From Agency Spy, a delightful article: The Universal Cover Letter.

Typically I stay away from Agency Spy. There’s a lot of fairly mean-spirited trolls trashing other people and their work. But I love this piece posted by Kiran Aditham:

Growing sick and tired of writing letters to recruiters, art director/designer Chris Vanderhurst decided to pen one “to rule them all” in his own words. Your end result, at least in text form, is what you see below. It may not do him any favors in reality, but it could at least break the ice. We say that the lad, a Notre Dame/Chicago Portfolio School alum, has the template pretty much nailed down.

Zany greeting no one uses in real life!

Introduction to myself in case you can’t read who this email is coming from. Brief background about myself because the only way I “know” you is by 5 degrees of LinkedIn separation.

Sentence full of innuendo that boils down to me being unemployed. Predictable comment about how your agency and me belong together, ignorant to the fact you are probably friends with several other recruiters I’m sending this exact letter to. Generic compliment that applies to every agency but, for the purposes of this email, “specifically” yours.

Let’s talk about me some more, because I’ve forgotten all of the following information is on my resume, which I made in Microsoft Word even though I call myself creative. I’ll make a list here in paragraph form, beginning with the college I went to that taught me nothing applicable to this position. This would be the perfect place for an unfunny joke about how good the football/basketball team is going to be this year! Giant stretch here talking about my experience, because this position I’m emailing about requires 3 more years of experience than I really have.

Here is where I mention the name of someone you actually may know in real life, who gave me his business card once in college. I hope the name drop makes you more likely to respond to me, but what I don’t know is that guy I just mentioned got let go 8 months ago. Plus, he was kind of a prick. It is now clear just how desperate I am.

A one word, drinking based farewell that implies I’m a fun person, and a wish that I hear from you soon. A warning/threat that I will follow up with another template email in a week if I don’t hear back from you. I hope at this point that you haven’t realized I’ve spent 30 minutes writing this, but not 30 seconds proofreading it.

-First name

Email signature with my full name, a title I don’t deserve, and clever use of punctuation like blackslashes between the digits of my phone number.

If there were no ad schools, the One Show annuals still just might be enough.

Hall of Fame copywriter Tom McElligott hired me as a copywriter in January of 1979. (Insert age joke here. “Ha, ha, that was so funny. No really, that I’m old and everything.”)

Aaaanyhoo, Tom didn’t have much work for me during that first month, so he parked me in a conference room with a three-foot-tall stack of award annuals; books full of the best advertising on the planet: the One Show and Communication Arts awards annuals (the December issues).

He told me to read them. “Read them all.”

He called them “the graduate school of advertising.” He was right, and I say the same thing to kids trying to get into the business today. You need to study these books. If you purport to be a student of advertising, you need to drop everything right now and go get a three-foot-tall stack of your own and read, read, and read.

Yes, I’m aware this is a business where we try to break rules, but as T.S. Eliot said, “It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.” More on that later.

Fact is, it’s entirely possible you could circumvent ad school entirely and create an interview-ready portfolio with nothing but these books and a whole lot of coffee.  Because you’d be studying The Masters, studying people way better than you are right now, people who have their craft down to an art and are at the peak of their creative powers.

The books are in fact expensive and so you’ll have to find them at libraries, used book stores, online, or through friends in the business. And while it’s possible to peruse the One Show’s archives online, perusing is defined popularly as “looking over in a casual or cursory manner.” I want you to peruse People magazine; the annuals you need to actually read.

Yes, you could see much of this work online, but to study it the way I’m talkin’ about, looking at stuff online this long will kill your neck. By studying I mean total immersion; curling up with a One Show annual for hours and hours and just inhaling the work. Concentrating on the work so hard that when the phone rings you come back from a daze, blinking as you adjust from the brilliance you’ve just left in the land where things are done perfectly, where spectacular ideas live one next to another. After swimming this deep and this long under a sea of brilliance, it starts to soak in and when you come out of the perfection, your fingers are wrinkled with creativity. This is how we learn. I don’t see any short cuts.

Now, there are people who say you don’t need award books and sometimes I’m one of them. Once you’ve learned the basics of the craft, once you’re in the business, well, at a certain point it is good to unmoor and sail into the unknown. I know plenty of ad superstars who disdain looking at books. All I can tell you is how I learned the craft, back when there were no ad schools. It was with these books.

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NOTE: The best awards shows in my opinion are the One Show and Communication Arts (its December issues), as well as the British D&AD annuals. For digital inspiration, you can peruse work at, the Webby’s and the SxSW interactive awards.