Thought I would share it here, too.
Was written as an introduction to a book that I’ve been to lazy to make much progress on. But if the sun doesn’t come out for a month or so, perhaps I’ll keep going.
If you don’t use Medium, you should check it out, both as a reader and a content creator. It’s an elegant platform and the right content can scale quickly.
“Edward, there’s a Don Draper here to see you.”
“OK, I’ll be right out.”
Don stood in the lobby, a black portfolio case in his right hand. He stared out the window at a Heineken sign painted on the side of an exposed brick building across the lot.
“Now that’s a poster,” he said turning to face me. “Don Draper.”
It certainly was a poster. As boring and traditional as a poster could be. Green background. Big picture of the bottle. A logo.
“Sure is,” I nodded.
We walked past the receptionist, down an extra wide flight of stairs to the creative department below. I wasn’t really looking forward to this conversation.
“Are we meeting in your office?” asked the legendary CD.
“Actually I don’t have an office. None of us have offices anymore, Don. As you can see, we just have open space. Long tables. Laptops we can carry with us up to the cafe if we want a change of pace. Even the conference rooms have glass doors so everyone feels more connected.”
He seemed confused.
“I mean where would you, what happens when….”
There was a pause.
“When you want to bang your secretary?” I finished the sentence for him. “ Not a problem, Don. We don’t have secretaries anymore either. We do our own typing, correspondence, appointments.”
We passed some large walls with work in progress pinned to them. Video games, apps, charts that showed user experience journeys and a few key frames for a new mobile experience.
“We can just sit here. Have a seat.” I gestured to a couple of stools at an elevated bench in the middle of the creative department. I figured Don might feel more comfortable sitting at a bar height table.”
“At least you have a bar. That’s great.”
“Actually it’s not a bar. Just a place to stand and work. People like to work standing up these days. Better for you.”
Don looked at me with some skepticism.
Clearly the concept of doing anything in an ad agency from a vertical position was a foreign concept to my guest.
“So you want to see my book, or should we just talk about the job?”
“Let’s look at the book.”
He unzipped a Utrecht black leather portfolio case to reveal a dozen or more pristine plastic leaves, each displaying a tear sheet. All the campaigns that made Don famous were there. Kodak, Playtex, Lucky Strike. He pushed the open case toward me and I feigned interest as I flipped through the pages.
“Some memorable work, for sure.”
“So what do you think?” Don pulled out a pack of Lucky’s and pressed his pant pockets in search of either matches or a lighter.
“You can’t smoke here, Don. Sorry.”
“I thought you said this was an advertising agency?”
“We still call it that, yes. But a lot has changed. In fact we don’t really make many ads. At least not the kind you’re used to making.”
“Well what do you make?”
“I guess we make a newer form of advertising. Digital experiences, social media applications, engagement platforms, shareable content, mobile utility. A lot of technology.”
“I see. Well, technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, when they have a sentimental bond with the product….”
Don launched into his well rehearsed Carousel speech.
“I love that monolog,” I interrupted. “ It’s brilliant. It’s probably got a million views on YouTube. But I only have a few more minutes.”
I flipped through the rest of Don’s portfolio then lied to Don (some things about advertising don’t change) and said I had a meeting with a client and walked him back to the lobby.
“We’ll pass your book around and I’ll get back to you.”
I wasn’t sure he believed me. But he said thank you, shook my hand and offered a good-bye. I waited with him for the elevator. He entered and pressed the lobby button.
As the doors slid closed, he stared straight at me and with a half smile added, “Good luck with your next meeting.”
Wait a minute, I thought. Wasn’t that Roger’s line?
I get it. You’re anxious. A bit stressed. One life stage comes crashing to an end and a new, unfamiliar one is about to begin.
You want a job, a paycheck and something that validates the last four years of life and the $200,000 you just forked over to prepare for — or perhaps delay — this very day.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had no shortage of students seeking advice on their portfolios, websites, cover letters and resumes.
Is my work portfolio good enough to get a job? How can I make it better? What should stay in? Should I take this out? Does this cover letter work? Do you know anyone at (fill in the name of virtually any advertising agency in America)? Would you mind looking at my resume? What’s better, any job inside a good agency or the position I really want at a lesser agency?
But there is one question that no one ever asks. A question that is far more important, at least in the long term, than, “How can I make this cover letter better?”
And it’s this.
“How can I be happy in my career?”
Given that I’ve somehow managed to survive for 35 years in a business that I love. Given that I actually looked forward to work every day for 30 of those years. And given that I never felt that I had to answer to anyone but myself I thought I’d share the six tips that I’m convinced lead to happiness as well as success.
