Since it’s graduation season, some advice. Not guaranteed keys to success or rules to live by. Just humble guidance and personal philosophy from the kid I am today to the kid I used to be.
1 – It’s not a sprint.
Took me a long time to find advertising, but when I did I sure was in a hurry. Why’d it take me so long? I was too distracted. Too curious. Too stubborn. All the character traits that led me here tripped me up along the way. Initially, I was also too sensitive, couldn’t handle a hard critique or objectively listen to what others thought of my writing. But there were two moments. A high school English teacher saw something and encouraged me to channel it. Then an undergrad instructor saw enough to offer me an internship (in my fifth year of college). Embrace your own journey. Whatever it is, it makes you unique.
2 – You can’t change culture.
At least not right out of school. I landed at my first real job in advertising with a small collection of CAs, One Show annuals and Archives thinking I was going to light the place on fire. The reality shocked me and shook me. I witnessed blatant manipulation of ideas. Motivation by fear. And a hostile environment that just didn’t seem conducive to creation. So when you’re still figuring it out, don’t forget that fit matters. Trust your instinct. If it’s not right for you, keep searching.
3 – Don’t dwell in the morgue.
Get used to dead ideas. Because ideas are fragile, especially when they’re freshly hatched. They can perish for so many reasons and oftentimes for no good reason. I used to neatly stack the bodies and visit them often to reminisce about what could’ve been. But what’s the point? Good ideas die. Your job is to make more. And when those die, make more. This can go on for months. But you can’t quit. Your last idea has to be your best idea because it might be the one they buy.
4 – Admit it, you’re in sales.
I fought this for the first decade of my career. I’m not in sales. I’m not some schmuck, pressing flesh and yuking it up at happy hour or picking up the tab on the 19th green. But at some point you realize, we’re all in sales. You’re selling yourself every time you present an idea. You’re selling your ability, talent and work ethic to your partners. You’re selling your understanding, your inspiration and your loyalty to your clients. And like any good salesman, you’re building trust—not with strip steaks and martinis—but with unexpected thinking and inarguable results.
5 – If there is no wind, row.
Make your own breaks. Be the one who starts in the mailroom if you have to. Good luck with a self-promotion piece, but anything is possible. There’s simply no right way in. No guaranteed path. Do what it takes wherever you are. Find the best shop around and throw yourself on their tracks. And however long it takes, keep working with people to improve. It’s a connected world. Find talented people willing to take the same risks in pursuit of the same dream. Fall in love with your own voice, even as it’s still developing and trust where it leads.
6 – Sleep around.
This is all an experiment. So don’t get locked into one way of doing things or the same people you’re doing it with. Different ingredients lead to different cocktails. Our creative department doesn’t have a single exclusive team. Sometimes being hitched absolutely works, but not for us right now. And it shouldn’t work for you right now. Seek diversity. A collision of backgrounds and talent leaves unpredictable and occasionally beautiful wreckage.
7 – Writers write.
Whether you’re a planner, an account person or creative director, writers write and rewrite until it’s right. Some days I think our best writer is an art director. Title doesn’t dictate behavior. Inspiration can come from anywhere. But you can’t be afraid to bleed all over the page. Let it out. Long copy is rarely the end result, but glints of gold are never just lying around on the surface. You have to move some earth if you ever hope to move the Earth.
8 – Every day is Birke Day.
One of my most special partners was Dave Birke. Cancer stole him from his friends, his family and his fiancée at 29. But knowing him and losing him taught me so much. Befriend your inner child. Plant tomatoes. Learn to fly. And when you make ads, make little kid faces. Dave was never afraid to make sound effects and act out his ideas. Nor afraid to crinkle his nose when an idea smelled funny. Fear is learned. Try not to learn it.
9 – Don’t chase it, make it.
Quitting is easy. Taking your ball and going home is loser talk. Some drift and new experiences are a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But while you’re here, don’t waste time with one foot out the door. How can you build anything of quality if you keep taking your eyes off the workbench? So when you find a fit, throw your heart over the fence. Stick around and make it something special. Everyone plays a part in culture.
10 – Nice guys don’t always get crushed.
Life’s too short to work with jerks. 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of Rodgers Townsend. Started by two of the nicest, smartest and most competitive guys I know, our little shop in St. Louis has been a salt marsh of sorts, protecting and nurturing talent recognized from South City to the South of France. People like transparency, honesty and a seat at the table. Find a place that invites you to sit, debate and create, then challenges you to do it better next time.
11 – Care.
You can forget everything you’ve read, but don’t forget this. Care. Arrogance and apathy will get you nowhere in this business. Never be too cool to care. It’s too easy to rant about everything you’re up against. Or how stupid clients or lack of budget sank your battleship. But if you care enough, most times you’ll find a way to still make something that moves the needle. Just care. If I interview someone, there will be questions and I’ll look at her work or talk about where he went to school and so on, but what I want to know more than anything is DO YOU CARE?
You cared enough to read beyond the first 140 characters. That’s a good start.