How To Get A Job In Advertising

20 07 2010

Want to get a job in advertising?

The best way to get started is to buy the bible on the subject: the latest edition of Maxine Paetro‘s “How To Put Your Book Together And Get A Job In Advertising.”

How To Put Your Book Together And Get A Job In AdvertisingIt has been in print for more than 30 years, but Maxine has been always updating it to reflect today’s rapidly changing reality.

There’s great advice from ad legends including Jeff Goodby, Cliff Freeman and Helayne Spivak.

And way back in the early 1990s, Maxine was nice enough to ask me to contribute my thoughts on digital.

The original piece was titled “Have You Downloaded A Ford Lately?”. This year I updated my piece for the new edition. Here’s what I wrote.

How Do You Succeed In A Business That Hasn’t Been Reinvented Yet?

You are hurtling at 900 mph toward a career in advertising.

The awards book your eyes are glued to is the rearview mirror.

Oh, and here’s the brick wall you’re about to slam into: nobody knows what a “career in advertising” is going to mean anymore because it’s all being re-invented.

This is either the craziest time in the past eighty years to take a creative job in advertising, or the absolute best. Now, more than ever, advertising needs muscular, adventurous, wild minds. The very best minds — maybe yours — will not just create commercials, or digital widgets or viral videos, but will help invent what advertising can be.

OK, so now you know advertising is going to be a sort of glorious mess. How do you succeed in  business that hasn’t been reinvented yet? I suggest five things.

1. Think Horizontal, Not Vertical. You’ll have to be great at creating ads if you want to get a job and keep it. But, that’s not enough.

Get outside your comfort zone. Learn, learn, learn. Make friends with different kinds of people, and ask them to teach you: marketing MBAs, PR people, computer geeks, web analytics gurus, market researchers, lawyers, accountants, etc.

Don’t buy into the “us vs. them” nonsense, or the absurd fallacy that clients are idiots.  These are sucker’s games invented by insecure creatives.

Develop a network of people who know things you don’t and nurture that network as if your career depends on it. Because in fact, it does.

2. Learn By Doing. Screw theory. Dive in, experiment. Start a blog. Get on Twitter. Put some pictures up on Flickr. Always, always, always look to the horizon and try to understand what’s coming next. Try different stuff. When you get lucky, try to understand why. And don’t be an arrogant knucklehead when you do get lucky. The universe has a ton of humble pie that it’s just waiting to feed to creative people whose egos get too big. And yes, in my fast I have been forced to eat my share.

3. Think Globally. Madison Avenue is not the center of the ad universe anymore. Neither is America. There are billions of people out there just as creative as you are, and advertising can be outsourced just like everything else.

Advertising follows opportunity, and during your career that’s likely to happen in Asia. Pay close attention to what the CEOs of WPP, Publicis and Omnicom are saying and keep an open mind about it. Read as much as you can about other cultures, especially China and India. Learn the language and go visit if you can.

In your career, imagination won’t be enough. You need to constantly demonstrate that you are someone who makes problems shrink and possibilities grow. Speaking of which…

4. Always Focus On Possibility. Change will be constant, and many changes will be hugely disruptive. Some, deeply painful. Whatever happens, always ask yourself: “what new possibilities does this create?” Remember the most wrenching change you encounter may also lead to the best part of your advertising career. Stay open.

5. Talk To Strangers. Get in the habit of saying hello to people you don’t know, especially if they seem to offer challenging ideas. In fact if you think I’ve said anything useful here, you can start by saying hello to me. Follow me on Twitter (@tomcunniff) or look me up on social networking sites like LinkedIn. The only ground rules: cover letters, resumes, and self-promotion will earn you a place in my spam filter. Intelligent questions and insights will earn you respect and prompt replies.

Advertising is undergoing radical change, so it favors people with guts now more than ever before. Don’t be afraid to be creative.

As the famous jazz pianist Thelonious Monk once said:

“The only cats worth anything are the cats who take chances. Sometimes, I play things I never heard myself.”


I hope some of my advice helps people get started. What other advice would you offer people who want to get their first job in advertising? Comments are welcome.

And don’t forget to buy the book. If you’re trying to get started it will kickstart your brain.

Photo Credits: Horizontal Bike from Kamshots on Flickr (Creative Commons license). Mumbai Traffic from Tom Cunniff on Flickr

How Can Publishers Charge For Content?

28 02 2010

In my first blog post at Jack Myers’ MediaBizBloggers, I talked about the “content is king” myth. We already have a content glut and it’s only going to get worse.

In the picture at left, publishing is wearing the red jacket. The lady in the blue dress? That’s you and me, and we have every intention of skipping out on the check.

In the face of this, publishers have to try as many pay options as they can, as fast as they can.

So how many different models are being tested right now? The answer may surprise you. Take a  look at this brilliant presentation prepared by Alastair Bruce at Microsoft.

Hugely enlightening and interesting, whether you’re a publisher or just somebody who wonders what the future of media might be.

