World Stops as Area Blogger Unveils New Look, Greatest Hits List.

The world today is full of pain and bad news. In the streets of Aleppo, of Gaza, and Ferguson, Missouri, bad shit is happening. Which is why the world needs a really stupid blog like this one.

It’s stupid mostly because I wrote it. But it’s also stupid because the main focus is advertising, a profession (affliction) thought by most to be immoral at worst, irritating at best.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us ad geeks? Caring as much as we do about something as nerdy as advertising?

Well, I don’t get it either, but here we are ¬– stayin’ late at the office or stayin’ up all night at school, trying to come up with a new way to make people give a flying f••k about Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks. And so I figured, we need something to read in order not to get too depressed about Aleppo, Gaza, and Ferguson.

I hope you like the new design. (Done by a SCAD ad student; a paid gig, btw.) HeyWhipple’s been up and running since 2010 and over the years I’ve managed to post a few things that didn’t suck too bad. And so, by way of reintroduction, I include below a list of links to some of my favorite posts over the years.

I hope to start posting again with some regularity, now that school’s about to start. Feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or to subscribe. (Buttons below to the right.)

ESSAYS ON ADVERTISING:

Is Your Ad Complete Bullshit? Try This Simple Test.

“I See Dead Ad Jobs.” Thoughts on an ad business facing the digital tsunami.

How To Advertise to a Nation of Eye-Rollers.

Content Is King. (Excerpt from new edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.)

Big Ideas vs. Long Ideas.

On Making Things Better Than They Have To Be Made.

ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND JUNIORS:

How I Learned Not To Suck. As Much.

Advice on Putting Together Your Book.

Do Not Tolerate Brutal Creative Directors.

How To Last in a Tough Business That’s Filled with Rejection.

An Open Letter to a Creative on the Ropes.

Please Give This Essay Your Full Attention. (The power of focus.)

The New Creative is T-Shaped.

Interns Should Be Paid. (With Money.)

On Picking Your Favorite Flavor of Suck.

Get Great at Writing Radio and You’ll Probably Always Have a Job.

Problem Solving vs. Problem Finding

Why Creativity is Exactly Like Washing A Pig.

Good Creative People are NEVER Bored.

On Presentation Skills.

What I Learned About Presenting From Doing Stand-Up.

ESSAYS I WISH CLIENTS WOULD READ:

On Being a Devil’s Advocated vs. an Angel’s Advocate.

An E-Mail I Came THIS Close to Sending to a Client About Her Micro-Managing.

Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Stuff in Your TV Spots.

The Home For Tired Old Ideas.

The Two States of Consumer Awareness: Shopping for Vegetables vs. Being a Vegetable.

What Having a Bad Client Feels Like, as told by a Plumber.

The Best Client I Ever Had: Wendy Ludlow Clark, now of Coca-Cola.

HEROES

R.I.P. Mike Hughes, The Most Loved Man in all of Advertising.

On Having Heroes.

My Favorite Writing Teacher: Poet Billy Collins

One of the Best Pieces of Creative Advice I Ever Received. From Anne Lamott.

The Day My Favorite Writer Ray Bradbury, Died.

REALLY STUPID STUFF

My Pitch to Chiquita Bananas.

Social Media vs. Those Whacky Waving Arm-Flailing Inflatable Tube Men.

Advertising after the Zombie Apocalypse.

Who Else Hates those Pop-Up Ads That Show Up in the Middle of Your Movie?

The Ad Industry’s Most Common Error: Media vs. Mediums.

A Stupid Film I Made to Make Fun of Pat Fallon’s new Big-Ass Office.

The Prestigious “Pardon Airport Construction Signs Creativity Gala.”

SELF-PROMO STUFF (Me, Wonderful Me.)

An After-Effects Self-Promo Piece Done by a SCAD Student.

The Most Interesting Night I Had in all of 2012.

My Single Fave Thing I Ever Did While Working for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

33 Years in the Ad Biz, and This Was My Favorite Campaign. And it’s Radio.

The Day My Picture Showed Up In The Onion.

A Delightful End to My Week. A Clever Assignment from a SCAD Design Prof Results in Sweet Gift from SCAD Ad Student.

