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a makin’ ads book

YOU ARE HERE. we’re glad

If you ask a handful of people who work on the creative side of the advertising industry how they got there and why they chose advertising, youʼll get some varied answers. Some might be artists who didnʼt want to be “starving artists.” Others may have been guided by their love of writing or design. All probably share an uncontrollable enthusiasm for creative ideas. It can happen in a single moment of inspiration—being moved by a great commercial. Or seeing a really horrible

Topeka? Wichita?

commercial and thinking, “I could do better than that.” However you got to this point, weʼre glad you did. Advertising is an exciting career. We wrote this ebook because we love what we do. Hopefully weʼll answer a few of your questions and help you decide if advertising is for you. Specifically, if the creative side of the business is your cup of tea. And, if so, how to get from where you are now to where you want to be.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ROCK ʻnʼ ROLL AND THE CORPORATE BOARDROOM Some people think of advertising as the rock ʻnʼ roll side of the business world. You get paid to come up with cool ideas that thousands, maybe millions of people will see. You donʼt deal with spreadsheets, rarely wear suits (unless you really want to), and earn your paycheck by sitting around with your feet up on the desk with interesting, like-minded people, asking, “What if…?” No wonder people want to be in advertising. And itʼs no wonder that the competition to get a really good, really rewarding job is pretty intense.

ADS ARE COOL Letʼs start with the broad view: Marketing. Marketing covers everything

who makes them?

from the creation of a product, service or an idea, to how itʼs consumed. Itʼs a pretty big field, and there are a lot of marketing services out there. Design firms to create everything from business cards to your soda bottle. Public relations agencies to help companies present a good image in the news media. Direct mail agencies that specialize in creating what you probably refer to as “junk mail.” At some point, pretty much everything is touched by marketing. Advertising is just one part of marketing (but itʼs maybe the most fun part). Most advertising that you see was created by an advertising agency. Ad agencies are companies that specialize in creating commercials, print ads, billboards, websites and anything else that helps get a message out about a product or brand. When a company wants to advertise, theyʼll usually hire one of these advertising agencies. Some agencies are huge, with offices all over the world that bill billions of dollars each year. And there are some very small ones—just a few people housed in a downtown loft.

[idea not to scale] In advertising, the size of your agency doesnʼt matter. Itʼs all about the size of your ideas.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CREATIVE Most* advertising is pretty bad. Boring. Uninspiring. It speaks to you like youʼre a moron. “You mean I should act now? Because this sale wonʼt last forever? Could you repeat the part about 10% off? You only mentioned it four times.” And then thereʼs the other kind. The kind that speaks to you. It makes you consider something in a new or interesting way. Makes you laugh, cry or want to dance. It tells you something you didnʼt know before. The best creative advertising is surprising. It connects with people in an emotional way. In short, itʼs the kind of work you want to be doing. If youʼve ever watched a commercial that was so funny or smart or creative that you thought, “I wish Iʼd thought of that,” then youʼve taken the first step to becoming an

o hair style ø cool glasses ø rubber chicken o ideas

advertising creative.

* By “most,” weʼre talking roughly 97%. Maybe 96% during a good year.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CREATIVE Really, everyoneʼs creative. One of the great things about working in advertising is that there are a lot of very diverse, very smart people throwing ideas together. Everyone contributes. But letʼs break it down a little. In an ad agency, this is how it typically works. When a company wants to advertise, it finds an ad agency. Inside the agency, they call that company the “client.” To help manage the client, the ad agency has the account department. Theyʼre the people who run the business side of advertising. They talk with the clients every day, relay messages to the rest of the agency and make sure everything is running smoothly. The agencyʼs planning department is different from the account department. Planners develop the outline, called a “brief” of what needs to be communicated in the ads. Who is the audience for the ads? What do we know about them? What do we want to say to them? The brief then goes to the creative department. When you hear someone say they are “a creative,” that means theyʼre a member of the creative department. A copywriter, art director or creative director.


So you have a creative brief. You know what to say. If youʼre a creative, itʼs your job to come up with how to say it. Whatʼs going to get peopleʼs attention? Whatʼs going to keep them from changing the channel? Whatʼs going to connect with the audience and move them? In the typical creative department, art directors and copywriters work together as creative teams. Strictly speaking, the copywriter is in charge of the words and the art director is in charge of the visuals. In reality, though, itʼs much more fluid. Art directors sometimes write, and copywriters can suggest design ideas. The big job of the art director/copywriter team is to come up with the creative idea for the ad. They usually work together for weeks generating stacks of ideas (although having less than 24 hours to come up with an idea isnʼt unheard of). Then they take their best ideas to their creative director. The creative director is usually the senior, more experienced creative voice. He or she reviews the ideas, makes suggestions or revisions, whittles the many ideas down to the best few, and in the end gives the stamp of approval for which ideas will be taken to the client.

