and taught whom. go through awards annuals. make a bookmarks folder. absorb as much of this knowledge as you can. now you know how everyone does it, including some of the best in the world. try and separate the what is being said from the how. then start making spec ads.
- who cares about advertising anyway***: don’t look at anyone else’s work. don’t read award annuals. don’t go through books. you’ve seen ads on TV, they aren’t great. you’re good. you’re smart. you’ll pick up the rest of the industry knowledge by osmosis, especially if you’re in a portfolio school. instead of looking up all the work there is, do this. at some point in your research or in your life, you should have seen a Print Ad. a print ad is a headline, imagery of some kind, graphic or abstract, a logo, and a tagline. maybe some more words called things like “body copy” and “cutlines” but who cares about those. if you can’t picture this go look one up. now take a blank sheet of white paper, 8.5x11 letter. take a marker (sharpies are good), hold it in your hand. consider the weight of the sharpie and the blankness of the page. now pick a client. any client will do, but start simple, like “Oreo.” with the sharpie, draw an oreo logo in the bottom right hand corner of the page. now do your ad. ***IMPORTANT NOTE: this route is high risk/high reward. you are going to end up either a 9th quarter portfolio school student, or Jeff Kling. basically, only do this if you suspect or already know yourself to be brilliant.
3. get hired
OKAY so now you should have a killer book with 6–9 pieces, a mix of your absolute brightest and best spec ad work and own creative pursuits. how are you going to get someone to hire you? email them cold. email the CDs and the recruiters. email juniors at agencies you like, they’ll talk to you. maybe they’ll forward you to their CD or recruiter. get interviews. enter student competitions. come up with a stunt to get yourself noticed or do something big with your creative side project. if you’re in a portfolio school a lot of these things will be easier to access, but you’ll still need to do all this on your own anyway. try and find someone who will agree to mentor you and give you feedback on your book. keep working on that book. try and beat the best thing you have. keep emailing people. don’t annoy them, but be persistent. you won’t turn off the people that matter. understand that a phone call is not an interview, and an interview is not an offer. understand that all these people are busy and even if they’d like to talk to you, they likely literally can’t find the time. understand that there are hundreds if not thousands of kids out there competing for the same spots. understand you might get ghosted by a recruiter or agency. understand that even a gig at an ok-to-not-great agency can teach you priceless lessons and get you where you want to be. (like the NBA draft process!) understand that sometimes no matter how good your book is, the timing is wrong, and they don’t have a slot for you even if they want you. understand, but don’t sweat any of this. just keep getting better. make the fire under their ass to hire you hotter and hotter. eventually the stars, planets, and celestial bodies at large will conspire and begrudgingly say “fine” and someone will give you an offer.
YOU DID IT. YOU’RE AN ADVERTISING CREATIVE. CONGRATULATIONS. GOOD LUCK. BE PATIENT WITH CLIENTS AND ACCOUNT PEOPLE. SUICIDE IS AN ANSWER NOT THE ANSWER.