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Update, Update, Update!


If you receive update notifications for your mobile apps, that means the one you have right now is old. Technologies advance every day, and we need to keep ourselves updated. 

The same thing can be said about our skills. 

The main difference? 

We don’t really get push notifications for them. 

When I started my college career at SCAD two years ago, no one was talking about HTML5, only half of my classmates were wired to Twitter, and there was no Instagram. 

But now, things have been changed. 

Not having a Twitter account is almost as bad as still using MySpace. If you are one of those people who upload hundreds of photos to their Facebook album named “Summer 2012” in September 2012, your friends might not appreciate your great photos as much as you think – because they have probably already seen similar photos.

On their other friend’s Instagram.

Two months ago. 

And as a designer in this digital age, knowing HTML5 is probably more useful than knowing Spanish or any other foreign language. 

Knowing what’s out there in the digital world and familiarizing ourselves with new apps, technologies and skills are some of the most basic – yet critical – daily tasks that we have to do.

AKQA hosts the Future Lions Competition (student competition) at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity every year. And there is only one thing on the brief:

Advertise a product from a global brand in a way that couldn’t have been done five years ago, to an audience of your choosing.

This very open-ended style of competition lets students from all over the world explore the new possibilities of advertising and encourages them to come up with innovative ideas. 

More than 1100 ideas were entered into the competition this year, and the five most innovative teams were awarded the Future Lions title. 

This year’s – and all of the past winners’ projects – can be seen here.

All of those winning projects demonstrate very smart thinking, and also gives me those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. All of them use apps or other technologies that we are already very familiar with – but in a way that no one has ever tried before. 

The ability to be innovative and push the brands along with what’s trending in the digital world has become a very important skill. 

So if you are not trying to familiarize yourself with any of the upcoming apps – or trying to keep yourself updated with new digital trends – you might lose out on big opportunities to come up with something truly innovative. 

Like me, maybe you’ve stumbled upon a smart interactive campaign on the Internet and said, “Why didn’t I think that?” 

At this point, you are already very behind in the race.

Especially today – when the whole industry is eager to come up with new, innovative ways to connect brands with their target audience; especially as the targets are becoming more and more tech-savvy themselves. 

Being the first to produce the idea is crucial, as we all know that the public will bash a copycat.

So keep yourself updated. 

Because if you receive an update notification from someone, then you just became outdated.

Making It: The Art of Excelleration


Dear ADspirants,

excelleration (n.) – The act of progressive achievement; the constant movement from great success to greater successes (taken from “excel” and “acceleration”). 

This is a real word. At least when it comes to my brand, it is. At the end of Creative Week, I was at The One Show. The One Show.You know, the award show where all the awards are pencils, and the winners are decked out in Nikes and the like. 

I was surrounded by talent, immersed in a gaggle of winners.

The best part?

I got to share this moment with my fellow Socialites Biannette Camilo and Gerardine Peralta (and I’m pretty sure I saw Doug Zanger’s hair). 

We worked hard over the semester, understanding what agencies are all about. To be there – knowing that it’ll be us in a few years if we play our cards right – was magical.

The bad news?

I’m impatient. 

And inexperienced. 

But I look at all that my personal brand has accomplished this year and I smile. 

3.1 GPA in my first semester at City College. Being elected president of my school’s AAF (American Advertising Federation) chapter. Meeting the giants of today’s Madison Avenue at different events.

Most importantly, this

I’m here – writing to you as a proud member of the Creative Week Social Club. 

I thought about all of this – every move I’ve made, every success upon success upon greater success. It’s like gorging a Baconator Double from Wendy’s: 

A lot to take in, but so much enjoyment once you’re finished.

I’m not finished. For now, I’m resting. I’m taking a break to really relax and see the crops of my hustle. I can remember Neisha Tweed, senior copywriter at Publicis Modem, telling me months ago when I was applying to MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Intern Program) exactly how I should approach it:

“By any means necessary.” 

Her words were in reference to finding a way to wow with my application in ways that my grades couldn’t. I took it to heart, those four words, and I’ve pushed beyond what I thought were my limits. I built my brand out of it: 

Aspiring for the greatest success, connecting with beneficial people and opportunities, and not just excelling, but excellerating

It’s about the next big thing. 

Actually, in the creative world, it’s always about the next big thing. 

Ad people always say that you’re looked at for your last campaign. I’m sure that in the fashion, media and most other creative industries at large, staying current is your livelihood. 

We mirror and shape culture. Might as well make things better for ourselves, yes?

But success is never just about one person. 