HALEY

A couple of weeks ago, a freshman ad student here at SCAD — Haley Kochersberger — contacted me and said she’d like to interview me for a “writing assignment.” I thought it was just one of those assignments students sometimes have, you know, to go interview people in the industry.

So, we met, and of course I went on and on about my excellent self. She asked some interesting questions, and then we parted.

Three weeks pass.

Today she shows up in my office with a gift. (See pic)

Turns out “the writing assignment” was a ruse. The real assignment was to interview someone and figure out what would be the perfect gift you could make for them.

At one point in the interview she asked me, “Tell me something quirky about your childhood.” So I recounted for her this silly New Year’s Eve ritual we used to have years ago in the Sullivan family. At the time, I was taking Latin in school and it occurred to me that the singular of confetti was arguably “confettus,” which I thought would be a fine word for Webster’s to include in their next edition, defining a single teeny square of colored paper.

So, from that New Year’s on, instead of throwing confetti, we invoked our annual ritual of the “Throwing of the Confettus.” At precisely 12:00am, my brothers and Mom would all cheer as I threw a single tiny square of colored paper into the air.

Silly, I know.

I just love this shot of Haley and her sweet gift. I know it’s impossible to see here, but nestled inside the box, set like a diamond in felt, is an actual confettus. And in the envelope under the band, a helpful instruction book on how one goes about actually throwing a confettus.

Congrats to both SCAD Design professor Warren Thorp on a brilliant class assignment and to student Haley Kochersberger on a brilliant execution. And such a sweet gift. Thanks to both of you.

Ad Coach’s Post-Game Locker Room Speech

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Hey everybody. Particularly you ad students who were in the national ad competition last week:

Professor Novak sent me an email last week giving me the results of the competition you all went to last week. Like him, I was truly bummed. Certainly not as bummed as you guys, but bummed just the same.

Empathy is probably way-more-called-for here than any lesson, but this is a school and I am a teacher, so… sue me, but I see a learning opportunity.

Believe it or not, I was once a young ad geek too, and back then winning in the shows was the most important thing to me. Nothing else mattered. This attitude served me well….but only on those days when I won a lot of awards. The days I didn’t do well in the shows, I got so depressed. It was kinda pathetic.

Fortunately, I managed to grow out of that phase and develop a healthy respect for my talents regardless of how I did in the shows. A big part of what helped me get to that place was what happened the first time I was invited to be a judge in the show of shows – The One Show.

There I was in Barbados (yeah, not too shabby) with all these big-shot ad stars, creatives I’d been studying for years. These were some really great ad people, okay? As the show was judged over the course of about five days – and to my dawning horror – I saw things die that just….well, shouldn’t have died. Great stuff, dying left and right. I was amazed at the capriciousness of the judges. One day they’d love a piece of work and move it forward in the competition. The next day, “What’s this crap still doing in the show?”

I came back to my job with a renewed vigor and, more importantly, a perspective I didn’t have before.

The shows – both the good and bad, local and international – the shows are all ruled by the Gods. Ultimately, you cannot control what gets in, even if you write the best single ad ever written in the space-time continuum. Sure, excellent work has better odds, but at the end of the day, it’s a roll of the dice.

So, to you guys on the team that competed last week, I say hats off to you. Yeah, goddammit, we didn’t win. It sucks. Fine, feel rotten for a day, but don’t let it keep you from getting in the ring next year. Same thing goes for those great times when you win – feel great for a day, and then get ready for the next one.

If only I’d listened to my old boss, the late Mike Hughes, when I was at The Martin Agency. All those times I came dragging into work depressed that I’d been shut out at some award show, Mike would say, “Luke (you whiny self-obsessed dingbat ….[okay, I added that part]), let your joy come from the journey, not the destination. Let your joy come from the working, not the results of your work.”

–See you in the hallways, Prof Luke

Intern Intel: Email from a happy SCAD student.

Alison Turner is one of our wonderful students here at SCAD in Savannah. Though she came here to study art direction or copywriting, she’s discovering a love of all things social-and-interactive along the way. Now even account planning is a possibility with Alison. She’s a delight to hang out with in the hallways of SCAD and, unbidden, she sent me this nice long e-mail with some good advice for students everywhere. Thanks, Alison. 

