- Stop mind reading.
- Pick your moment, slowly.
- Dear freelancer:
- Don’t create. Uncover!
- Keep moving.
- The overnight test.
- When your great idea isn’t.
- Get a second opinion.
- Try your hand.
- Is the iron hot?
- Move along people.
- Same old story, but new.
- The partner thing.
- Wall of shame.
- Maybe the idea’s been had.
- Make it bad. Then make it better.
- Elevate the literal.
- Talking to me?
- Solve the last five seconds.
- A strategy when you don’t have one.
- An idea is like love.
- Fog is normal.
- How to write theme lines.
- Write a theme, not a line.
- Perk the notion.
- Find a human.
- Shut up and just do it.
- You’re the app for that.
- Ready for your moment?
- The perfect job.
- Think well, write well.
- Be present future.
- Feel the brand.
- Look for a leader.
- Your body is showing.
- Those creative cliches.
- Story rules.
- Real writing.
- The old story.
- Meeting of meetings.
- Good vs. right.
- Make your art.
- Group well.
- Parallel push.
- The perfect brief(s).
- Comprehend the ball.
- Stan’s way.
- Abate jargon.
- Play dirty, but fair.
- Question everything.
- The point of a pitch.
- Keep your head.
- Afford to lose?
- The last ditch.
- Spoils to the paranoid.
- Selling it in.
- Acting out.
- Shoot yourself first.
- Be present.
- Like the plague.
- Get on the script.
- Salvage the dignity.
- Shut up and sell.
- Get what you want.
- Fake it like a pro.
- The food chain.
- Packing it up.
- Don’t leave too soon.
- Be nice to headhunters.
- Meet the press or not.
- The happy freelancer.
- Oh. It’s you.
- No whining.
- Heart the job.
- Cut yourself out.
- Get a room.
- The endless pitch.
- Step up to the pitch.
- The magic phrase.
- Work the plan.
- The long haul.
- Be in real time.
- Who’s got your back?
- Central to casting.
- Think people.
- Letters never sent.
- Focus your group.
- Are you the game?
- To write better, stop writing.
- A piece of advice.
- Share the T-shirt.
- Factor in fear.
- Singe the earth. Don’t scorch it.
- Be heard, for sure.
- In the eye.
- The weekly ritual.
Trying to read the creative director’s mind may be the thing that’s holding you back. The truth may be that your fearless leader has no idea what to do, which is why you’re being hauled in to help solve the … Continue reading
The creative business is full of bright people with opinions. And therein lies the rub. A lot of voices yelling at the same time isn’t about finding the right idea, but about putting pressure and distractions on the poor person … Continue reading
I’ve worked in creative departments across the country as a freelance writer and creative director. Along the way, I made a list of survival tips. Here you go.
Stop trying to create a brand. Instead, simply reveal an appropriate portion of the brand. The brand already exists. It’s already at work in the lives and hearts of people. Maybe they’ve just overlooked an aspect of it. Unless it’s … Continue reading
Maybe you just need to take a walk. Push away from that blinking cursor. On a larger scale, maybe your job, city, life have gone stale. Just saying. While there are many arguments in favor of staying at one agency, … Continue reading
If you’re not sure about an idea, noodle it out and put it away. Return to it the next morning. I don’t know what happens overnight, but more good ideas become dumb ones as a result of darkness. Go away … Continue reading
The real trouble starts when you’ve fallen in love with an idea and had it rejected. You feel you’re being treated unfairly, that your genius is tragically unrecognized and your boss is a hack. All this may be true. There … Continue reading
Everybody wants to have their idea validated by someone else. But be careful about wagging it all around the office in search of approval. Pick a couple of people whose opinions you trust and show it to them. They’ll give … Continue reading
Don’t abandon handwriting. A physical touch brings something special to your words. It’s just different. The connection between your hand and the page via a tiny strand of ink imparts something that is somehow closer to your heart. It might … Continue reading
When the muses are singing to you, when the ideas are pulling you along, don’t get up and go shoot hoops. Don’t go play eight ball on that pool table set up for creative people to waste their time on. … Continue reading
When all else fails, just start writing. Or designing. Push back against the idea of not having any ideas. Write headline after headline after headline. Page upon page. Try writing the first paragraph. Try writing a page of theme lines. … Continue reading
If you want to tell a story about your product, remember that marketing operates on a mere handful of story lines, retold in hundreds of new ways. Same with literature, cinema, opera and so forth.Which story line will you use? … Continue reading
If you’re working with a partner and nothing is happening, split up and work independently, returning at a specific time. (It’s important to have a deadline.) When you get back together, be willing to adopt your partner’s ideas as your … Continue reading
