Every creative person I know has some technique they call on to find inspiration. However, in many cases, it’s to scour what’s already been done in one form or another. In the advertising business, creative people used to stare at old award show annuals trying to figure out how to “borrow” an idea without anyone noticing. Now they search YouTube in quest of something obscure enough to modify or reapply.
Certainly we all find inspiration in what others have done before us. Even Jean Luc Godard said, “It’s not where you take things from it’s where you take them to.” Still, I am most recently motivated by a suggestion from my wife’s poetry workshop instructor. Her recommendation is simple. “Learn to let your mind wander.”
What a wonderful thought. “Learn to let your mind wander.” The fact that the sentence needs the word “learn” in it is telling. It implies we don’t yet know how. Or perhaps that with work, meetings, assignments, and screens consuming us, we’ve forgotten how.
Try it. You’ll realize that it’s not quite as easy as you might imagine. Yet if you do let your mind wander, you might actually discover something genuinely new, different and unexpected.
In fact if you’re really lucky perhaps you’ll achieve the ultimate outcome described by poet Adrienne Rich: “the crossing of two elements that might not otherwise have known simultaneity, thereby revealing a piece of the universe for the very first time.” Not a bad accomplishment for simply letting the mind go where it may.
While there are plenty of brands already using Twitter – GM, Comcast, JetBlue, Dell, and Starbucks to name a few– many of them are simply applying old media applications to one of the most exciting new mediums to emerge in decades.
Consider that Comcast and BofA use it for the most basic customer service. Starbucks does little more than announce offers and engage in some dialog with customers about those offers. Jet Blue micro blogs special deals and weather updates. All of these serve a purpose, but are they as inventive as they could be?
Instead, maybe brands and their creative teams (and by the way that includes the folks from PR, technology and media, not just the writer and art directors) should start with what Twitter enables: the chance to connect with, learn from, influence, and maybe even mobilize like-minded people who in and of themselves comprise the best free medium anywhere.
Sure you can do all the things you did in other media on Twitter. But isn’t the real opportunity is to do something as new as the medium itself.
Here are some suggestions to get you thinking. Hope you’ll share your ideas, too.
Lowes (just 200 followers and eight days between tweets) could start a grass roots movement to rebuild America. Using search.twitter.com and other tools they could identify community activists interested in constructing playgrounds or fixing schools, announce a contest to provide supplies and know-how, solicit proposals, announce winners and tweet on the results and impact. In the process they’d generate thousands of followers and plenty of positive press.
Barnes and Noble could tweet an announcement of a new partnership with 826 Valencia to teach literacy skills to at risk kids. They could identify all the writers on Twitter, promote volunteer opportunities, connect willing tutors with one of the 826 chapters around the country, and in doing so endear themselves to a community of writers, readers, and teachers. A hash tag could collect the experiences of everyone involved, possibly even generating enough content for book in and of itself.
Barnes and Noble would get credit as a brand that cares. They would attract the loyalty of followers who share the same values. And finally, for those who still believe in the value of long term thinking, they’d be inspiring a future generation of readers.
UnderArmour could build a following of athletes and tri-athletes then foster a dialog and exchange of training tips, resources and diet information to help athletes improve their performance. They could even host and moderate a weekly panel using tinychat.com.
Some of the advice could come from UnderArmour themselves, but much of it would come from the willingness of athletes given the chance to participate. In the process UnderArmour would position themselves as a training authority and acquire even more faithful followers.
Nearly 2500 brands have taken the initiative to tweet and connect. But as with any technology the art isn’t in what Twitter does, it’s in what you do with it. What will it be?
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.
Designer Joey Roth celebrates his appreciation for the unfurling of tea leaves in this architectural teapot. 304 stainless steel, borosilicate glass (Pyrex), and food-grade silicone, combine to create an entirely new way to look at tea. You can order yours when the recession is over at Serapot. Warning: beauty comes at a price.
I recently noticed this tweet from John Lithgow and for some reason found it a comforting reminder that everyone who ever tries to write anything meaningful, from a blog post, to an ad, to a short story, to an autobiography encounters the same challenge when confronted by that (metaphorical) blank white sheet of paper. One of the advantages of Twitter I guess. You can always come up with something — not necessarily any good — to slam into 140 characters.