So before I conclude this letter, I’d like to shout-out everyone involved in the first rungs up the ladder of my climb to the top of the advertising industry. It’s said that revenge is a dish best served cold. We’re in the success game, however, and I believe that it’s best shared amongst those out there winning with you.

  • My friends Geri and Bibi for being on this grind with me.
  • My fellow Creative Week Socialites for keeping me inspired.
  • The members of my school’s AAF chapter for giving me a sense of leadership and purpose.
  • My MAIP friends for reminding me that I’ll be on your level soon.
  • The One Club and the 4As for giving me something high to aim for.
  • Every mentor that I’ve secretly claimed. In the words of Johnny Carson, “I’m learning, I’m learning!”

Most importantly, I have to shower you, the reader, with thanks. 

I drive to the basket because you’re driving, too. I want to see us all at the winner’s circle – Indy 500-style – with our milk bottles and trophies and portfolios and cheering crowds. 

I know it’s hard sometimes, but take these six words of advice:

“Keep calm and make it happen.”

Ideas vs. People: The Chicken vs. The Egg


As Creative Week 2012 rolled along, the creative community became hooked to the panels, the shows, and the parties. Whatever piqued each person’s interest did not fail to deliver. While Creative Week presented insight after insight after insight, two main themes emerged and wove their way through the entire week:

1). Big Ideas

2). Great People

In order to be successful in this industry – in order to be current and innovative – you must have big ideas and great people.

Yet during The Creative Suite: Presented By Adobe, featuring the Chief Creative Officers of six companies, an interesting discussion ensued. 

“Ideas are useless,” Dave Clemans, ECD, TAXI, declared. 

At that statement, Jimmy Smith, Chairman/CEO/CCO, Amusement Park Entertainment, bounced from being seated next to Clemans and across the stage. 

“You can’t start anything without a good idea,” Smith strongly opposed. 

Clemans elaborated that ideas are useless until you make them happen; the only way that ideas have power is to have the people that can make it happen. In order for an acorn to grow into a mighty tree, Clemans says that you need “Make It Happen” people.

The type of people who are forward-thinking, nimble, and equipped to overcome obstacles, by Clemans’ definition.  

So, which are more important – big ideas or great people? 

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? 

Questions like these lend themselves to never-ending debate. How about a few points to help you argue either side:

  • Without big ideas, great people won’t have anything to create content against.
  • Without great people, all those big ideas simply won’t get produced. 
  • You need the great people to come up with the big ideas.

Enjoy where this takes your mind. 

And let Creative Week know which you think is more important:

The Big Ideas or The Great People.

Stop Doing Advertising

Stop it. Just stop.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably paid to be in advertising. You probably come up with ideas and execute them for a living.
And you need to stop it.
I don’t mean quit your job. I mean change your state of mind. Stop living and breathing advertising. Stop the daily visits to AdCritic and AdFreak and AdAge and AgencySpy. Stop hanging out with your coworkers who talk all about about ads – and nothing but ads. Stop blogging about advertising, tweeting about advertising or going to events about advertising.
Instead, when you’re off the clock, get into something else.







And then figure out how you can combine your new hobby with your day job.
Look at it this way:

There’s a conference going on – like Creative Week – and you have the choice between a panel called The Idea Matters…Still – put on by your peers – or one called Success On Broadway: The Un-Broadway Way – put on by a bunch of people who live and breathe theater.
Now ask yourself:

Which of these panels will cover stuff you already know and reinforce stuff you already believe?
Which one will take you out of your comfort zone and force you to think about things in a new way?
I thought so.
I have no interest in making it on Broadway, but I’m interested in alternative and unexpected approaches to solving problems. At the Broadway session, they talked about establishing an emotional connection when you write, appreciating the difference between an idea and an activity, and collaboration as the act of talking things into existence.
These topics may only be indirectly related to the advertising industry, but they’re directly related to what we do in advertising. The advice of people who have made it on Broadway can help us think about our jobs in new ways.
Another example:

At SXSW, the best talk I saw was by Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case. I didn’t know such a profession existed. But the points she made went beyond her profession – they touched on human truths. Like how human behavior and technology have become intertwined to the point of no return. So thinking of people and technology as separate entities is the wrong way of looking at things.

It’s a topic that’s indirectly related to the advertising industry. But directly related to what we do in advertising.
The truth is, all ideas are a combination of previously existing ideas.

You don’t invent a “Big Idea” out of thin air – you discover one.

Like Kirby Ferguson says, everything is a remix.

When you stop living and breathing advertising, you find inspiration in more interesting places. You bring a fresh perspective to projects. You solve problems in more unexpected ways. You discover more interesting ideas.

When you learn how other industries solve problems, you make better advertising.

And that is what being in advertising is all about.