It’s not just having ideas. It’s making sense of what you have. Here’s a simple, analog way. You need a wall, a pad of paper, a big marker and sticky notes. You don’t need a laptop. Using sketch paper, tape … Continue reading
When you don’t have an idea, maybe you should ask around and see if anybody else has one. But don’t spend all day jawing with other creative people. Start with the producers. They know filmmakers, talent and music. Art buyers … Continue reading
Having a great idea can seem overwhelming. Pretty soon, you’re paralyzed. So create a bad idea. Then, use your bad idea as a premise to make better ones. You’ll shift the problem from “How can I have a great idea?” … Continue reading
When you’re trying to define a company, don’t just look at the physical, obvious products they make. Look at the effect those products or services have on the people who use them. RedBull doesn’t just give you energy. It gives … Continue reading
Defining your audience will tell you their habits and customs. You need to know how they think and feel. This sounds obvious and simple. Somehow, it rarely turns out that way. If your target has been defined as adults, 25–54, … Continue reading
The most important part of any video or television commercial is its conclusion, the last five seconds. That’s the part that resolves, explains, summarizes or excuses everything that came before. If you’re not clear about the last five seconds, you’re … Continue reading
When the brief or the strategy isn’t great, offer to sit down and discuss it. The strategies that lead to great creative are usually really simple. Maybe the one you’re looking at is too complicated. Maybe the insight within is … Continue reading
An idea is like love. The more you need it, the less you can find it. The more desperate your search, the more scarce it becomes. Stop. Settle down and listen to the thing. It will tell you what it … Continue reading
It is infinitely helpful to realize that in creative endeavors, as in life, there is no grand road map that everyone is privy to except you. We are all muddling forward, through the fog. Sometimes, having a big idea means … Continue reading
Think about your theme. Then, write lines that reflect it in different, shorter ways, double-spaced on a page. When the page is full, delete all the lines you hate. Pick the best line from that batch and start over. Write … Continue reading
Everyone struggles when asked to define a company or product using just a handful of words. Some people call these phrases tag lines. Some call them slogans. Theme line is the best description, because it reminds you that beneath your … Continue reading
Define the problem in your head, as best you can, then just chew on it for a few days. Never let it rest. Keep it perking at some low level of your mind. Keep a pad and a pen in … Continue reading
When you need an idea get out of the office and out of your own mind. Sit at a coffee shop and strike up a conversation. Take the bus and sit beside someone interesting. Walk to Times Square or anyplace … Continue reading
David Ogilvy once said that, in the end, making an ad comes down to one person shutting the door and just putting it down on paper. Okay, so there are no more offices. Or doors. Or paper. Or David Ogilvy. … Continue reading
Think of yourself as an app. An app must furnish information, create entertainment, or have utility. If you do all (most) of that then you have created value. Creating value is what you’re paid to do. OpenTable is a perfect … Continue reading
There’s one thing you must always have on hand: a decent suit or a nice dress. You’ll get a call to meet with a client. You’ll need to go to a funeral. Your company will host a table at a … Continue reading
One of my favorite writers, George Tannenbaum, advises a colleague who dreams of the perfect job: Note to a disconsolate friend. Getting the ideal job. The perfect job. The job you’ve always wanted. Very few people get that. Almost … Continue reading
Making advertising is about having ideas on behalf of others for money on deadline. But it’s the deadline where most of us go blank in the eyes. The deadline implies that there’s not enough time, and that idea scares the hell … Continue reading
A brand is the way a person feels about a product or service. It’s created not by advertising, but by a set of experiences. Think of a brand like an art museum. How you feel about the pictures is what makes them … Continue reading
When you’re facing a client, your body language says a lot. The same applies when you’re in a job interview. I’m not an expert but here’s what I look for, and avoid. Crossed arms mean you’re shut down. Leaning back … Continue reading
There’s only one thing more cliched than creative people wailing about the account team. And that’s the creative people wailing about the clients. But the smart, longterm thinkers amongst the creative intelligentsia play it another way. They recognize that clients … Continue reading
If story is what you’re trying to do, Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling is a brilliant road map.
