In the fall of 1991, an ex-student of mine, Roger Baldacci*, applied for a job at Mullen. We didn’t have an opening at the time, but three months later when we did, I gave him a call. In the time that lapsed we hadn’t spoken or corresponded once, but for some reason his resume was still lying around.
I dialed the number and got this message:
“Hi Roger and Lynn aren’t here to take your call. Kindly leave a message. Pause. And if by any chance this is someone from Mullen, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE I’LL DO ANYTHING FOR A JOB. ANYTHING.
Needless to say we offered Roger a job as soon as he called us back.
Over the last 25 years I’ve hired over100 writers, art directors, designers and producers, many of them right out of college. Some were simply in the right place at the right time. Others had work that stood head and shoulders above the competition. A few simply impressed me with their raw intelligence and potential. But only Roger had an idea as brilliant, remarkable and unexpected as the answering machine message.
If you’re graduating this year, in the worst recession of your short life, you’ll need all of the above. So, here are 10 suggestions that might help.
1. Put difficult assignments in your book.
It’s easy to fill your book with fun stuff: beverages, ski resorts, lingerie, sport teams. Put some really hard stuff in it: cell phones, retail, financial services. Every creative person wants to work on the fun stuff. But agencies need talent who can deliver on the hard stuff.
2. Customize your pitch.
When you apply to an agency know the work, the CD, the clients. Don’t expect them to educate you. Be smart enough to have studied the markets, the challenges, the competitors confronting that agency’s clients. Then bring some relevant ideas for those clients to the table.
3. Identify someone inside the agency
Every sales person knows the first person to make friends with is the prospect’s administrative assistant. In your case that’s the person responsible for reviewing books, identifying talent, making recommendations to the CD. He or she is the gatekeeper. Become their friend.
4. Offer your services on a trial basis
Show how confident you are by offering to work for minimum wage or even for free for month on a new business pitch. Or ask for a chance to work on the agency’s most unsolvable problem. It’s a chance to show what you’re made of, and an increased likelihood you’ll get your foot in the door.
5. Take any job that lets you practice your craft
Everyone wants to work for Crispin or Goodby or Arnold or Mullen. But if that’s not possible, take any job where you can practice your craft and produce real work. You’ll get faster, sharper and learn what it’s like to create in a real world environment.
Connect with the local ad club, stay in touch with classmates who do find a gig, call on anyone and everyone you know in the business to help you identify opportunities or pass your book around.
7. Become as digital as you can
One advantage you have over those 40 year olds still populating creative departments is your comfort with all things digital. Take that knowledge and make it useful to an agency and its clients. Start a movement or support a cause on Facebook. Learn how to engage and influence on Twitter. Create your own group on Ning and use the experience to show an agency that you could do the same for its clients.
8. Create your own brand
Start a blog. Write what you know (how your generation responds to brands, perhaps). Then learn to distribute your thinking and pov online as well. Take it to Twitter, 12second.tv and elsewhere. It will demonstrate ambition and initiative.
9. Keep working on your book
Absorb all the feedback you can get. Listen. Don’t be defensive. Get used to rejection, then dig deep and make it better. That’s exactly what you’ll have to do once you find that job.
10. Be like Roger
Come up with that one amazing idea that will make you unforgettable. It’s hard not to hire a someone if you can’t get them off your mind.
*Today Roger is EVP, Creative Director for Arnold, where he works on ESPN, Truth and a host of other clients.