7 Top Recommendations For Creative Students


Undergraduate and portfolio school students attended Creative Week 2012 in noticeable numbers. At an event like Creative Week (or Advertising Week, which is in a few months, hint, hint.), advice is shared and contacts are made both things being extremely valuable to students trying to get into the industry.  

As not only the previous Creative Manager of a well-known ad agency, but also now a certified coach and consultant for creatives and their agencies, here are my seven top recommendations for creative students from Creative Week 2012:

1). Understand your audience.

When you understand the audience you are trying to reach with the pieces in your portfolio, you will be able to figure out how to reach them most effectively. Understand who they are, how they function, and what they care about. Then cater your work to these insights. Employers notice smart work that represents its audience well.    

2). Make a decision.

During The Creative Suite: Presented By Adobe at Creative Week 2012, Jeff Benjamin, CCO of JWT, stated, “People take too long to decide on the idea. Decide on an idea, so you’ll have time to blow it.” Once you make a decision on what “the big idea” or the key consumer insight is, only then can you begin to see how to make your work relevant, innovative and fully-developed.   

3). Create a personal project.

After The 91st Annual Art Directors Club Awards, this advice was given to an undergraduate advertising student, “Do a personal project outside of your portfolio.” That advice was given by none other than Benjamin Palmer, the current president of the Art Directors Club and CEO/CCO of The Barbarian Group. Having a personal project outside of your student work – or outside of your portfolio at any level shows what you care about, makes you more interesting, and sets you apart. 

4). Talk to people. 

It’s not about wowing an Executive Creative Director or landing your dream job with one conversation with a recruiter. It is about connecting with people. Who cares about the titles? Who cares about the prestige? No matter who you are discussing the industry with, he or she is simply a person who wants to have an interesting conversation. It also helps to know your audience. (See No. 1 above. Understand your audience.) If you can learn something more than what the title of the person you are talking to is, relate to that. Maybe they are from another country. Maybe they have a family. Maybe they love video games. If you haven’t a clue what this “something more” might be, treat your interaction with this person like an investigation. What can you connect with them through – other than the industry? And remember, they used to be where you are now – just starting out.  

5). Ask for what you want.  

To make the most out of your time at any event, decide on what you want before you get there. What would the best possible outcome(s) be for you?  Do you want to collect all the business cards you can so that you can begin building relationships after the event? (Note: this works best for those who feel they are better through e-mail and online platforms than they are in-person.) Are you hoping to meet someone who can connect you to a specific company? Is your main objective to get someone to critique your book (typically after the event)? Regardless of what your goals for the event are, set those goals and then be brave enough to ask the people you meet to help you achieve them. (See: No. 4 above. Talk to people.) To be blunt: if you don’t ask for what you want, how do you expect to get it?  

6). Own that you are the fountain of youth. 

Consider being young an advantage. Savannah College of Art and Design advertising student Taichi Kozaki learned this during his time at Creative Week 2012. “We are the first generation that is truly interactive, truly digital. Because we grew up using the Internet, we have a lot of insights to put on the discussion table.” In addition to thinking in the interactive space exceptionally well, agencies know that fresh-out-of-school employees bring enthusiasm to their projects and an energy to the company that simply can’t be fabricated.    

And last but far from least:

7). Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.  

Two weeks after an event no matter how brilliant you were you will be forgotten. It’s a hard truth. Before the two-week mark when the memory of your engaging discussion gets moved into the “To be deleted” file in your new contact’s brain remind them of who you are. Send a short e-mail. Make a quick call. Deliver a handwritten note.  Simply reconnect. Then, every four to eight weeks, connect again. Sometimes you may want to show them the progress you’ve made on a project. Other times, you may want to ask how their campaigns are coming along. Often, you can take the advice of Ron Faris, Director of Brand Marketing for Virgin Mobile USA, given during the Social’s New Starting Point session at Creative Week 2012 and simply, “Curate the funny.” Following up often enough but not too often (again, every four to eight weeks) will allow you to maintain relationships with the contacts you met.      

Take these seven recommendations and implement them before, during and after your next creative event.  

They will dramatically increase your chances of success in your industry. 

I Need An Inspiration


Sometimes, simply talking to another person can be the most powerful inspiration source. I believe many of us experienced that during Creative Week. 

As a design student, seeking inspiration is a part of my daily life. 

I use Pinterst to organize things I find online, and I use my mobile phone camera to capture things offline. These sorts of inspirations often help me develop visual styles in my design work. But they don’t necessary help me when I am trying to come up with ideas to solve advertising problems. 

And I assume many of us share that same problem.