Avoid working for (or with) assholes
You’ll recognize them right away. They throw their weight around just so you know who is in charge. They take credit for your ideas and blame you when theirs don’t work. They compete against you instead of working with you. They tend to say, “no because,” instead of “yes and.” They defend the past rather than embrace the future. They take the joy out of both the work and the workplace. Life is too short to spend any of it working for an asshole. Please don’t.
Find clients you believe in
Not everyone gets to work on Apple or Nike or Dove or Chipotle. You may find yourself selling fast food, sugar-laden soft drinks, SUVs or hair dyes. And that’s OK, too, if you believe in those products. But if that’s not the case, find a way to get off that business and onto to one you do believe in. Otherwise — even if you are engaged with the team, and stimulated by the challenge — you’ll never love the work you do or be proud of your accomplishments.
Pursue the work not the money
You want to wake up every morning excited about what you will create not about how much you’ll get paid. It’s the work that will make the day fly by. It’s the work that will keep your brain engaged. It’s the work that will make you want to come back tomorrow. And, no surprise, if you love the work and what you’re creating, you’ll do a better job and end up making more money anyway.
Control your own career
You have two choices. You can let your career happen to you. Or you can take charge. My suggestion? Don’t leave things to chance or to someone you work for. Plan ahead, leverage every experience, seek new challenges, stay impatient.
You may or may not have a 10-year plan or even a five-year plan. But as soon as you have your first position start plotting how to secure the next one. Know what it takes to get there and take the first steps sooner rather than later. Volunteer for additional assignments, develop relationships outside your immediate circle, build your personal brand with online content network, and stay open to any and all opportunities that present themselves.
Share everything you learn
If you really want to be happy, pass it forward and give it back. Few things can give you as much joy as teaching others what you know. So help someone older learn a new technology that keeps him relevant. Show a newbie the ropes. Save others from making whatever mistakes you made as you learn and grow. You’ll feel good about yourself. And set a good example for anyone inclined to be an asshole.
Got other tips for the next generation of makers, creators and doers? Please comment.
Should a copywriter know how to launch and execute a social media campaign? Is it necessary for an art director to be able to program a Maker Bot? Do you think a planner needs enough knowledge of Final Cut Pro to edit her own videos?
A few years ago the answer to all of these questions might have been no. But that may not be the case anymore. In a recent book called Mash Up, Ian Sanders, marketer, author, FT columnist argues that it’s no longer enough develop a single skill. Ian’s premise is that you’ll find a more fulfilling job, enjoy a competitive edge and make more money if you develop or leverage multiple skills.
Forward thinking companies want multi-skilled people
But in the long run, you may have no choice. At innovative companies, diversity is the new expertise. IDEO doesn’t have constrained job descriptions. They expect you to design your career and contributions in the same way they solve problems for clients. At Google’s Creative Labs, which has grabbed some of the ad industry’s top creative talent, Strategy Director Ben Malbon seeks “people fluent in one language, but literate in many.” The same is true at Mullen. In the long run, an art director who can invent and launch a new app might be more valuable than one who can only art direct.
In some cases there are new positions emerging that in and of themselves call for multiple skills. Five years ago creative technologist, social media strategist and experience designer were non-existent roles in most agencies. Chances are that over time, these newer jobs will become even more prevalent, or at least offer greater opportunity.
You may already be that T-Shaped multi-skilled person. If you’re not, here are some simple things you might want to do.
1. Learn more about technology and what you can do with it.
Everything from emerging social platforms to HTML5 to the accelerometer in your mobile phone. The more you become aware of their potential, the more problems you can solve and the more opportunities you can create.
2. Make something yourself.
These days if you can think it you can create it. With resources that include Apple’s software developer kits, 3-D printers, cheap hosting on Amazon and the distribution power of the Internet, you (or your employer) don’t need a lot of money to invent an app or even a platform. Mullen art director Sam Mullins, just launched this. TourBus.
3. Partner with people who do what you don’t.
I had a student last semester who conceived a platform to help students change their housing. He had no idea how to build it, but decided to find some other students who did. Six months later BU Room Swap was up and running.
4. Change where you sit
I’m constantly surprised what a difference this can make. If you are surrounded by people who do exactly what you do all day long you lose out on the serendipitous collisions that open your mind to different ways of problem solving.
Multi-skilled does not mean generalist
However, being-multi-skilled is not shorthand for lacking a deep talent in at least one area. Simply being a generalist won’t get you hired. At least until the typical agency staffing plan gets reinvented. Most plans don’t include generalist or multi-skilled as a job description. They list all the usual positions, from account management to studio artist. A client agrees to pay for a certain number of FTE’s and that determines who gets hired and put on the business. And at the end of the day writers still have to write, designers have to design, and animators have to animate. The objective is to master your craft and learn enough about the other roles and functions that can make you better at yours.