There’s a classic New Yorker cartoon (Marisa Acocella) showing two singles standing at a bar and the guy saying: “Copywriting is too ‘writing.’” That’s the classic dilemma of advertising writers who want to be taken seriously. The truth is, writing … Continue reading
Advertising as storytelling is not a new idea. Take a look at this ancient classic from advertising guru Hal Riney. It’s a story (girding for winter) played by two phony characters who are selling you a completely inauthentic (made up) product. … Continue reading
You’ve heard it before. This meeting is going to be the end of all meetings. The one where the veil will be lifted, the balance swung to either great victory or the abyss of failure. Right. This may indeed be … Continue reading
In the rush to create, the pressure often mounts to meet a deadline (right) and follow all the rules and guidelines (right.) That is not the same thing as creating something wonderful or effective (good.) Don’t lose the path toward … Continue reading
Eventually, you and your clients will release the project to a director, photographer, editor, illustrator, etc. At that point, you must say to that person: “Go make your art.” That’s what you’ve hired the person to do. He’s an expert … Continue reading
Sometimes, you can be a lone creative genius. Sometimes you are another seat warmer around a table with different people who have different skills. You’ve got PR people, talent agents, designers, social people, technologists, media people, and maybe a few … Continue reading
You’re waiting on a brief. Everything is in flux. Nobody knows nothing and panic runs in the streets. You know what you do? Start. Do not, I repeat, do not, get caught up in the swell of anguish and moaning. … Continue reading
You have to check in on this letter every year or two, just to remind yourself that it only takes a couple of paragraphs to make a great brief. Mick Jagger understand how to direct Andy Warhol for the cover … Continue reading
Sometimes you just need to wait. To watch. To do nothing. The art of managing your career sometimes comes down to what you don’t do. Give the game a little time to come to you. The true fielder lets the … Continue reading
“We are not gallery painters who paint when the feeling moves us.” That’s from the Inc. Magazine interview with Stan Richards, who runs the tightest independent agency in the U.S. I worked for him for many years. As a creative … Continue reading
Ours is an advertising era determined to rename simple ideas with mystical names. Most of this is horseshit intended to intimidate the competition and make clients think you’re smarter than they are. Nobody buys it. You just look silly … Continue reading
Your team arrives at the pitch location, and is ushered into the room. Now what? First, how is the room arranged? Where’s the best position to speak from? If the pitch is on your home turf, use place cards … Continue reading
The crucial moment in a pitch begins when its almost finished: the Q & A at the end. So you hope for the best, right? Wrong. Assign someone on your team to compile a list of questions the clients might … Continue reading
A pitch may seem like an exercise to see who can best solve a client’s advertising problem. It’s not. It’s about proving that you’re the right partner. Don’t sell advertising. Sell your agency. Even if you don’t crack the perfect … Continue reading
Emotions within the agency will run high in new business pitches and before key presentations. The hours are long, uncertainty reigns, mind reading and second guessing drive the machine. You also find new people around the table, ones who have … Continue reading
Decide how much you’re willing to spend before you ever commit to being in a pitch. It’s amazing how many agencies blindly jump into reviews with no clue about how much they’re willing to spend to compete. Can you afford … Continue reading
The pre-pro meeting before shooting a commercial is sometimes considered a mundane rite. Time to flip through the book and pray the client doesn’t ask any pesky questions. Actually, it’s the most crucial moment of the shoot, your last … Continue reading
There’s a lot at stake in a pitch. Not only the upside for the agency, but also the collective efforts that everyone has poured into it. So if you have a war room, lock it. Consider a code name for … Continue reading
Once more I hasten to add that the work before you is not a personal art project which will live on its creative brilliance. You have to be able to show the value to the client. It’s just not apparent … Continue reading
Do not ever, ever dress up in a costume or act out a role in a presentation. Putting on costumes will make you look ridiculous. Acting out a commercial will make you look like a band of idiots. I know … Continue reading
