Aging is a slow process--we really don't notice it until key things happen that make us aware.
Aging is a slow process--we really don't notice it until key things happen that make us aware.
Recently I went back to the University of Idaho, my alma mater. Visited the old haunts, walked around and just took the campus in... One thing's for certain: a lot had changed in 10 years.
I'm not sure if this post is highly innovative or insightful, but regardless, I felt the need to chat about a few things because the people our current college environment really affects are employers. And after spending some time on campus I feel employers aren't doing many of the things recent college grads probably expect when it comes to the actual office itself...
First off, if you hire recent grads and haven't experienced a college campus recently, you should visit one this spring. In short: with colleges being so cool these days, a lousy office experience at an interview could turn away potentially good talent.
Using U of I as a universal example, colleges are doing really cool things these days, such as:
Re-Occurring Celebrations of Art
In the main Commons area, U of I has invested in a revolving artwork display. It's viewable from multiple levels in the building and sits in front of nearly 100 lunch tables. There's expensive lighting displays, it sits in its own corner of the building and there's a preview area for dozens of people. The college has done everything to say, "this is important." There's also no apparent requirements for art. It's an open gallery that all are invited to submit contenders for. Looks like it switches every few months. I've always felt offices should have random art like this.
Premium Public Equipment
At my first job, the agency's technology was far superior to that of my college. When I was hired, I felt like I was in the big time with my fancy computer. But nowadays that's getting harder for companies to do. U of I had nice stuff spread throughout the campus.
Entry level people often (and probably rightfully) get "hand me down" technology that's been at the company a few years. But with the amount universities are investing, it's easy for a business to look cheap right out of the gates even if a recent grad's machine is only a tiny bit dated.
Investing in Helping the Earth
Students recycle, care and give back. It's always been this way, but I doubt colleges actually INVESTED in it like they do now. For employers, a cardboard box in an employee kitchen with a black & white print out that's been spilled on and says "recycle here" pales in comparison to what they're used to.
I love this: More and more colleges are becoming achievements in modern design. For hundreds of years universities have been thought of as "institutions of knowledge." I think in the 21st century they are now "centers for ideas." And inspiring, modern design is a reflection of that shift. For a business, regardless of the perceived coolness of a company or a brand, ill-thought out or staid design is more harmful on recruitment then you might give it credit for.
Pride and Groups
It's been well reported that Gen Y is very individualistic. That they march to their own drum and don't join up with groups and subscribe to common ideals as easily as past generations. Don't believe it. We all join groups and ideals. On my visit I'd say 1 in 3 students displayed U of I colors, greek letters or school of ___ logos on their clothing. It was more apparent than I remember when I was there. Building company pride matters now more than ever... And the four points above are huge factors in this.
Of particular note to Idaho readers, Hal Riney was the keynote speaker at the Idaho Advertising Federation's Summer Conference in 1982 in Sun Valley. Reportedly, a quote from that appearance was: "If you don't have the biggest hammer, you had better have the sharpest nail." (Thanks to Jeremy C. for this.)
Ad Age has posted a nice video here with Hal explaining some of his own best work in 2002.
Below are some moments of greatness...
If you haven't heard about helpthehoneybees.com from Haagen-Dazs, it's a pretty cool site to check out. It combines all the things that make for a great site: likable, engaging, unique and all about the product.
Who knew that 25% of Western honey bees disappeared over the last few winters, and who knew how much of an effect that has on things like almonds and cherries...??
Haagen-Dazs succeeds at promoting a good cause while at the same time bringing it all back to their quality ingredient positioning in an approachable, cheery, premium tone. Very nice.
According to Adverblog (where I was alerted to the work) the site was created by London's Unit9 (along with GS&P). Unit9 has some pretty cool navigation and art of their own worth checking out...
Another cool Goodby/Unit9 collaboration can be found here.
I'm not sure why, but recently I've been paying extra attention to local Mom and Pop retailer ads. This includes tracking ads in and around Idaho as well as places I've been traveling to: So Cal, Chicago, Seattle. And upon paying extra attention, something has really started to bother me...
First, let's set the stage: If you're a local retailer (thereby receiving the name "Mom and Pop" by association), it's getting harder and harder to compete with national and regional brands: You can't afford to stay open as late, your inventory is smaller, you may be losing on price, and product quality is getting difficult to beat. In short, it's hard to be seen as a good value when you're a single store Mom and Pop.
To fight this, Mom and Pop advertising is getting louder and louder and includes more and more information. Added on top of this, mass media sales reps are directly approaching Mom and Pops more often since broadcast buys are decreasing due to larger advertisers moving money away from TV/radio and into web/pr.
Now, this isn't a mass media vs. new media post. It's about focus and product differentiation, the lack of which is bothering me.
On the larger stage, agencies spend an extraordinary amount of time working alongside clients to focus the messaging--identifying what's truly important to the consumer. But this doesn't take an army. Mom and Pops can do this too. And if they did, I think the marketing landscape would change and consumers would better understand their value. But, to the detriment of Mom and Pops, there's an apparent fear of focus. Consider this overview of a TV spot I saw last week for a local cell phone retailer...
