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March 18, 2005
What Makes Yours a Good Book? And How to Judge Someone Else's
 

As we all know, the only Good Book is The Bible. But when looking for a job in Advertising, we each have to carry our own version.

Just as everything in the world is changing at an accelerated pace, especially Advertising, so are portfolios designed to get you a job in Advertising and Design. That goes for pros with many years of experience. And people trying to get their first job.

Not too very long ago, aspiring beginner Copywriters would show their samples as a typed page that said: “The visual is…” Then the Headline. And after that, the body-copy. The word “logo”. And the campaign line or wrap-up line underneath it.

A really hot, natural-born ad guy/gal, cut pictures out of magazines to give their ads and book a lot more entertainment value. That helped it stand out from the stack in the Creative Director’s or Headhunter’s office.

Consequently, what made a book really terrific, very often, was that you could see the ads put together instead of reading the words and having to imagine the layout and visuals.

A pro with a slick book with 10-ply laminated samples and maybe black felt on the back to keep the pieces from being scratched had that very impressive “wow factor”.

IDEAS were always important. Today, only more so. IDEAS are becoming the ideal. Slick, by itself, won’t get you past the Receptionist.

I remember when I was just a young punk in the business, a CD said to my partner and me when we showed him a rough, “That’s not an idea. It’s just an ad.”

“Hey”, I said, “an ad is an idea.”

It took a few more years but I finally realized what he meant. And ad is an ad. An idea has many, many ideas in it. Just as an apple is a single fruit, it also contains the seed that could become a tree that yields thousands of apples. And even more trees.

That’s what clients want and expect from their agency or studio. Seeds that create more seeds.

So that’s what Creative and Design Directors and Recruiters are looking for in books.

Everything about books has changed.

Not just what’s inside. But even how you get to show what’s inside.

Instead of you going out to show your portfolio, your book goes out without you, through FedEx or UPS. And if it’s actually looked at, and they like what they see, they’ll call you for an interview.

Black boxes the size of mini-refrigerators have given way to mini-books. And when they’re in too much of a crisis, potential employers prefer to see your work on your website. Or a link to someone else’s if you don’t have your own.

That brings up the issue of visibility and legibility. Until computer screens develop magazine style resolution, 10 PT headlines will not be read on the web. So you’ve got to make sure your potential Creative Director can read your idea by designing your on-line book to be seen on-line. Or he/she will remain only a potential CD. Let them enlarge the copy. Or give them another “slide” with the copy legible.

Print is still the fastest, most convenient way to judge talent. A TV reel is certainly just as good for many heavy broadcast agencies. But a book that doesn’t contain about 20% to 30% of a mixture of Guerrilla and or Ambient Media, Promotions, Product Placement, Environmental, Advertainment and any other fresh, unexpected way to get your clients’ message across, is just not in tune with the i-Pod Generation.

“Telling is Selling” was a slogan as recently as the '70s.

Today, it could easily be, “Don’t tell ‘em you’re selling”. Let ‘em develop a relationship with the brand. Then you don’t have to sell ‘em. They’ll want to buy.

We relate to brands the way we relate to people. Some we like. Or love. Some, neither. And worse yet, some we have no feelings for one way or another. Brands, like people, prefer not to be ignored.

Not every product or service can afford to be subtle. But your book has to let your possible employer know that you know how much Advertising has and is constantly changing.

Just as years ago, a hopeful copywriter might have only typewritten ads to show, that may be coming around again. Only this time, it’s typed ideas. You need beautifully designed and crafted samples. But you also have to show you can present a brilliant bit of Advertising by how well you succinctly describe an “ad” that doesn't necessarily run on paper or TV.

As an example, Fallon got the assignment to do BMW’s website. Instead they presented the IDEA to hire internationally known film directors and let them create short films for the website instead.

Writing that up had to be impactful and convincing. It had to give the client the confidence to invest money and his/her future, as well as the futures of the people who make a living at their company. That is definitely a sign of talent.

What made a good book a few years ago is no longer a good book today. And everything you just read may be useless in a year or two. You may need your whole book to be a hologram or you present it by pressing buttons on your cell phone and the video shows up on a screen in a CD’s office or on his/her wrist. In 3-D. While you converse. Or it’s seen on the “Portfolio Channel”. So take everything with a grain of salt because things are changing so quickly, this might be outdated by the time you finish reading.

So what did all this prove? That there is no one way to satisfy everyone. One thing that’ll never change is, your book has to be yours. As long as you’re true to yourself, you’ll find a, or the, job that’s right for you. If you try to be all things to all people, no one knows who you are. Least of all, you.

If you show you book to 10 people and everyone likes a sample, leave it in. If five people tell you to take it out, take it out. The other five may not have wanted to hurt your feelings.

If eight people like—or don’t tell you to lose it, don’t listen to the two that tell you you should. 80% is a big majority.

If everyone likes something in your book but you don’t, take it out. You might be making a mistake. But the bottom line is, it’s your book. It has to reflect you.

I hate to end with what sounds morbid. But it’s really a very positive thought: “A coward dies a thousand deaths. A hero dies only once.”


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Yoda, The Dalai Lama, and Norm Grey. All are noble teachers. First, as a lead instructor at the Portfolio Center, and then as a founding partner and president of The Creative Circus, Norm Grey has probably educated more advertising professionals than anyone else. Norm’s influence can be seen far and wide. Norm Grey's students work at agencies throughout the world. When Norm speaks, we are all pupils. School is in.

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