Shooting a commercial for a pitch is not just costly in terms of money, it costs you in terms of people. You will throw a couple of creative people and several producers against an effort that will ultimately prove futile. … Continue reading
All pitches are hard. But some pitches are nightmares because of bad planning by agency management. If you run the place, do your people a favor: jump into the pitch quickly and bang it out. Focus on it and be … Continue reading
Nothing bums people out worse than working on Thanksgiving. Or July Fourth. Or, heaven forbid, a religious holiday. If you must enlist people on such an occasion, make it pleasant, cheerful and quick. Make it up to them, sometime, … Continue reading
An important pitch or presentation is no place to wing it. Write down your remarks beforehand and insist that everyone else do the same. Gather to review your spiels, and offer criticism to one another. One wrong answer, one contradictory … Continue reading
If you’re the incumbent on a pitch and you’re getting signals that you can’t win, then there’s a good chance that you’re a dead duck. Resign with dignity. Then you’ll be free to put your efforts toward another client in … Continue reading
Remember this old sales person’s adage: “If you’re talking, you’re selling. If they’re talking, they’re buying.” Lay back and let clients verbalize their thoughts after you’ve shown your work. Let them talk, especially if what they’re saying is positive. … Continue reading
Don’t get mad. Get what you want. This is what you call “living in the solution.” Wailing and crying about problems and injustices only makes you look childish. Don’t go off in a snit. Go off and figure out what … Continue reading
Remember, it’s a business. The creative people who win in the business are ones capable of getting in front of a client, presenting their ideas, then getting permission to move forward based on trust. Show your craziness in your work, … Continue reading
For all your desire to “just do the work,” realize that you’re actually managing your career, too. Advertising is a temporal business. It relentlessly looks to new people and ideas to feed it. And you, whether you realize it … Continue reading
There’s a lot to be said for finding a stable job at a good place and building a career. On the other hand, moving around can be a really good strategy. You will build a network of friends and … Continue reading
Jeff Goodby once told me that “new campaigns get famous in their second year.” He’s right. The first year takes fine tuning. By the second year, you’ve got it and everyone notices including awards show judges. If you’ve got a … Continue reading
To outsiders, the notion of advertising integrity is an oxymoron. But creative people know there’s a code of honesty and originality that good creative people honor. But what qualifies as stealing? Sometimes it’s hard to know. Hearing a good voiceover … Continue reading
Take calls from recruiters, and always call them back. Build a rapport with some, and maintain it over the years. You never know when one of them will have the job of your dreams. Even more, you never know when … Continue reading
If a reporter calls you, remember never to say anything you don’t want to see in print or writ large online. You can look like a fool and ruin your career with just a handful of words, spoken in a … Continue reading
As a freelancer, you’re not entitled to enjoy the normal grousing and complaining that goes on in the creative department of an advertising agency. You’re free, so people on staff can’t imagine what you have to complain about. Go about … Continue reading
Freelancers get called when there’s a problem; a pitch, or an assignment that can’t be cracked. Realize that some people on staff at the advertising agency may think you’re there to swipe opportunities that otherwise might go to them. Tread … Continue reading
When you’re interviewing for a job, never find common ground by carping about difficult clients. It’s an easy place to go for creative people, a universal subject that seems like it will unite you in a common struggle with the … Continue reading
The most important attribute you can exhibit during a job interview is “heart.” It sounds corny, but the emotional vibe you throw off, the look in your eyes, the depth of your care and interest are palpable to an interviewer. … Continue reading
The single most important person on any film or commercial shoot isn’t even at the shoot. He’s your editor. (Or she.) Don’t go spend hours looking at dailies and all the selects. Let the editor do his job. You hired … Continue reading