Share your thoughts. Working somewhere that welcomes or demands multi-skilled contributions? Or frustrated in a company that still compartmentalizes people?
“So you have a college class visiting you today?” The comment came from one of the 10 small agency CEOs visiting Mullen last week as part of a 4As tour. He watched as 20 or so twenty-somethings filed past to take over the conference room where we’d just met.
“What are you talking about?” I replied. It never dawned on me that he was referring to a team of social media strategists, creatives, media planners and developers who were gathering to get briefed on a new client initiative.
He pointed to the team that had just gathered.
“Oh them. No, they work here.”
His look suggested surprise that we could actually have that many young people in one place at one time working on an actual project.
Yesterday, I encountered a similar reaction when the founder of a big New York rep company was visiting to show off his clients’ work.
“So, how do you manage to stay fresh in this business after all these years?” he wanted to know.
“I get out of the way,” was the honest answer, explaining that the wisest thing anyone my age could do was to hire smart young people, load them up with responsibility, point them in the right direction and hover in the background until someone needs you.
He, too, was stunned, assuming that no one would do that out of a need for control, or a fear of becoming irrelevant, or a concern that everyone else would get the credit.
To me, these reactions reflect some of the vestiges of the old days in advertising. They’re left over from a time when the industry made people pay their dues instead of rewarding raw talent, an age when people spent way too much energy protecting their turf or their rung on the ladder, the days when agency staffers were more obsessed with crediting people instead of the idea.
I find that the smartest, most inspiring people I work with tend to be the youngest. They move seamlessly from one medium to another. They have the courage to try new things. They’re so familiar with technology and its potential that nothing seems impossible.
In the last week I witnessed a team on which no one was more than a year or two out of college conceive and launch the Good Belly Project. They came up with the idea, took it to local restaurants, sold it internally, got it online and into the press. No one cared about personal credit; they just wanted to make it.
It was the same kind of initiative and determination that led to TNGG signing a deal with boston.com. Three 24-year olds had the idea, did the work, initiated the dialog and have been delivering the goods.
Take a look at the companies that are thriving, inventing, creating new stuff. Big companies like Google. Small companies such as Hubspot. New companies like Kickstarter or SCVNGR or Livefyre. They’re filled with 20 year olds making products, reinventing service, and leveraging new technologies.
Want to stay young, relevant, and deserved of some control? Want to attract the kind of talent you actually need to prosper long term? Focus on the bigger stuff: culture, vision, standards, organization and casting. Then let go and out of the way.
Video: Young minds from Zeitgeist 2011. Eric Derdinis, 20-year-old U Penn student, talks about his prototype belt to aid the blind.
A month ago I crowdsourced questions here and on Twitter for the instructors at BDW’s Making Digital Work workshop.
We settled on five.
How do we get clients to embrace more innovative work?
What can we learn from software startups?
Do agencies have a role in social media?
How do we stop the talent drain?
What kind of people should we hire?
Here are the answers from my good friends and teachers Matt Howell, Gareth Kay, Kim Laama, Tim Malbon, Sheena Matheiken, Scott Prindle and John Winsor.I weigh in, too.
Some of my favorite soundbites:
Matt Howell on innovation: If we’re serious about selling more progressive work we have to get serious about investing in prototyping, showing how something works and how you’d interact with it.
Gareth Kay on social media: One of the biggest problems with social media is that people are too focused on the media part of social media instead of on the social part.
Sheena Matheiken on software inspiration: Developers in general, especially the creatively inclined ones, are such doers. They just create stuff. They don’t sit around and noodle. They make and prototype.
Tim Malbon on software inspiration: Try not to treat what you’re trying to make like a piece of traditional media. It doesn’t need to be designed massively up front. It can be cruder; it can be quicker.
John Winsor on retaining talent: Traditionally agencies are siloed. The creative department stands on a pedestal. The account people are there to serve them. Strategy is somewhere in between. But great ideas come from everywhere so you need to set up a system that accepts that great ideas come from everywhere.
Scott Prindle on hiring: The core quality is an entrepreneurial spirit. Someone who is passionate about the digital space, maybe someone who thought about being in start-up. They have to come into the into the agency and quickly generate ideas and move things forward.
One thing about all of these folks is that they’re willing to share. Ideas, advice, insights. Take a look and connect with them on Twitter. It will be worth it. Thanks for stopping by.