I attended the CREATION STORIES: FINDING THE INSPIRATION TO MAKE NEW THINGS session where four of the most interesting senior creatives in marketing and design discussed where to find inspiration. 

During the session, all of the panelists mentioned that “people” are a very powerful inspiration source. Rob Trostle, Design Director of Mother New York, said that organic process is very important. Having a group conversation can be a more effective way to seek an answer than going to an online search engine. When you are looking for something on Google, search is very convenient; if your job is to be creative, you have to be careful about using them. 

This is a very un-organic and streamlined tool; the answer to the question is already prepared and that can limit the inspiration or even the process of creation itself.

I strongly agree with his point of view. 

If we are all looking at the same things and using them as an inspiration, many people are probably going to end up making something very similar. And of course, the new things won’t come out from it if you are looking at something that already exists. 

Another problem is that the Internet doesn’t have the answer to all of the questions that we have anyway. Joe Stewart, Global Creative Director and Partner at HUGE, said it is difficult to look for digital inspiration because it’s new, and we are the first generation in the digital era. He said that human behavior can be a very powerful inspiration source. 

Just by having a conversation with somebody, you will learn a lot about things you didn’t know. 

When I receive an assignment brief, I often go out and do some research. Simply going to the supermarket and observing what kinds of people are going to buy the product that I am working on sometimes gives me a better understanding of what kind of advertising problem it is that I am trying to solve. 

Once I find the human truth that is hidden in the product, coming up with ideas becomes easier. 

During the last few days, I have spoken with many people. It didn’t matter if they were creatives, planners, students, or anything else they all inspired me tremendously. Now I am back in my room writing this. To be honest, this is my first time writing more than 140 characters in awhile. 

I usually don’t like writing at all; after Creative Week, I actually wanted to share my thoughts with others. 

Talking to someone leads to inspiration. 

Inspiration leads to motivation.

Motivation leads to an action.

And an action leads to an unexpected outcome. 

After all:

We are in the industry of people not the industry of “I am going to sit in front of a computer and make cool stuff”. 

So the next time you need an inspiration, step away from the desk and go take a walk. 

Because the computer doesn’t make the creative person.

It’s the person who returns to the keyboard, inspired by the people out in the world.

Making It: Thick Skin Required


Dear ADspirants,

Creative Week is real.

Real, like, the ish in rap songs. The events that I’ve attended, the people that I’ve met, the things that I can see myself doing…it’s all great. That being said, a very large, “Thank you!” goes out to Tiffany Edwards and Chavonne Hodges-Brown of The One Club. I helped them out on Monday’s Portfolio Reviews, and stopped by to watch the panel discussion based off of the new advertising book, My First Time by Phil Growick.

It’s moments like Monday and Tuesday that made me want to change course with this letter to you.

I saw a lot over the past two days. 

Beautiful, eye-catching, effective ads made by students. Successful, young, hip, whimsical creatives. When these two forces collided for the reviews, it wasn’t the best. There were the aggressive portfolio kids, who’d take five, maybe six reviews at a time. Then there were the ones who tried playing by the rules and succeeded in making an impression with professionals.

Finally and I really hope to not end up in this category when I make my portfolio I saw those that suffered. Not by the physical fatigue of waiting for their appointed time. But by the emotional drain of traveling long-distance, waiting for hours for an agency recruiter to check out their books – traditional and virtual – and possibly offer them an interview.

Better still: 

A position as a copywriter, art director, designer, or on the creative team.

My heart went out to those that had to wait until the end to have their spec ads seen, especially since there was legitimate talent and wonderful personalities to go with it. I hope you know, if you read this, that I want y’all to make it. 

The industry needs that. 

Keep pushing.

In other news, as real as the talent was, there was rejection even more real: 

The fear, the process, and the aftermath of it. 

Let me tell you a story for each.

1). The Ambitious Designer: She was on edge for hours. 

Traditional portfolio in a briefcase, high resolution packaging designs, speculative (fake) ads, and other works of graphic design. We had chopped it up for a bit, and she was legitimately scared. She had a skill set in graphic design. She was studying graphic design at Temple’s Tyler School of Art. Sweetheart, I tell you. She pushed her glasses up a little bit and told me that she wasn’t sure what to expect. 

Someone had stolen her appointed time slot with a recruiter.

She hadn’t had an appointment before then.

The review session was almost over.

And she was stuck with me trying to calm her down.

She wanted to make it. Her graduation is merely weeks away. Her dreams were as vast as the ideas in her book. One day, she’ll have her agency. Her sister was already a copywriter, so why not chase that dream?

Her fears were just as big. 