First starters, I want to say that I’m absolutely in love with this place [Razorfish]. The people are amazing, they actually let us interns dive head first into everything; and of course also help us along the way. The work done here is so cool, and they work hard to educate us about every aspect of the industry. Twice a week we have “Lunch and Learns” where someone from a different department talks about what their department does. So far we’ve had HR, User Experience, and Account Planning.

I just ordered my copy.

Today the founder of Razorfish, Bob Lord, came to the Chicago office and gave a speech. He and another top officer wrote a book recently called Converge. Bob Lord was here to share some “Cliff’s Notes Insights” as he called them. Here are the top five insights he gave us:

1. Put, and keep, the customer at the center. I quote, “Treat the customer journey as Gospel.” I know we do a lot of this at SCAD, but it’s a good reminder that sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of the customer experience, in exchange for flashy things (it is at least for me; can’t speak for anyone else). Razorfish puts a ton of focus on making sure the customer has an easy time navigating everything and that everything we create is useful an/or fun. “Always make sure it improves their lives in some way.”

2. Think of the brand as a Service. I love this. It’s a great way of thinking to make sure everything you do serves both the consumer and client. A great example is Special K . They took the “Special K Challenge’” a campaign from decades ago, and turned it into an entire weight management service.  And it’s free. Basically, the CEO was saying “Fulfill a real need.”

3. Reject silos. This was probably the best advice I heard and basically it’s the whole idea of understanding more than your individual specialty. You are made better at your own job by understanding the jobs of others. It’s good to be curious and understand more than your own little box.

4.Act like a startup. Basically here he just meant don’t forget to be agile and take risks

5. Embrace Diversity. This is the idea of being T-Shaped. This one is all about how you need to understand more than just copywriting or art direction to be successful in today’s world. SCAD does a great job helping us remember this.

The last thing I wanted to cover here is the Account Planning Lunch-and-Learn we had today. I know a lot of students are starting to express interest in account planning as SCAD, so I figured I’d add the tips a  senior account planner here gave us. The type of person that tends to get hired in this position seems to have these attributes:

Curious: They REALLY want to see that you are curious about all kinds of people and curious about the way people think.

Confident: They want you to KNOW what you want and to know your abilities, but don’t get cocky

Demonstrate a basic understanding of what account planning is (obviously):  They recommended tarting with Truth, Lies, and Advertising by Jon Steel. They said it’s the quintessential account planning book. Treat it like your career Bible.

Take a class: They’d love it if you’ve taken courses in it

Have a good understanding of people: They want to see that you have good people skills, and one of the most important they mentioned is the ability to work with creative people.

Have a perspective: They want to see that you have a perspective on things, but not a harsh one. Have an opinion.

Last but not least?

Your personality is your best weapon: They said, and I quote “The truth is, at some level pretty much everyone has the same education. Everyone has the same resumes. What we value most is who you are. We want to know you’re passionate and that you’d be fun to work with.” They care a lot about personality in that department.

Sorry about the novel length email. I just had a lot of interesting experiences lately and I wanted to share them.

–Allison Turner

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Thanks Alison: Here’s the intro copy of the book Converge taken from its amazon page.
The leaders of Razorfish share their strategies for merging marketing and IT.

To create rich, technologically enabled experiences, enterprises need close collaboration between marketing and IT. Converge explains how the merging of technology, media, and creativity is revolutionizing marketing and business strategy. The CEO and CTO of Razorfish, one of the world’s largest digital marketing agencies, give their unique perspective on how to thrive in this age of disruption. Convergeshares their first-hand experience working closely with global brands—including AXE, Intel, Samsung, and Kellogg—to solve business problems at the collision point between media, technology, and marketing.

With in-depth looks at cloud computing, data- and API-enabled creativity, ubiquitous computing, and more,Converge presents a roadmap to success.

  • Explains how to organize for innovation within your own organization by applying the principles of agile development across your business
  • Details how to create a religion around convergence, explaining how to tell the story throughout the organization
  • Outlines how to adapt processes to keep up with and take advantage of rapid technological change

A book by practitioners for practitioners, Converge is about rethinking business organizations for a new age and empowering your people to thrive in a brand, new world.