What If Your CEO Is Right To Be Afraid Of Social Media? (Part Two)

17 08 2009

Continued from an earlier post. Part One is here. Here’s my take on some of the other fears a CEO may have.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: So much of what’s discussed online is shallow and we have real work to do

BE FEARLESS: Opportunities aren’t always where we think they are.  Encourage the passionate people in your company to find time to learn about social media, without neglecting their current duties. Ask them to report back what they’ve learned.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We don’t have the time/resources to contribute and moderate

moneyBE CAUTIOUS: There are ALWAYS a lot of things a company can do, and NEVER enough money and attention to do them all well. Leaders have to choose which activities they believe will have the strongest payout, and focus on those.

Sometimes the fun, sexy stuff is the PERFECT place for a company to focus their efforts. Sometimes not.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Our customers don’t use it/It doesn’t fit into current structures

BE FEARLESS: Listen and find out if your customers use social media, and how they do it. Once you know more, you can decide whether it’s smart to overhaul your current structures or not.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We are in B2B and who wants to hear about our boring product on a blog or twitter

BE FEARLESS: I think Social media may be stronger for B2B than for B2C, because it’s typically a more intimate sale and the needs are more clearly articulated. Listen first — you may be surprised by what you hear.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Traditional media is still bigger, we will use Social Media when it is more mainstream

BE CAUTIOUS: A recent Forrester report says that 80% of the ad spend in 2014 will still be in traditional media.  tvWe’ve been trying to bury TV since the early 1990s, and it refuses to stay dead.  Why?

From a consumer POV, it’s because it’s still pretty good. Have you seen “30 Rock” lately?

From an advertiser’s POV, it’s because it offers scale and message control that social media can’t possibly provide.

It doesn’t mean social media isn’t important. But it’s important to keep its size and role in perspective.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: No guaranteed results/tools to measure and analyze Social Media aren’t mature enough yet

madoffBE FEARLESS: There are no guaranteed results in business anywhere. Beware of Madoffs who promise you there are.

Also, tools to measure and analyze will NEVER be good enough.  I believe we’ll ultimately learn that it is as difficult to prove ROI for social media as it has been for traditional PR.

But just because something can’t be quantified to the micro-penny doesn’t mean it can’t add value. All business is a bet on the future, and not all bets pay off.

We can’t steer the world by sitting in front of Microsoft Excel. Our what-if scenarios must meet the real world at some point, if they are ever to deliver results. If your gut says social media can help you reach a goal and you understand the risk-reward equation clearly, go for it.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We will lose control of our brand and image

BE CAUTIOUS: Gurus love to preach about how “the consumer is in control”, and in many important ways that’s true.  But a company’s brand is a precious asset, and not something that any company can afford to simply turn over to a mob that will seek to damage it just for LULZ.

CEOs and CMOs still have a very real responsibility to grow and protect their brand’s image. There’s a difference between understanding that the customer is boss and abdicating your responsibility for protecting the brand.


The Bottom Line: Balance

All real growth comes from trying something new and different. But, that’s not the same thing as taking a flying leap into the darkness.tide-loads-of-hope

Companies and brands need to find a way to balance the need for learning with the need for appropriate caution.

I think companies like P&G are doing a good job of immersing their execs in digital culture and testing the waters.

You may not be as big as P&G, but there’s still a lot you can learn from watching how they have approached social media.

How are you finding your balance in social media?

What If Your CEO Is Right To Be Afraid Of Social Media? (Part One)

17 08 2009

UPDATE 9/3/2009: Good related post: “7 Things To Think About Before Jumping In”


Jeff Bullas recently wrote a smart post: “28 Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid Of Social Media”.

I might have titled it “A Few Questionable Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid of Social Media, and A Bunch Of Really Reasonable Ones.”


Being afraid to turn on the lights in case there are monsters under the bed is pretty silly. But thinking twice before you guzzle Jonestown’s favorite powdered beverage — “gee, when did they start making a cyanide flavor?” — is actually a pretty good idea.

Some CEOs are afraid of social media. Where can you afford to dive in, and where should you be cautious? Every business/brand has their own criteria, but here’s my take.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It is detrimental to employee productivity

BE FEARLESS: Employees who waste company time will do it whether you shut down the internet or not. Trust that the improved knowledge and networks of the employees who use social media for the right reasons will more than make up for the slackers.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It could damage the company’s reputation

American_Cancer_Society_LogoBE CAUTIOUS: Experimenting with social media is not without risk.

Have you read about the American Cancer Society Facebook debacle? How much hard-won brand equity did this naive mistake cost?

Was it worth it?


SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: Security risks, Unwillingness to be transparent

BE CAUTIOUS: It’s easy for social media gurus to preach transparency — there are no real secrets to protect.  But in most businesses, confidential information is a source of competitive advantage. Many secrets — product formulas, new product launches, plans to enter new markets — are important to keep secret.

Careless Tweeting can cost millions of dollars. If social media ‘experts” have sometimes had costly lapses of judgment, time and again, how can a CEO be confident that newbies will do better?

When the risks are clear (see above) and the rewards are not, a responsible CMO or CEO must ask his or her people to go slow. Look before you leap is a hopeless cliche.  But it doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. If your people are passionate about social media, invest in some listening tools. And, set clear goals about what you need to learn.


SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: We already have information overload/Terrified of feedback and truth

BE CAUTIOUS: Listening to what consumers say about you isn’t going to hurt you. In fact, good feedback can help you improve.ears

Still, we need to take this with a hefty grain of salt.

I’m intrigued by Tim Marco’s notion of Voluntary Selection Bias. Are we really listening to everybody (e.g. a truly representative sample?), or the ravings of a small but vocal group? More important, are we listening to likely buyers?

If we’re going to treat social media as research, we need to be as rigorous about understanding the sample size and composition as we are when looking at any other consumer research.


Go On To Part Two.

Photo Credits: “No” Sign from Biscuitmip on Flickr, Ears from Banlon1964 on Flickr

Four Questions For Successful CPG Social Media Marketing

7 08 2009

Here’s a blog post I wish I had written.  But, Google CPG Blog beat me to it.


They’ve distilled the 360i Social Media Playbook down to the four questions CPG marketers need to ask.

Plus, they’ve included screen shots and case studies. Unlike so much of what’s out there on social media that’s full of fluff and vague theory, this is a useful and actionable one-pager for busy CPG execs.


Read the four questions for successful CPG Social Media Marketing here.

Moaning Is Not A Management Task

24 03 2009

In the Financial Times recently, there was a fantastic quote from Rupert Stadler, CEO of Audi. He said:

“Moaning is not a management task. We can all join in the moaning, or we can make a virtue out of the plight.”

do_somethingIt’s a good reminder.

The worse things get (and if you believe the “Chaos Scenario” from Bob Garfield at Ad Age, we ain’t seen nothing yet), the more it pays to adopt the old Swedish proverb: “whine less, breathe more.”

This goes double for those of us in management. One of the best pieces of management advice ever is from “Saving Private Ryan”.  Here’s a clip (warning: language NSFW). The relevant part starts at 2:06.

It’s brilliant. But if you don’t have time sit through it, here’s the dialogue:

Private Reiben: “So Captain, what about you? I mean you don’t gripe at all?”

Captain Miller: “I don’t gripe to you Reiben. I’m a captain. There’s a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down, always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on and so on. I don’t gripe to you. I don’t gripe in front of you. You should know that, you’re a Ranger.”

Private Reiben: “Well I’m sorry, sir, but let’s say you weren’t a Captain, or maybe I was a Major. What would you say then?”

Captain Miller: “In that case, I’d say this is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir. Worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover, I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men, especially you, Reiben, to ease her suffering.”

One last piece of useful management thinking, from a very unlikely source:

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Milton Berle said it. Pretty great, isn’t it?

Today can be the start of something better. Let’s go build some doors.

Photo Credit: Jen Joaquin

Pattern Recognition and Four Other New Skills For The Future of Marketing

4 03 2009

“To understand is to perceive patterns” – Isaiah Berlin

There’s a great (and if I’m honest, mildly terrifying) post at Chief Marketing Technologist that  discusses some of the new skills that are critical for marketing success in the future.  You can read it here.


I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.  But here are the 5 new skills the author discusses along with some takeaways from me.

1. Analytical Pattern Recognition. We are already in a data maelstrom of firehose-velocity info feeds. This will only get faster and more complex.  Great marketers have always been reductionists at their core, and that will be true in spades in the future.

Takeaway: Diving into the data hoping to come up with a single pearl of wisdom is a formula for drowning.  We must learn to float on top of it and observe where the tide is going.

2. Agile Project Management. The luxurious days of planning a few well-contained major campaigns for the year are largely gone. Now, you’ve got hundreds — often thousands — of micro-opportunities, swirling around the extended enterprise every week, the best of which must be quickly snatched and efficiently executed.

Takeaway: This creates enormous opportunities for smaller companies doing battle with Goliaths.  But it will only work for companies who are willing to  stop aping the habits of large companies because they want to “feel big”.

3. Experimental Curiosity and Rigor. Marketing is the new laboratory. The majority of marketing activities at this point should be run as tests, continually trying new alternatives, pushing on the edges, constantly on the lookout for shifts in response that portend new threats or opportunities.

Takeaway: This sounds great, but it also means we must ruthlessly whittle down the cost of each experiment. What’s the most we can learn, the fastest and cheapest way possible?

4. Systems Thinking. Tactics in one marketing silo impact the effectiveness of others (e.g., your search marketing ads) almost immediately. Social media accelerates cross-channel effects: it’s a new, living ecosystem. If engaged properly, that can be a powerful force multiplier; if mismanaged, it can be a train wreck.

Takeaway: Marketing Integration isn’t as simple as creating “matching luggage” where the TV, print and web stuff all look alike.  That’s the starting point, not the end.  The organizational challenge is tough: how can we get the various marketing silos to want to cooperate? Here again, an opportunity for smaller companies to win.

5. Mashable software fluency. Not all marketers have to become programmers, but those who understand how software is built and deployed in the new “mashable web” — a world of mashups, widgets, and APIs — will have a competitive advantage.

Takeaway: Marketing executives who can’t understand a word of this one need to go talk with a programmer. These are not geeks: they are business partners who can open doors you didn’t even realize existed.

Photo Credit: Mathieu Struck