Guest post from Ryan Carroll on why you need to be more than just a CW or an AD.

Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.

Your substitute teacher today is Mr. Carroll.

Okay, class. Today’s substitute teacher is Mr. Carroll. You remember Mr. Carroll. He was here two weeks ago. I expect you to give him the same respect you give me. People? Settle down, people.

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T-shaped skillset. I hate using this term since it’s so overplayed, but the truth behind the word is important. As a CD, I don’t want just a strong writer; I want a writer that can flex other muscles – shoot and edit content, or write code, or who are DJs at night, or write for McSweeney’s. I need to be able to lean on you for other skill sets beyond advertising writing or art direction.

Any given day, we may be building prototypes for clients, shooting and editing stop-motion videos for Instagram; we even develop new products. There isn’t a “Miscellaneous” department at the agency that handles this work. It’s up to our creatives to execute.

And beyond the tactical value of having these skill sets in the building, when you have skills beyond your core craft, it shows me you’re a hard worker. It shows me you’re a well-rounded thinker and you have a curiosity that pushes you to discover new things.

Side Hustle. I love juniors who have entrepreneurial drive or at the very least have built a their own brand. When I see an art director who has 20,000 followers on Instagram, it shows me they understand branding. When I see a junior writer who built an online Queso business, it shows me she thinks like a businessperson.

It’s this kind of junior who intuitively understands the realities our clients live and breathe every day. Combine this side hustle with the other things I [wrote for this blog two posts ago] and you’ll be an unstoppable force. The days of “crazy creatives” with crazy ideas are gone. Budgets are smaller, problems are aplenty and it’s nearly impossible to find a client who will gamble on an idea that isn’t directly tied to solving an actual business problem. That’s not to say audacious ballsy ideas aren’t still needed. But when they’re tied to a solid strategy and solve a business problem, they aren’t audacious anymore. They’re just smart.

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Ryan’s bio: Hello. I am a Group Creative Director at GSD&M. My work has been recognized by Cannes, The One Show, Communication Arts, The Webbys, FWA, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Early Show on CBS (which made my Mom proud) and Maxim magazine (which made my Dad proud).  I like tacos. Follow me @digiryan

Examples of Work –


  1. I’m sure Ryan is a very talented creative and GCD, BUT…when it comes to his own branding, he is guilty of what most creatives are guilty of. Which is, doing what everyone else is doing. Which is not great marketing and/or creativity. Which is, not demonstrating that you understand marketing through your own personal marketing. Which is, more important, the more senior you are, since a) the air is thinner, and b) you have less runway left. So…yes…true….all good points, but walk, the talk.

    ~ heidi

    Career Consultant for Soon-to-be-Famous Creatives

  2. I feel like Ryan wrote this to make himself feel cool rather than to help students land their first job. Not only is it hackneyed advice, but it belittles how difficult it is to hone copywriting or art direction craft. And while there may be no ‘miscellaneous’ department at GSD&M, I’m sure there are some very good production people.

  3. There is actually a “Miscellaneous” department in just about every agency, including GSD&M. They are called studio or production artists. I can see the confusion though since these hard working folks aren’t part of any credit lines at award shows.

  4. Where the hell is all this bitterness coming from??? All this guy is saying is that it takes more than thinking up a few ads to be a well-rounded creative these days. That doesn’t sell the craft of what we do short, it just admits the reality that craftsmanship alone no longer covers the cost of admission.

    Since he’s totally and completely right, it would be smart for young, would-be creative badasses to place more value on this well-awarded gcd than consultants and self-satisfied trolls.

  5. Back when it was cool to get a job at Wieden, my friend got a job at Wieden. He’d been a production artist who’d grown into a writer. Beyond a few traditional campaigns, his book included stuff he’d designed, coded, shot, edited and invented. The CDs who hired him went on and on about how much the guy was a Swiss Army Knife.

    On Day One of his new job he was given a “writer’s laptop.” Despite begging for a graphics machine or at least some software beyond Word, he never got it.

    So while I get the allure of wanting to hire “artists” over traditional advertising creatives, it doesn’t take much digging to see that advertising’s perception of itself rarely fits the reality.

    The bottom line is the same bottom line it’s always been: Do great work. Which may or may not include DJing, cultivating an Instagram account or otherwise “building your own brand.” And then know that advertising is business and though business has been known to be fun, it’s almost never art.


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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.