Ad School Ain’t Like School School. (Or “Problem Finding VS Problem Solving.”)

Here’s the thing. I went to a School School but now I teach at an Ad School. And it’s really different.

At School School, you study the books they assign you, do the homework they give you, take the tests they hand out in class. You’re checkin’ the boxes so you can make your parents proud and get good grades.

Good grades are fantastic if you want to be a certified public accountant or a lawyer. (Please, don’t be a lawyer.)

However, for those of you trying to get into the ad business (or any creative industry for that matter), let me assure you that no recruiter or CD will ever ask you what your GPA was. They will not care what school you attended, nor will they care if you even graduated. All that counts is your book. “Show me the work” comes before “Show me the money.”

But getting to a great ad portfolio is very different — and much harder — than getting great grades.  Mostly because there’s a single correct answer for any test question, one you can usually find written down somewhere in a book. A great portfolio, on the other hand, is a big hot mess of mind-roastingly cool ideas pulled out of the thin blue air and executed so well they raise the hair on an interviewer’s arms. But the main difference is this: the really great books are the ones filled not with problems someone solved, but problems they found.

Problem finding is way cooler than problem solving. Problem solving is easy. You just wait at your desk and after a while someone brings you a problem to solve. And even if it’s a hard problem, it still has an answer, maybe several, but there is an answer.

The thing about problem-solving in advertising? It’ll never take you to an entirely new place. And if you’re not doing something entirely new, well, it’s a little bit like this marvelously snarky news item from The Onion.

‘TACO BELL’S FIVE INGREDIENTS COMBINED IN TOTALLY NEW WAY.”

“LOUISVILLE, KY–With great fanfare Monday, Taco Bell unveiled the Grandito, an exciting new permutation of refried beans, ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and a corn tortilla. ‘You’ve never tasted Taco Bell’s five ingredients combined quite like this,’ Taco Bell CEO Walter Berenyi said. ‘With its ground beef on top of the cheese but under the beans, it’s configured unlike anything you’ve ever eaten at Taco Bell.’”

See? You’re just sorta reorganizing things, stuff we’ve all seen before. But problem finding?

Problem finding is about exploring a thing so thoroughly, digging so deep, and thinking so creatively, that you begin to see around corners, and start asking questions — usually really stupid questions – and finally you flip the game so hard on its head that instead of thinking outside the box you sell the goddamned box on eBay and reinvent the problem, opening a hidden door that leads to more doors that all open into new and interesting places.

Remember, there was no job order for, say, Halo, or iTunes. Nobody walked in anyone else’s office and said, “Damn, if only you could solve this problem.”

Back in school, yeah, we solved problems; we sought order and found it in the predictable corners of the isosceles triangle. But in ad school, we’re looking for solutions to problems we don’t even know we have. Think about it. What “problem” did Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band solve?  What problem did YouTube solve?

Where problem solving ends after you solve the problem, problem finding means you’re just gettin’ started. And these cool discoveries, almost all of them happen out of a sense of play, not work, but play; they come out of the clear blue; out of a “Hey what if we…”

This leads me to a piece of advice I see becoming more and more relevant: “Always be inventing.”

Inventing means making something new; which is basically problem finding in my book. Inventing things uncovers new problems because with each iteration of a new idea, we see what are called “adjacent possibilities,” the definition of which somebody (can’t find the source just now) put this way: “The adjacent possible is what can be done with the next iteration using the elements present in this one.” The boundaries of the adjacent possible just keep growing as you explore the boundaries; doors opening onto doors.

So, don’t worry about grades. Just keep inventing.

(Or if you prefer, the Ellen-DeGeneres version from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”)

 

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.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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 thefwa.com, the Webby’s and the SxSW interactive awards.

One of the best pieces of creative advice I was ever given.

Anne Lamott is the author of one of my favorite books on writing – Bird By Bird. The title itself is one of the first lessons Anne gives us, in which she recalls having to write a long report about birds for school. She was daunted by the size of the project and finally in frustration asked her dad, “How am I ever going to write this?!?” And her wise father answered, “Bird by bird, Anne. Bird by bird.”

