Conversations with Your 22-Year-Old Self

I was taking a look at my very first Advertising portfolio the other day.

Have you done that recently?

It’s a fun and a bit humbling trip down Memory Lane. You should try it.

There they were, a collection of ads that were decently written but from an art direction standpoint…a total mess, really. I chuckled to myself as I saw the ads pasted on black construction paper. They were still good. I was proud of them. But it’s a good thing I was going for a Copywriter position and not anything in design.

The point is, my 22-year-old self wasn’t polished. I seriously doubt yours was either. But for all the ways we were rough around the edges, somebody took a liking to us and gave us a chance. I had a couple people like that. God bless them. I wasn’t even remotely picky about which agency I wanted to get into either. I just happened to be hired at a place with remarkable mentors. At the time when I was first hired, however, I was just happy to be doing work that had something to do with what I went to school for.

We sometimes lose sight of that when we reach the Creative Director/management level. We forget where we came from and instead of relating to the way we were, we expect a kid of today to be just like us in our current form.

That’s not being fair to them at all. This is where somebody says “life’s not fair”…yada, yada, yada. Try to be. A little more warmth won’t kill you.

Yes, we have to make tough decisions about who gets hired and who doesn’t. But if we’re truly about “the work” and not full of complete garbage, that’s such a huge part of where our evaluation should start and end – the portfolio. That’s where we should be tough. So why is it that we allow ourselves to get distracted by anything else when it matters?

“Oh, I didn’t like the font he used on his resume.”
Then guide him and give him some constructive feedback that might be helpful. Personally, I never thought a person could be accurately represented by one piece of paper unless they drew it in crayon or something absurd. The resume grows increasingly marginal compared to, say, a robust and creatively worded LinkedIn profile.

“He didn’t wear a tie.”
Lots of creatives don’t. Get. Over. It.

“He had earrings and tattoos.”
Go hire someone clean cut with far worse ideas. That sounds like a great plan. My bad, I thought we were in the idea business. Most earrings can be taken off and tattoos can be covered up for presentations. Judging a book by its cover is some pretty short-sighted stuff, particularly when you’re talking about creative people.

“He went to school at some university I wasn’t familiar with.”
Oh. Are we being school snobs now? Because obviously great ideas can only come out of one college or university or Ad School, right?

“His GPA was decent but not spectacular.”
Who the hell cares? Seriously? When does this ever come into play during one day of your entire professional life in Advertising? NEVER. “Oh man, if I had only been more of a 3.6 GPA kind of guy rather than a 3.2 GPA kind of guy I surely would’ve solved that problem.” Good grief. Did they graduate? Good. Move on.

“He didn’t speak that confidently.”
I absolutely stunk as a speaker of any kind for the first 8 years of my career. I took classes. I got better. I was given opportunities to present. I got better. When teams draft a rookie player, they don’t expect them to be All-Stars right away (it’s only a nice surprise once in a blue moon). Your draft pick might require similar nurturing.

“I asked her why I should hire her over so many other candidates.”
If you know anything about how to evaluate a person’s talent, you know the answer to this question already. Heck, they may ask you why they should join your agency!

Our 22-year-old selves were so far from perfect. In fact, we still are. So let’s not try to make candidates feel that they should kiss our ring and build statues in our honor just because we’ve been in the business a while and done good things with our talent. Let’s be the human beings that we are and, regardless of whether we hire them or not, see how we can utilize our knowledge to mentor college grads rather than beat them down for their imperfections.

We work in a business that, for all its insanity, can be amazingly exhilarating and fun. Not many of us get to work in a field where we can say that. If you love it as I do, you want to pull up people, not teach them a thing or two on the way life is. We can be more welcoming than judgmental to the incoming generation. If not for our own reputation than for our agency’s.

The portfolio is what really matters.
Don’t lose sight of that. The more you can help them improve it, the more you’ll be paying it forward instead of smacking them down. This doesn’t mean to take it easy on them – it’s OK to be challenging if it’s for the purpose of helping them improve. I do that when I come across a kid who thinks social media is all about writing within 140 characters, getting lots of followers, hashtagging and getting people to do Instagram because, well, it’s cool, bro. If ever there was someone who needs a Yoda so they don’t hurt themselves, it’s this kind of person.