[art director]



THE CREATIVE PROCESS IS LONG The agency presents the idea or ideas to the client, and the client either buys an idea to produce, asks for revisions, or rejects the ideas altogether and sends the creative team back to the drawing board. If the client buys an idea, the creative team is responsible for bringing it to life. They work with producers, directors, photographers, editors, musicians, actors, designers and anyone else to make sure that their creative vision is realized. The entire process can be very fun, stressful, frustrating and exciting at the same time. But in the end, when you have a well-crafted commercial on television, billboard on the highway or website up and running, it始s a great feeling.

so we continue its description here

THE FRONT DOOR WITH A GOOD BOOK When youʼre applying for a job as an art director or copywriter in an ad agency, no one will ever, ever, ever ask to see your GPA. They probably wonʼt look at your resume. They wonʼt care whether you have a BS, an MS, a PhD or a police badge. To get a job as a creative in advertising, youʼre going to need one thing: A portfolio. A portfolio, often called your “book,” is a collection of ads youʼve come up with that proves you can think and execute creatively. Forever ago, there were many doors into an agency. English majors, journalists, and stand-up comics might be hired by an agency based on an interview. Or someone might take a job as a receptionist just to be around the creative director, with the hope of some day writing copy. It used to be that agencies would train and mentor these fledgling creatives. But those days are unfortunately gone. There are always exceptions, but the best way in is through the front door with a good book.

WHY YOUR BOOK MATTERS and nothing else does

You need a portfolio to get a job in advertising, but you need a job in advertising to develop your portfolio. Catch-22 right? Not necessarily. Fortunately, creative directors donʼt care if the ads in your book never ran in a magazine. In fact, they expect that ads in your book arenʼt “real.” What theyʼre looking for are big ideas, well executed. They want to see that you can think strategically and creatively, and that you can design, write, or do whatever it takes to bring your ideas to life.

and then we see a battalion of rapping ninja-monkeys riding unicycles

ANNUALS AND AWARD SHOWS Advertising is a business that loves award shows. And there are a ton of them. Every year in late spring, the One Club for Art and Copy holds its award show (the One Show) where a board of judges selects the very best work from around the world. All that work is bound into a huge bible of a book called The One Show, which is usually published at the end of the year. Other global award shows worth checking out are Cannes and D&AD. Communication Arts publishes its Advertising Annual each December, and Luerzerʼs Archive and Creativity are a couple other publications that feature great creative. These publications and annuals can be expensive ($24 - $60 each), but most of them also have websites that feature the award winners. And if you want to do great work, youʼre going to have to see what great work really is. These books are as close as youʼll come to finding a creative textbook.

and why they’re important

PORTFOLIO SCHOOLS Putting your book together and slugging it around from agency to agency is one way to get a job in advertising. But working by yourself is a hard, usually inefficient road. Thereʼs a lot of competition, and often youʼre going to need all the help you can get. A number of schools in the United States specialize in helping students put together a solid portfolio and get a job in advertising. Usually called portfolio schools, theyʼre advertisingʼs equivalent of medical school.

A few undergraduate schools, like the University of Texas, consistently turn out respected portfolios, and there are also a few art schools with

The benefit of going to a portfolio school is that you learn from people

advertising programs as well. Some schools are more expensive than

whoʼve been in the business a long time. And youʼre in an environment full

others, but if youʼre sure advertising is your destiny, donʼt skimp on your

of creative energy, where you can partner up with other creatives and

education. Itʼll pay off in the long run.

mimic the kind of atmosphere youʼd find in an agency. One way to get an idea of which schools are doing well is, again, to look at Each school has its own advantages. The VCU Brandcenter is the only

the award show annuals. Most have a student section that features the

one associated with an accredited university, and you leave with a Masters

best work from the various portfolio schools. Thereʼs also CMYK, a

degree. Miami Ad School has branches all over the world, from San

quarterly review of the best student advertising work. Checking out which

Francisco to Amsterdam. The Chicago Portfolio School is just a one-

schools consistently place work in these publications and shows can help

year program (most of the others are two years).

you decide which school is right for you before you apply.

TRADITIONAL AD AGENCIES and where we’re going from here

Itʼs hard to say how much longer any of this content will continue to be valid. Technology, the changing economy, and consumer trends force advertising agencies to constantly adapt. For years, people have predicted the death of the 30-second commercial because of DVRs. And while many people are still getting paid to write and produce commercials, more and more agencies are incorporating digital and guerilla (or non-traditional) advertising into their repertoire. How we reach people changes, but some things will always stay the same. Advertising is about coming up with creative ways to captivate, surprise, entertain and ultimately connect with people.

what’s a twitter?

There will always be a need for ideas that do this. And there will always be a need for people who can communicate in unique and interesting ways. Whether itʼs on a shopping website or the label of an energy drink, the advertising industry will always value big, creative ideas. Hopefully, youʼll be one of the people whoʼre coming up with them.

I READ YOUR E-BOOK. 1. Get a copy of a recent Communication Arts Advertising Annual or One Show Annual and flip through it to see if that始s the kind of work you want to do. Or visit and check out what creative agencies have been doing this week. 2. Email or call some portfolio schools and ask them to send you information on their programs. 3. Call a local advertising agency and ask if they have any internships in their creative department. (But don始t just look ADVERTISING up in the Yellow Pages and start calling. You始ll be crushed under the weight of mediocrity.) 4. Highly-recommended reading: Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan The Houdini Solution by Ernie Schenck Cutting Edge Advertising by Jim Aitchison Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising and Staying There by Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin

now what?

Please visit A blog for students of advertising, portfolio school hopefuls and anyone else putting their book together.

This book written and created by Makin’ Ads. It was Illustrated by Copywriters.

How to Start Your Career In Advertising  

A simple guide for anyone who wants to get paid to come up with cool ideas.

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