She didn’t know if advertising was the it in her life. She left for 20 minutes to have her portfolio reviewed, and I walked around. You could see the optimism and frustration shuffle around the floor of Eyebeam in Chelsea. Some were satisfied with meeting dope designers to shape their copy. Others the ones who felt rear-ended by the whole experienced looked at me, spoke their minds, and kept it moving.

That’s me in a year.

She came back. Proud that she got through this first review, but torn between wanting to try another review and heading back to campus. I suggested a second opinion. It wouldn’t hurt. Athletes do it. The kids from the Circus, the Brandcenter, Texas Creative…they do this all the time. They’re trained to be rejected. We all need to be. And if I felt she was good enough (and still do – wait, my opinion shouldn’t count for anything!), so someone out there would hopefully would see the same thing and if not, simply deliver some constructive criticism. 

She’s got great ideas.

All in all, I can say this: 

People drop money to have their stuff checked out by the best of the best. 

Make it worth it. 

2). Generational Top Dogs –Everyone has a first time.

  • Jimmy Smith, CEO and CCO of Amusement Park Entertainment 
  • David Baldwin, Lead Guitar at Baldwin& 
  • Greg DiNoto, CCO at Deutsch 
  • Ted Royer, ECD at Droga5
  • Rob Rasmussen, CCO at Tribal DDB

They started at our level. They made it. And they maintained it to the point that they now run it.

Each of these “mad men” spoke on their first ads, failures, successes, and lessons learned.

Most of these men started out in the late 70s or early 80s. Who knows rejection better than they do? For example, Jimmy Smith, one of the top black executives in the industry, recounted his first job at Burrell and his journey to get his commercial for McDonalds aired. Leo Burnett got wind of it, and criticized it for being targeted for a general audience. When asked how they could make it “black”, he replied:

“A black man wrote the ad.” 

Amid the laughter in the crowd, there was that uneasy feeling in my gut: Is it still difficult for blacks, not only as consumers, but as professionals in the industry?

On rejecting others, Ted Royer recounted his travel to Miami Ad School to teach for a week. He ripped a hole in one student’s work, only to get a call from her once he returned. 

“I’ll prove you wrong!” was her reaction. 

Turns out, she’s a respected associate creative director now.

Two notes to take into consideration: 

David Baldwin admitting that if younger him was trying to make it today, it’d be difficult with all the portfolios out there. DiNoto and Smith chimed in that portfolio school books tend to end up cookie-cutter.

Smith added: 

“I never graduated college. I was a few credits short.” 

Didn’t stop him from making impact. 

“Non-portfolio students have that advantage of not being drawn into making what everyone else makes.”

Pros and cons, pros and cons.

3). The Teammate –I’m not the only writer that I know that wants to make it. 

A classmate – a good buddy of mine and a truly prolific wordsmith told me that she admires my drive.

I laughed it off. 

“I’m not there yet.”

“But you know what you want. All I wanna do is write.”

“And that’s not what I wanna do?”

“True,” she said. She sat up on the maroon and pine couch that we sat on. “But you have that plan. You know what you want to do and you’re going out to do it.”

“But I’m not there yet.” 

It’s that truth that has me writing to you. All of you. We’re not portfolio kids. We’d just been telling stories for years. She’d been surrounded by customers who work in the industry, but didn’t know how to work up enough chutzpah to talk to them. I came off as friendly approachable, even knowing enough of how to handle myself.

Mind you, I have no phone and limited access to social media. 


I apologize for missing your texts.

I’m here, though, aren’t I? And my struggle is hers. And the shared struggle of my classmates’, and those non-portfolio kids (I need a fancier name for them, by the way). We have jobs, families, struggles, and fears that we won’t make it because we don’t have that edge.

Guess what? 

We do have an edge. 

We have our stories not just the written ones that my classmate and I pour out on Tumblr. We’ve been students of the game from the first time the news went to commercial, the first time we turned the page to a high-concept fashion ad. 

We breathe it. 

No, better:

We drown in it. 

And our goal is to be life rafts for society. 

No, not even: 

We wanna sell life rafts to society. 

Make them “have it their way”.

Make them feel as smart, as informed, and as savvy as we want them to be.

First, we have to get over our fears and do what it takes while keeping what it is that makes us great. I’m not the best out there, but my ambition may get me far enough to get people at events to remember my name.

Then again, my name just sticks out.

But I want it. 

And I’m willing to do what it takes. 

You need to as well. 

Rejection will come and the pain that comes with it is inevitable. It’s up to us to shake it all off and keep moving.

I’ll end it with this quote by one William Bernbach: 

“The men who are going to be in business tomorrow are the men who understand that the future, as always, belongs to the brave.

Let’s make it happen.