We’re entering that time of year where a grad is going to ask for your time to give them a word of advice in person, by phone or by email. If you don’t have a job or internship for them, you probably have 10 minutes. Really. We all have 10 minutes. The cigarette break / Frappuccino run / conversation about Game of Thrones or Mad Men / FunnyOrDie video watching will just have to be temporarily replaced with something useful that might make more difference in a young person’s life than you can possibly realize.

Your 22-year-old self would probably agree.

Are Ad People Serious With Appearing This Serious?

An ad agency in San Francisco recently redesigned their site and I enjoyed it, except for the fact that all 33 members of their team for the most part were not smiling, laughing or even mustering a smirk. At all. Many weren’t even looking into the camera.

Are you serious with being this serious?

This is an industry that, at its best, can be a blast. We get to come up with creative ideas and unique strategies for a decent living. We joke, we laugh, we usually find ways to have a beer or two at the end of the day. We don’t have to often wear suits and ties. Many of us can even show up in a t-shirt and flip-flops, for crying out loud.

If you think this is just about how someone takes a photo, remember that impressions mean something. Especially the first ones.

Agency sites are opportunities to show personalities. Showing those personalities with a little more levity doesn’t mean we’re any less serious about furthering a client’s business. It actually is to the advantage of the client’s business because a fun and collaborative environment often increases the likelihood that better ideas will bubble to the surface.

And you know what? A lot of clients, whether they admit or not, are looking for that quality in a partner.  You have to spend every week, if not every day, dealing with someone helping your brand along. You’d like to be able to, well, like that person.

It’s great that people can spit out data and talk about their experiences with the other agencies/brands they’ve worked with and speak to the current clients they’ve helped. And while that’s truly terrific because it can often get them on the short list of businesses to consider in a pitch situation, sealing the deal may depend on showing they are human beings who have the ability to relate well to other human beings.

Like their clients. Like those clients’ target audiences.

Without this ability to form a rapport, the person most impressed with someone so serious will be the one looking back at them in the mirror.

Don’t be that guy or that lady. Loosen up a little. Have a little more fun. Show some personality with that bio photo. But don’t stop there. Inject several personal aspects into your bio that could create talking points and common ground. Put it right into your LinkedIn profile and don’t apologize for it. Show those pictures that capture your culture on your Pinterest page. Share some video of your next mockumentary on your agency’s YouTube channel.

Your ability to win some business may be counting on it.

Is There A “Chicago Style” of Business Development?

Note from Dan: Today’s Chicago Brander post is from guest blogger Steve Congdon of Thunderclap Consulting Group. Drawing on the experience of over 200 pitches, Thunderclap helps marketing communications agencies and other professional service firms win more new business. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve and find his blog a must-read for anyone seeking a better way to get into more pitches and improve their close ratio. Call him at 773.637.5203. You’ll thank me after a conversation with Steve.

Steve Congdon, Thunderclap Consulting Group

When you think Chicago and personalities, what comes to mind?
A what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of mentality? Da Bears? An Everyman quality? 
Is there a Chicago style of prospecting and salesmanship?
And, if there is, how might be it applied?

Here are three quick thoughts:

Get belly-to-belly.
No matter what is being sold, conversations lead to understanding, which can lead to sales. In my world, ad agency new business development, going belly to belly could mean exchanging a phone call with an in-person meeting. Or, adding a social event to the pitch process that augments your understanding of “your prospect.” The more you know you know about these people, the more you can understand if you want them as a client and how to make that happen.

Work a bit harder.
For brand stewards, this can mean offering up something free.  For business development professionals, it could suggest doing something unexpected, but helpful for your prospect. Like, for instance, writing up an analysis on some competitive activity. Or sending an email past 9p with a relevant link to a cool online story.

Be real.
Another Midwestern trait. For now, let’s define this as being yourself. Can you imagine George Wendt making a stiff, formal presentation – using huge words that tie him up, making both him and his audience uncomfortable?! Nah. It’s just not his brand.

While I honestly think there may be some positive qualities that prospects might be willing to apply to you when you associate yourself with a “Midwest” or Chicago label, these are more likely to affect business success early in the sales game. By that, I mean the label creates perceptions before you even meet someone. Not a bad thing. Certainly nothing “second” about it, (he wrote proudly).

And, of course, you don’t have to be from these here parts to try any of the above. I happen to know people from both coasts who are very nice, despite wanting ketchup on their hot dog.

So what do you think? Is there a “Chicago Style” of business development? And if so, what are those traits?