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June 2, 2004
The Mini-Books Are Coming! The Mini-Books Are Coming!

If you’re a recent grad, you’re probably reading this in hopes of finding some insight that will cause a bidding war for your services. Sorry, that won’t happen. All I can do is offer the advice of one CD at one growing mid-sized shop in Austin, Texas.

But I’m not just writing this for the young and hopeful. For those of you other agency folks on the receiving end of these books, there’s something for you, too.

If you’re just starting out, I’m sure you have questions:

  • Is the job market as bad as they say it is? The ad industry has lost a sobering number of jobs during this-thing-that-won’t-be-labeled-a-recession. So lots of good people are looking. Getting your first job in advertising has never been easy, but it’s been unusually brutal for the past three years.
  • So, what do other student books look like? The preferred print format is an 8.5” x 11” spiral-bound, landscape format, accompanied by a letter and resume. We are also getting more resumes and portfolios online.
  • What about clever mailers? You mean popcorn, plastic steaks, confetti, letters in a bottle? Don’t. It seems the more elaborate the packaging, the less impressive the work.
  • Is there a preferred number of campaigns? I like to see a range of thinking, across different product categories, creative approaches and media. I don’t get a feel for what you can do if I only see four campaigns.
  • What do you look for in a book? Strong core ideas. Great agreement between copy and art direction. Strategic insights. Original headlines. Fresh approaches in art direction. The beginnings of great craftsmanship in design and copy.
  • Do you really look at student books? I’ll read your letter (short, personable) and resume (one page). I’m looking for where you went to school, ad-related accomplishments and details that reveal a little more about you. (My all-time favorite student resume line: “Play agency softball.”) I usually go through a book twice. First pass is a quick glance at each campaign. Second pass is a more critical review. After that, I’ve got a pretty good feel for the book — high points, problem areas and that deadly middle zone.
  • What makes a book stand out? If I had 10 books in front of me, one would be outstanding; three would be conceptually challenged; and six would fall in the middle. The best books are solid throughout, with one or two standout campaigns.
  • How do I get in the door? Bigger agencies have creative recruiters or use their HR departments as firewalls. In smaller agencies, a creative assistant or the CD may be the point person. Call the agency or check their Web site to find the best person. If an agency has a strict protocol to go through HR, you may have to start there, then inquire whether you could meet with someone in creative.
  • What about interviews? At T3, we try to talk with the few students who have been politely persistent. Mail your work, wait a week, and then start following up with phone calls or emails. If you’re coming in from out of town, plan things 2-4 weeks out, so you have a chance of getting on someone’s calendar.
  • Any interviewing tips? Be ready to talk about your work or draw out your interviewer if he or she gets a case of the “uh-huhs.” Listen with an open mind. You may get some great insights. As much as we’re looking at your work, we’re getting a sense of who you are; how well you give-and-take; how you might fit in. If someone likes your work and likes you, it could very well lead to something.
  • Then what? Send a thank you note. If you revise your book as a result of someone’s comments, you have a great reason to reconnect in the future. From there: lather, rinse, repeat.

If your Steve Madden’s are propped up on the other side of the desk:

Hit your personal rewind button to the time when you were trying to get in the door. (Yeah, you wore that. What was with your hair back then?) Chances are, a few generous people took extra time with you. Be one of those people.

  • Make the time. Give up some time every month to meet with students. Tell HR that you’ll make yourself available if people are interested in meeting with a “real” creative. Think of it as giving back to your industry.
  • Be honest. Offer your honest opinion of the work (but don’t be a jerk). Get students to talk about their thinking. Tell them what you like and what could be improved. If you sense a potential star, encourage them to stay in touch. If the student’s work is way off, try to get them back on course.
  • Extend their network. Advertising is a two-degrees-of-separation business. So if you’re not hiring juniors, maybe you know an agency that is. If you have friends at other agencies, pass along their names.
  • Take the next step. College advertising professors will tell you that students crave the insights from advertising professionals. So volunteer to speak on-campus. Get involved with the Advertising Educational Foundation (www.aef.com). Make yourself available to your alma mater, a university nearby or a school in your favorite city for boondoggles. You will make a difference.

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Jay Suhr is a genuine thinker. As Executive Creative Director of T3, The Think Tank, Jay oversees the integrated creative work of a 127-person agency with offices located in Austin, Texas, and New York City.

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