When you’re facing a pitch or big presentation, designate a conference room or empty office as your war room. That way you’ll have a central, familiar place to gather. You can leave research materials out, and leave work up on … Continue reading
Remember that a pitch can take months. Remember that there will be torturous twists and turns. Resolve to roll with it for the duration. Rarely does a single day, a single action, or a single mistake define the outcome. Much … Continue reading
When a new business pitch is announced most creative people run like rats from a burning ship. Pitches burn weekends and a lot of midnight oil. What most creative people forget is that they will be drafted to work on … Continue reading
Everybody knows the magic word in advertising is “free.” But the magic phrase is “what if?” Use it to start your thinking, to set up your work when presenting, and to challenge others who need inspiration. As an idea nucleus, … Continue reading
The trick to successful film and television production (and pretty much everything in life) is planning, then step by step execution. Production, at its best, should be art by the numbers, not a freeform experiment in hoping something good happens … Continue reading
There is a decent chance that the people you start out with in the advertising business are ones you’ll know all along the way. For decades, perhaps. It’s hard to imagine when you’re young, but it’s true. The way you … Continue reading
Your TV spot or online film will exist in a finite length. It’s not an experimental art project that will just stop when it’s done. It’s advertising. So come to grips with that fact upfront. Take a sheet of … Continue reading
Don’t just pick a director. Pick a production company. Proven, solid commercial production companies offer advantages. They have an ongoing relationship with your advertising agency, which they want to protect. So it’s not just your film or spot on the line, … Continue reading
You look at casting tapes or photos until your eyes bleed. The duds are easy to spot because they look wrong or can’t act. But how do you choose between the real contenders? The eyes. Cover the bottom of the … Continue reading
Don’t think about making an ad. Think about the people who might be in it. How would you use people in your ad? What would they be doing? What effect would the product have on them? What’s on their faces? … Continue reading
The ‘draft’ feature is the most important email feature you have. Harry Truman left 140 letters in his desk on his death. “The best letters I ever wrote were the ones I never sent.” He’d dash off an angry, profane … Continue reading
You think advertising focus groups are a necessary evil, which you either attend at gunpoint or watch online in a comatose state. No and no. The truth is that those people sitting across the glass are writing ads for you … Continue reading
Are you waiting on the game to come to you? Sitting frozen presuming an expert from the “Dept. of Clarity” is heading your way? You might, in fact, be that expert. Sure, you don’t want to go off half-cocked and … Continue reading
Start reading. No, not blogs and magazines. Books. Real books. See how the greats used words and told stories. Where to start? The New York Times Book Review gives you about the best list in the world. Just go to … Continue reading
There are pieces of bread. Pieces of eight. Pieces of meat. But there are never “pieces of business.” If you refer to them that way in the halls, you’re sure to repeat it in the presence of a client. It … Continue reading
The most experienced and costly creative people simply cannot do the T-shirt. That’s like killing a fly with a sledgehammer. You may eventually kill the fly, but not without putting a lot of costly holes everywhere in the process. Look … Continue reading
Don’t think about ideas your client might be willing to buy. Think about what your client is afraid of (their boss, a board meeting, budget pressure). If you can figure out the fear, and creatively solve for that ahead of time, … Continue reading
New business pitches are momentary aberrations that can have long term effects. You can win a new client and transform the entire advertising agency. Or, in the emotional rollercoaster of pitch mode, you can wreck your relationships within the agency … Continue reading
Overcommunicate. The most dangerous five words in the business vocabulary are “Did you get my email?” It presumes that the other person is fully responsible for receiving the information that you’re trying to impart, and that by sending an email … Continue reading
In truth, you’re not just in charge of having ideas. You’re in charge of selling them, too. Sometimes that means you have to be the one to say “No, let’s don’t just email it.” You might need to get on a … Continue reading