And so it goes with all of our creative projects, be it writing, art, or film.

Creative projects are daunting. In fact, the more we care about a project, the scarier it is, the larger it begins to loom over the measly 24 available hours in our day. Setting out, we begin to see all the wonderful angles we might explore, all those interesting byroads, and the creative mind, it runs down the road ahead of us, sees other wonderful roads which start to fork away, oh wow, they go in all directions, they multiply, they go fractal, kaleidoscopic and … we freeze. We tighten up and pull back.

This is when resistance to writing usually kicks in. Happens to me all the time. In fact, the way I procrastinate is to “do research.” Well, gathering material and backstory may, in fact, be an essential part of the problem-solving process, but I use it as a crutch or, rather, a hidey-hole.

“I can’t possibly begin to write this! Don’t you see how MUCH there is I don’t know?”

Recognizing that we are indeed resisting work is the first step. So we take a deep adult breath and tell ourselves, “It’s time to start, dear.”

Start … okay. Fine, start … but how? This big-ass project? It’s still here, spilled all over my desktop, its file folders obliterating the once serene screen-saver picture of the lake, the lake I’m never going to sit next to because of this damn project.  Fine! I’ll start! But where? Where do I start?

And again, Ms. Lamott comes to our rescue with another piece of calm and loving advice.

“Start from where you are.”

Wow.

When you think about it, how can we start anywhere else? We have to start from here. And yet most of us want to somehow maaaaybe just think our way down the road a piece, not far, you know maybe start mapping out the journey, just sorta get a grip on this dang thing, maybe also get the 30,000-foot view of all the different roads and, dammit, LET’S SOLVE THE WHOLE STINKIN’ THING RIGHT NOW! And again, our mental wagon train grinds to a halt before we even start west.

“Start from where you are.”

So, this is the piece of advice I have most loved. I remember using it recently while writing a book. A book seems pretty daunting, no? Well, it was for me. There it sat in my computer, non-existent, completely unwritten, with different chapters all screaming for immediate attention.

The thing is, there was one scene I’d recently been thinking about. I couldn’t wait to write this particular scene but the problem was this scene was from smack dab in the middle of the story. I can’t start there. Can I?

And I did.  I started exactly there. This scene, from waaaaay in the middle of the story, was the part I was most excited about writing, which made it exactly the right place for me to pick up the big project. I could worry about the opening chapters later. I could worry about the end later. But simply by picking up this one part that interested me, I was able to keep at it, to stay bent over my keyboard for the longest time; and enjoy doing it.

Thanks, Anne. And now I pass it on to you guys. See that part of your big project that’s the most interesting piece? Start there.

How I Learned Not To Suck. (As Much.)

My first "ad." (I know, I knnnow.)

(I just “liked” my own essay to see what would happen. What happened was my name ends up in the list of likers. Made me feel creepy. Please forgive, won’t you?)

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

A friend of mine is writing a book about advertising and he asked me to contribute some thoughts about my earliest experience with the craft, in particular any memories about my “first time,” my first successes (or failures).

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Ray Bradbury. I think he’s one of the best writers in captivity. In a biography about the man, Mr. Bradbury  remembered the time he first realized he’d written a good short story (The Lake).  Of that 1944 story he wrote: “When I finished [writing it], I was crying. I knew at long last, after ten years of trying, I had written something good.”

I think as we grow up as artists and creative people, our reach exceeds our grasp for years and years. We grow up being able to see so much more than we can do. We love the creativity we see in the art we love, but it takes years for us to learn a craft well enough to finally make something as good as the things we’ve been admiring.

So it was with me.

When I first got into the business, my mentors were the Original Minneapolis Duo, Ron Anderson and Tom McElligott. For the first few weeks after they hired me, Ron and Tom put me in a room with their collection of One Show award annuals. They called these books the “graduate school of advertising” and told me to sit down and read them all.

I was such an ad geek that I did more than read them. I Xeroxed every single page of every annual and then cut them all into individual pieces, all the ads, and then assembled all the world’s best auto ads in one book, all the best tourism ads in another book, creating a shelf-full of 3-ring binders of the world’s best ads broken into categories. Then, whenever I got a job order, whether it was for a restaurant or a brand of liquor, I’d go back to those books and re-read everything in that particular category all over again.

