On your desk, there is a brief. Let’s read it again, shall we? The One Main Selling Message goes something like this: With its advanced lemon scent, hard-working new Blippo gets clothes even cleaner to make laundry day special for the time-starved, ecology-conscious consumer on a budget.
Your internal presentation is tomorrow. You have no decent ideas. Actually, you don’t even have any lame ones. Clearly, there is only one thing to do.
You must try to get a hair appointment. Since hair grows on agency time, it is perfectly reasonable to get it cut on agency time. (If you would prefer to get your legs waxed, that’s fine, too. The same principle applies.)
And as the snick-snick of the scissors lulls you into a trance, pray, oh pray, that the hairdresser doesn’t ask, “What is it you do, again?” Because then you’ll have to have the conversation in which you smile and agree that the ad business is for sure totally neat and glam and fun and, oh yes, very competitive.
But privately, you are terrified. You fear that your book is not up to snuff. You fear that the business is even nastier than you thought. You even fear that you might get fired.
You are craving reassurance. You ache for glad tidings that will restore your hope. I would like to give you those glad tidings. I’ve got three of them, actually. Here goes:
Glad Tiding #1: Your book is not up to snuff. You’ve been showing your book around, and the meetings haven’t gone remotely the way you fantasized. No one’s said they’d love to hire you. No one’s invited you to use his name with other CDs in town. And the campaign you thought was killer? Two creative directors have told you to take it out of your book. So how does that qualify as good news? Well, for starters, you’re in excellent company. 95% of student and junior books get that lukewarm, keep-working response wherever they’re shown. And 95% of the owners of those books choose to do exactly nothing about that response. “I spent two years building that book, ” they’ll say. “Besides, some of the feedback I’ve gotten has been really positive.”
But you’re not one of those people. You’re a faithful reader of this blog. And because you’re a faithful reader, you’ll know better than to waste one precious second kidding yourself about what that faint praise really means. If you want to get into a top agency, you will understand that the time has come to rebuild your portfolio from scratch. And you won’t feel resentful about it, either. Rather, you’ll shrug your shoulders and start making ads. Lots of them. Maybe five or ten a day. Pretend that your portfolio is actually a monthly magazine, and you have to come up with new stuff to fill it every thirty days. If you do this, I guarantee that in three months, you’ll have your good news: a book that’s miles ahead of what the 95% are lugging around.
Glad Tiding #2: The business is even nastier than you thought. Maybe you’re at an agency where senior creatives will take you under their wing, guiding you, calming you, amusing you with war stories. Then again, maybe you’re at an agency where senior creatives regard you as a threat, where you hide your ideas for fear they’ll be poached. Wherever you are, your response should be the same: Be nice. Very few people can tell you offhand who was dominating the award shows six or seven years ago. But everyone can remember who is easy to work with, who’s a straight shooter, who’s not a prima donna. The good news here is that a reputation as a nice person is more enduring than a Cannes Lion, and it’s a lot easier to get.
Glad Tiding #3: You might get fired. You see furrowed brows, you hear anxious whispers: If we lose the Snorbix account, we’ll have to let three teams go. And so it comes to pass that the Snorbix account does move. And you are let go. This is the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to you.
Or maybe it’s the best thing. Ours is the only business I can think of where there isn’t any particular shame in being fired. And this blameless hiatus might be just what you need to reboot your work. But there’s one helpful trick of the mind that’s available to everyone, with or without a job: Work for yourself. This doesn’t mean going freelance (although you may decide to do that at some point). What it means is that while you work hard for other bosses and other brands, you should also work hard for your own development and your own brand (which, of course, is all about creative excellence). Creative directors will love your entrepreneurial spirit. And you will be secure in the knowledge that your improving skills are like a carpenter’s tools: They don’t belong to anyone else, and when the job is done, you will pack them up and take them with you.
You won’t ever have to worry about finding a mentor in this business. You already have one. It’s called uncertainty. Make friends with it now, and you’ll go far.