I just graduated a class of ad students from UNT and have reviewed more than a couple portfolios over the past few weeks. As advertising students collect their diplomas and start shopping their books for -- not internships now -- but JOBS, here are a few things for all advertising youth to keep in mind:
YOUR BOOK IS NOT DONE
Your student book contains mere glimmers of what will make you a valuable employee for some lucky (?) ad agency. Keep adding to it. Stop massaging the ideas you created in school. Immediately start prioritizing the campaigns in your book so you know what to replace first, next, etc. Then start coming up with ideas to replace them. One of your first goals as a junior is to replace your student book with actual work (as long as it's better than your student work in idea, strategic relevance, integrated thinking and craft.)
All the things that make for great advertising? Those are the things you should use to sell your talent.
Have a brief. Position yourself. Know your target. Create an integrated campaign for your brand and keep it fresh and relevant. You are the most important product you'll ever market. Be honest. Be human. Have standards. And ethics. And be very clear about your standards and ethics.
YOUR FIRST JOB IN ADVERTISING WILL BE THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB (IN ADVERTISING) YOU EVER TAKE
Have a plan. Know -- and say -- more than "I just want a job". Or more than likely that's what you'll get: just a job. Visualize the work you want to do, and the creative director you want to work with. Then be candid with your recruiters. Be picky. If you feel like you can't be picky, improve your portfolio or go do something else. Life is too short to take a shitty job in advertising. Or "work your way up from the mailroom" in advertising. If you don't have what it takes to be really good -- be honest with yourself and go be productive somewhere else. It isn't for everyone. Not trying to be discouraging, just trying to save some of you from 10 miserable years of creating advertising that I will ignore on bathroom walls, on the windows of fast-food restaurants, and in my mailbox.
FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR PRODUCTS
Eat your own dogfood. If you are working on Miller Lite -- drink Miller Lite. Even if you're a beer snob. Not out of a sense of loyalty (although they are LITERALLY paying your salary), but because in order to sell your product, you need to know your product. Fall in love with your products. If you love it, tell everyone you meet. If you literally can not love the products you're selling: you should quit. Seriously.
WORK ON YOUR CRAFT
Every new project is a chance to use a new typeface, a new illustration technique, a new layout grid, a new color palette. If you're asked for several concepts -- use each as a chance to push your design ideas in a drastically different direction. Don't develop a style. Develop an approach. And make that approach eclectic. Your book should feel like the discography of the Beatles, not the Spin Doctors (if you don't know who the Spin Doctors are -- right.)
DON'T GET COMFORTABLE
Ever. Whether it's in your mom's basement, your graduate school dorm or golden-handcuffed to a well-paying first job with an espresso machine in the kitchen. Your work is your future. If your book isn't improving, move. Either across town or across the country. On the other hand, if you are continually challenged to do great work, are trusted some responsibility -- and not being taken advantage of like a lowly pack-mule -- stay as long as it pays you back.
DEVELOP YOUR EXIT STRATEGY
Be nice to people. Be considerate. Go to lunch with people from other departments. Remember names and send thank you notes and go to happy hours. Expand your circle of influence and goddammit, be a little political. Kiss some babies. This is a business driven by your ability to persuade people. Be awesome to EVERYONE you work with (don't be a pushover). Everyone remembers the happy ones. The loud ones. The ones that volunteer and are never too busy and offer to carry a box down the hall. You never know where your next job will take you. And who will be there from your last job. Keep up your book. You never know when the wind might change. You will most likely be fired/laid off at some point. It's the business. And its incumbent upon you to be ready.
EXERCISE YOUR BODY
Advertising is a stressful, unhealthy business. Make time to swim, bike, go to the gym, run. Join a sports team and go to the games. This shit is important. Advertising will sneak up on you and turn you into a fat, lazy, grumpy bitch/bastard if you let it. Look at all the CDs you interview -- you can tell which ones follow this advice. They are healthy looking, happier, and generally lead more balanced lives. They have more energy and a sunnier outlook. You can tell which ones lost the battle between a life and a life in advertising.
MAKE TIME TO DO SOMETHING INTERESTING OTHER THAN ADVERTISING
If all you think about and do is make advertising, you're going to end up a boring ad-douche. Don't do that. Travel, paint, write, sing, make friends, become an expert in food or whiskey or home repair or motorcycle construction. The creatives and developers I work with are all makers and doers. They make amazing stuff here and they go home and do other amazing things. Learn new stuff all the time that has nothing to do with making ads. It'll make you better at making ads. And friends. And give you a jump on something else down the road.
TEACH AND GIVE BACK
Share what you learn. This applies hours and days after you start your first job. Take an interest in the juniors that get hired behind you. A huge part of the path from junior art director to creative director is your ability to balance your people skills with your job description. Be patient. And persistent. Be firm. Set reasonable expectations and hold your juniors accountable. Fight for them. Remove obstacles. When you fight for them, most juniors will reward you with their loyalty and their best effort. In short: lead.
Take a vacation. Two weeks. Less than two weeks is not enough. Go lie on a beach. Or get lost in a foreign country. Or learn a skill. Do something other than advertising and lose your fucking cell phone for a few days. Trust me -- this is how vacations work. Three hours on Friday afternoon may be enough to grab a few beers, but vacations are about renewing your spirit. Ignore this one at your own peril. Plus, no good boss can resist the "I planned a trip to Australia in 6 months." story. Note: A little forewarning goes a long way.
You'll need it. Don't discount it. If you have it, appreciate it. If you don't have it yet, start making your own. Go.