I would give the same advice to students today.

Learning the language of persuasion, of excellent copywriting, it isn’t a whole lot different than learning French. It’s about immersion. I immersed myself in the craft and you should too. Eventually all that smart starts to rub off on you.

So I started by copying. I didn’t copy concepts of course, but I did my best to copy the rhythms of, say, Neil Drossman’s brainy headlines or Ed McCabe’s smart-ass writing style. After awhile (in my case it took about 3 years) your own style begins to emerge.  You don’t decide what your style is, you discover it. Style is hard-wired into your brain and it’s a matter of discovering what your style is and then sharpening it, exploring its dimensions.

I’d like to say that once I studied all these masters, my own style quickly emerged and I was brill from then on.

Oh, but becoming good at anything is rarely a graceful process. In those first  years, I created some truly horrible things. I’ve already written about my first ad in my book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising, and if I may, I’ll pull this short quotation:

As hard as I studied those awards annuals, most of the work I did early on wasn’t very good. In fact, it stunk. If the truth be known, those early ads of mine were so bad I have to reach for my volume of Edgar Allan Poe to describe them with any accuracy:  “. . . a nearly liquid mass of loathsome, detestable putridity.”

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s my very first ad. Just look at it (for as long as you’re able): a dull little idea that doesn’t so much revolve around an overused play on the word interest, as it limps.

Rumor has it they’re still using this ad at poison control centers to induce vomiting. (“Come on now, Jimmy. We know you ate all of your sister’s antidepressant pills and that’s why you have to look at Luke’s bank ad.”)

As I said, it ain’t pretty and it ain’t graceful. I sucked for quite a while and this in spite of having some of the best teachers in the world.

Hall of Famer Tom McElligott once looked at a radio script I presented him, handed it back to me shaking his head and said, “This is a real mess.” It was a mess. Oh, it probably had some shred of concept to it but it was undisciplined, not single-minded, it sprawled, it had useless little asides I thought were so clever, and on top of all that, it had the most junior of mistakes — it didn’t time out to a sixty.

I had another excellent teacher, copywriter Dick Thomas. I remember bringing Mr. Thomas another over-long radio spot. He could tell at a glance it was too long and said, “Here, let me just trim it a bit.” That’s when he fed my script into an oscillating fan he had running on his desk. “There,” he said, handing back my shredded, truncated script. “Rewrite it to that length.”

May I take a moment here to humbly thank all those brilliant teachers I had early in my career.

And now, in parting, I’ll summarize: Study the masters. Immerse yourself in their work over and over again until you have it memorized. Surround yourself with people who are better than you are. Don’t waste time defending your early efforts. Just shut up and listen to your teachers. Stay humble. Stay hungry.

Sooner or later you’ll produce something that looks like the work you’ve been studying and admiring. Like Ray Bradbury, one day you’ll lean back and realize, wow, all that work, it’s starting to pay off.

In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.

That teeny caption upper left says: "Reading analysis and eye-tracking data courtesy of Interaction Labratory..."

This is the cover of the new book from London’s D&AD, The Copy Book. I am crazy proud to be one of the featured writers. That said, I would  have trouble looking anyone in the eyes and claiming my work should be featured in this book, and not that of my friend Greg Hahn’s. Or Jim Riswold’s. Or Ari Merkin’s.

(But screw ‘em. Isn’t it great?? Yesssss….)

Ahem … sorry about that … uncalled for. Unprofessional, is what that was. Let’s start again, shall we?

D&AD’s fantastic new book is out now, in a second and updated edition. The layout of new edition is better than the first with many of the featured ads appearing as full spreads, as they originally appeared in the magazines. And alongside the work, the advice of 48 different writers on the craft of copywriting.

At the risk of a wagging finger from its publisher Taschen, I’ll end today by excerpting my short offering in the volume, an essay titled “In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.”

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In Praise of the Humble Print Ad.

It is no longer as fashionable as it once was to be able to write a great print ad.  A print ad simply isn’t as cool as it once was.

