Friday September 26, 2014: the guy who wrote this column smacked his face on a pole at a skate park, during a drizzle, on wet asphalt, on a skateboard he borrowed from “some kid” while attempting to do a difficult trick called “the kick-flip.” What possessed him to try and do a trick he’d never tried before is beyond the imagination of anyone who has even borderline sanity. The idea that this guy is the creative director of an ad agency is mind-boggling. It’s mind-boggling that he is the creative director of any ad agency (he has held the position at a number of agencies) because of where he came from. Today, he may not be afforded any opportunity at any agency.
He started as an usher at the American Film Institute and worked his way up to Assistant Theater Manager. He worked at two documentary companies and went to NYU in a Cinema Studies MFA program. He co-founded a production company with a guy who was in the NBA and would go on to Harvard Law School. They made a documentary film on a jazz musician because they thought they could. They agreed that they made it because they were too stupid to know they couldn’t. They had a passion, and they did well. They made films on different subjects and did commercials. Eventually, the ball player went to Harvard and the guy who wrote this piece sold the company to an ad agency and then took over the broadcast department of the agency. He constructed an in-house production company, which produced hundreds and hundreds of commercials, many of which he directed.
Eventually, he traded his production skills for a shot at writing. He and his original partner had really wanted to be writers. He went to an agency in Alabama and began his climb from copywriter to Creative Director. He had never written an ad when he arrived in Birmingham.
He did well, and along the way, the folks he met had backgrounds like him. They were some of the brightest people in the ad business. They had been physicists, teachers, cops, painters, doctors, accountants, statisticians, mailroom guys, construction workers, a print maker from Pratt, a drummer from Berkley School of Music, ex-models, maids, and hair stylists. They had an interest in and a passion for advertising so they "went for it." The guy who is writing this met them as planners, account execs, media planners, media buyers, writers, art directors and more. They were wind surfers, motorcycle racers, hockey players, good and bad softball players (everyone in agencies plays softball, where it really is all about the beer), bike riders, skateboarders, football players, moviegoers, avid readers, etc. They were filled with useless information about a number of useless subjects. When they started in their agencies, none of them had any experience and they turned out successfully, every one of them. Today, many of them would probably never have gotten into an agency unless they were delivering a package.
The guy who wrote this is still doing well and the folks he's meeting don't have backgrounds like him. They have been students. They are some of the brightest people in the ad business. They have taken courses like Introduction (concept), POP 501 (Ideas First), POP 503 (Idea Presentation), POP 504 (Video Storytelling), POP 512 (Short & Sweet — Headlines, Web Banners, etc.), POP 514 (Wordsmithing), POP 511 (Type Journey), POP 530 (Pop Culture Engineering), POP 534 (The Brand Called You — You are a Brand) and more. Many, depending on professional interest, can focus on Boot Camp for Account Planners or Boot Camp for Social Media & Consumer Engagement, Creative Track Copywriting and Art Direction, etc.
He is meeting many of the brightest ad folks populating the business today. They come out of ad schools, universities that now have ad majors, and other portfolio schools. They have an interest in and a passion for advertising and they are "going for it." They are wind surfers, motorcycle racers, hockey players, good and bad softball players (everyone in agencies plays softball, where it really is all about the beer), bike riders, skateboarders, football players, moviegoers, and avid readers. They, if they are smart, are filled with useless information about a number of useless subjects. When they started in their agencies, none of them had any experience and they turned out successfully, every one of them. Many of them probably will never get into an agency unless they are delivering a package.
The guy who wrote this doesn’t know who makes the “better ad person.” Is it the “school-trained” advertising person or the person that thinks the profession seems interesting and can apply compatible skills? Many professions have seen this phenomenon. Years ago, most nurses (RNs) came out of programs they entered right after high school. Today, many nurses come with degrees in nursing from universities. Who makes the better nurse? The guy who wrote this had a very bright (M.D.) dad who said, “Program nurses tend to have more empathy and are more patient-focused. University nurses are, because of training, a bit more clinically efficient but more removed from patient personality. Both groups have things in common. They want to be nurses very badly. They do a very good job. Most people who have a passion for something do very well. It's in their nature.”
In today’s world, physicists and/or statisticians, etc., don’t walk into agencies and get jobs. Today, most folks major in advertising or attend portfolio schools. The guy who wrote this didn’t know he wanted to be an “ad guy.” He thought it would be cool. Two of the folks in his group went to ad school. The others in the group didn't. They all thought it would be cool. All of them have wanted to be in advertising. Anyway, no matter the training, some are better at one thing and some at others. In most cases, those who have passion do very well. It's in their nature.
If you decide to go skateboarding in a drizzle on a board borrowed from some kid, and try a trick you shouldn’t do, it’s probably passion. It's in your nature. And, no matter how you were trained, you just have to try that trick, because you know you can do it, because maybe you're too dumb to know that you can't do it.
Where did you get your training? What is the best background for an advertising profession? Let Beyond Madison Avenue know.