By BENNETT D. BENNETT
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.