A print ad is not interactive and it doesn’t link to other print ads. To create a print ad, you don’t have to go to LA or to Hyper Island. It usually ends its short life under a puppy and print ads are almost never featured on YouTube. Yet in its bare two dimensions the humble print ad contains all the challenges of the entire creative process.

In fact, when I am looking for talent to hire, I find the most telling pieces in their portfolios are the print ads.

There’s nowhere to hide in a print ad. The idea is right there on the surface or it isn’t. There’s no music to tell me how to feel, no loading bar to tell me the clever bit is about to happen.

You are reading a book that is still devoted (I presume) to print ads. If this edition is anything like the last, it is fairly bursting with good advice from great writers on their creative process. So I’ll limit my remarks today to just this: If you are a student or just starting out in this business, I encourage you to learn (before you learn anything else) how to write a great print ad.

It is the molecular building block of the advertising universe.

The New Creative Person is T-Shaped.

4th edition comes out next February. Cancel all your other plans.

An excerpt from the the upcoming 4th edition of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” It’s got a cool new cover drawn, shot, retouched, and designed entirely by a marvelous art director, Keli Linehan, from GSD&M. (She won’t like the way the cover’s reproducing here. It’s all done on a chalkboard, for reals, and it looks way cooler than this low rez file.) You’ll note also the cover includes a new name, my wonderful co-author, Sam Bennett. Sam is a really smart digital strategist, also from GSD&M. I’ve learned a lot from her and was happy when she agreed to help me update Whipple for the digital world. This excerpt includes material from a previous post from this site. (So sue me.)

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In spite of all this change, the two crafts we discussed in the first chapters – copywriting and art direction – these are still the basic tools you’ll need to create work in this new world of analog and digital media. Even if we wake up tomorrow in a Philip K. Dick novel, when it comes to creating advertising or content of any kind, someone’s gonna have to sit down and actually make something and that’ll still probably require the crafts of a writer and an art director.

The crafts are portable. They still matter in the new world, as do the disciplines of branding and positioning. As does being creative. In fact, given the kaleidoscope of stuff competing for the everybody’s attention, creativity is more important than ever. Our core job hasn’t changed. We still have to make things that are so interesting people lean in to see what they are.

None of what goes into creating a great idea changes; but as we’ve seen the output is different.

Today, a creative person is expected to be able to come up with everything from an ad to a website, a mobile application to a TV show, and a tweet to a radio spot. Where once Bernbach’s original teams of two could tackle all the traditional media, creating for a world that includes digital requires more skill sets than just copywriting and art direction.

For big cool projects that involve online creative or digital content of any kind, you’ll need to have at your side interactive producers, digital designers and developers, as well as IA and UX people (information architects and user experience). Where briefings once happened in a quiet room with four or five people, today you might find groups of 15 or more. And to be an effective member of these new teams, you’ll need to be what some call a “T-shaped” person.

T-shaped is just a funny name used to describe a person who has very deep skills in one area (the deep vertical stroke of the T) as well as the ability to collaborate across disciplines they’re not an expert in (that would be the horizontal stoke). Today’s most successful creatives are a sort of hybrid, capable of expert contributions in their chosen fields of art direction or copywriting, but fluent enough in other digital disciplines to collaborate effectively, occasionally even executing things on their own. The new creatives have both depth and breadth and today their job description isn’t “writing or art directing cool ads and TV spots.” It’s bigger. Your job is to create entertaining or useful experiences for your clients’ brands. That might involve an ad; it might not.

“I’m not even sure that the future is a writer-and-art-director team anymore,” says Weiden CD Tony Davidson in Spencer’s Breaking In. “I get a sense that the kids coming through want to do a lot more. They want to be an animator, they want to be a director, they want to be a writer. I love the idea of hybrid-ideas person who can move between disciplines.” (XXXX FOOTNOTE)

The thing is, when you can become conversant in other disciplines you’ll be a better creative and a better team member. And then, when you become fluent in other disciplines and can even execute on occasion, you’ll become the sort of go-to “creative alchemist” every agency on the planet is trying to hire.

In Breaking In, Google’s Valdean Klump describes just how valuable this wider skill set is:

“What impresses me most is the ability to make things. More and more these days, young people are coming into the business able to shoot their own commercials, create websites, program games, take photos, make animations, build Facebook apps, and generally act as one-person ad agencies. This makes CDs salivate because getting ideas off of the page is at least as hard as getting them on paper in the first place … If you can make things and make them well, you will never be unemployed.” (XXXX FOOTNOTE)

Having been a CD at an agency that was hiring, I remember wanting to recruit only the most techno-geeked-out, mobile-ready, code-slinging web brats I could find. On the other hand, I wanted writers or art directors who knew how to take a blank sheet of paper and make something interesting and beautiful happen. The place where these two skills overlapped seemed to be the sweet spot. The ones who can do both of these things? They’re the creatives of the future.

Now if you’re already in the business, as either a “traditional” or “digital creative” (a distinction that’s almost obsolete already), there are many things you can do to align yourself with the direction the industry’s going.

For now, I find myself pushing both traditionals and digitals towards the middle. Pushing traditional creatives to use, study, and learn the emerging technologies. And pushing digital creatives to learn how to create things that are delightful and conceptual on paper; things that are still cool even before any production happens.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Having come up in this business during the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think I’m probably pretty good at looking at a brand brief, figuring out the single most important thing to say, and then making something interesting happen: in print, on TV, outdoor or radio. I kinda know what I’m doing there.

But I won’t kid myself. I’m not what they call a digital native, someone who grew up with technology. I’m a digital immigrant, with a heavy enough old-world accent even the guys at the corner deli can’t understand me. Yet I am not content to sit on Ellis Island wondering what delights await discovery on the new digital shores. I’m swimmin’ across, people. Meaning, I stay very busy learning everything I can.

I am busy actually using the new media. I have an online presence and I’m busy blogging about this stuff, tweeting about it, and watching “webinars” (I still can’t say that word with a straight face): online seminars broadcast from cool places like Boulder Digital Works. I’m on lynda.com (where you can teach yourself Flash and Dreamweaver) and a whole bunch of other cool websites for inspiration and education. All of this so I can learn the new media, experience the new technologies, and help take my clients’ brands out into the world to meet their customers. I do all this hoping my self-guided education will push me towards that sweet spot in the middle.

Now, if I were a digital native, someone whose deep part of the T-shape is expertise in, say, HTML5, CSS, and Javascript? I’d get me a couple of the latest One Show annuals (insist on the kind made out of “paper”) as well as any December issues of Communication Arts’ Advertising Annuals I could find. Then I’d turn off my cellphone, put my feet up, and read ‘em cover to cover. I’d inhale them. And then I’d go find some more.

I’d probably start by studying the print of the ‘80s Fallon McElligott, I’d watch the TV of the ‘90s Goodby, and I’d understand how they tell an integrated story at today’s Crispin. I’d learn how to write headlines as good as the work Abbott Meade Vickers did for The Economist (page XXXX). I’d learn how to say something provocative in a 10-word sentence. I’d learn how to tell an interesting story in 30 seconds.

I’d push myself towards the middle.

Ultimately, for any open job position in its creative department, an agency’s gonna hire someone who is – drum roll – creative. But the tie’s gonna go to the person who can express creativity over the widest variety of media.

Before we move on talk about this whole idea of content, there’s one more job position now available in many agencies, one that’s neither art director or copywriter – a profession called creative technology.

The creative tech is trained to be skilled in using new media technologies in the service of branding, advertising, and marketing. This person introduces emerging technologies into the concepting process and is involved from briefing through development to final delivery. Whether it’s bringing a technical understanding of location-based platforms, designing communities, or executing Facebook applications, the creative tech helps turn the main campaign idea into cool online consumer experiences. In addition to blue-skying concepts along with the art director-copywriter team, she may build prototypes to test ideas, do some coding, or be a liaison to the client’s IT stakeholders.

A creative tech is even more helpful when she also has some polished skills of copywriting or art direction. So if you have any tech-geek in you, “CT” may be the way you want to go. Not a bad idea considering the whole world is Matrix-ing into 1’s and 0’s. We’re going to need people who specialize in applying all the digital media technologies coming online every week.