Breakdown of :30 spot, according to my recall:
1. "Tired of searching the web for the best cell phone plan? (visual of stressed woman)
2. Stressed out and confused comparing endless stacks of rates? (visual of paperwork)
3. Need more time for yourself? (visual of person agreeing)
4. Then come down today to ____! (storefront--can't remember name)
5. Located in the ___ next to ____ (can't recall where)
6. Come in and compare rates and phones from T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and more (indoor shot)
7. If you come in now you can save ____% (big percent savings)
8. We're locally owned and operated since 19__. We care about service.
9. My name is ___. I own this place and I'll make sure you get treated right by our friendly sales people! (sales guy and owner)
10. Call _____ (big phone number) today. We're open from 9am - 6pm.
11. Don't wait, come in today!"
But there was magic in that spot...it was point number 6.
A whole, huge store where I can compare all cell phone products and every rate plan?? And that's all they do?! Elaborate on the specifics of this please. Make the spot entirely about that. I can compare phones at places like Best Buy or a mall kiosk, but it's limited. This retailer offers a unique and valuable service, but it's been buried by the owner's name, an untrue set up, a sales guy 'introduction' and more. Does any of that really matter? We never meet Mr. Jobs in a Mac ad.
No matter the size of the business there's magic in everything. It's the job of the TV station sales exec, the manager of the retailer, whoever is in charge of the ad, to be honest and focus on what's the true reason for this business to, well, be in business. Leave the rest of the information to such things as directory 411, mapquest and in-store pop. If people want what's being sold they'll find out when it's open.
In marketing books the industry talks about focus (Al Ries reportedly has a great book on the subject). And in those books proven thinkers cite focused brands such as Nike and Hummer and Apple. The industry writes about itself as if only major advertisers can put forth the resources to do it. But no matter how small the business, everyone can focus.
If you're a TV station going direct to a Mom and Pop, spend 45 minutes just thinking about that business and eliminate from the communication what isn't necessary. No research is needed. Ask yourself, do you care who the employees are when you see a local furniture ad...?? Or is it about product uniqueness?
Even though a retailer may be a one-location store on the corner of Far Away and Close to Nothing, there's still magic there to convey. There was a reason the founder started it, and that was to fulfill and unfulfilled need. All companies start somewhere--it's up to everyone involved to convey its focused uniqueness.
One of my favorite things to do is chatting with college students about careers in advertising. And whenever I have the opportunity to speak in a classroom--an invitation I'm always flattered by--the subject of "what advice do you have about breaking into the business," always comes up. And rightfully so.
I've had the same collection of responses for years... probably time to do a post about it. But I'm posting them up primarily because these are my thoughts. I've taken nothing out of a book. I feel these 10 things are the correct things to do. The correct things to think when you're looking to start a career in advertising. But, since I'm making blanket statements to people who will be joining a huge field, I encourage others who have been in the industry for awhile, as I have, to challenge, add or correct this collection of thinking. I want to make sure I'm representing the collective thought of our business in an accurate way.
Some entry-level career thoughts/advice:
1. When you start out, move to the largest city you feel comfortable in, work at the largest agency you can, and get on the largest account you can. When you first join an agency, no matter what department you're in, you're going to get your butt kicked. You're going to work long hours and do menial tasks. It doesn't matter if your account is a Fortune 500 company or a local retailer. So given this, choose the former. Get your feet wet on something huge. Work on Pfizer, P&G, Nestlé or Ford. You will learn a ton more and your resume will look stellar right out of the gates. There will be a time when you're older, when you may not want to work on accounts with lots of layers of approvals. And it's far easier to go from big to small than from small to big.
The other thing is, when you join a big shop right out of college, you meet a ton of people just like you: 23/24 year olds starting their careers from all parts of the country. Meeting a large collection of people when you begin allows you to build a network that will criss cross the country as people move around. This makes you better. Also, at a big shop you're pretty much guaranteed to find talented people. When there's 300 people in one building someone there has chops. Find them, hang out with them, learn from them.
2. Keep your resume to one page. I've worked in this business for more than 10 years, and my resume is still one page. If you're coming out of college with a two page resume, cut it down...on the career front, trust me, you're not that interesting yet.
3. Infuse minor moments of design in your resume. 8 out of 10 resumes I get use Times New Roman font. Try something else. Also, pick up a design book and see what you can do to make your resume look prettier. Doing so will elevate you. But don't go too far: I once saw a resume with a huge bird on it--going too far just makes you seem kinda weird. Oh, and keep any cover letters very short and too the point.
4. A well-designed resume gets you considered, but YOU get the job. When I interview for entry-level positions I look for only two things: passion for the industry and work ethic. I look for those things because no agency can teach passion and work ethic. You either have them, or you don't. And all the great industry leaders posses those two things. When you interview, make sure those traits come out. And if you don't have those traits, please, don't work in advertising--you will only become frustrated with the business and get in the way of everyone else who loves it.
5. Don't be late, don't be early. Everyone knows not to be late for an interview. Another piece of advice, don't show up 15 minutes early either. Showing up early puts pressure on the one interviewing you. Trust me, they're not ready for you yet. Upon learning you're upfront and way early, the interviewer has choices to make regarding those unplanned 15 minutes: Do I leave them up there waiting? Do I stop what I'm doing and bring them back? Do I go up and say 'hi' then come back and finish what I'm doing? Truth be told; it's kind of irritating. Being way early is good in spirit, but in today's world every minute to return an email counts.
My advice: Give yourself plenty of time beforehand so you're not rushed. Show up to the building 20 minutes early and get your bearings. Then relax, walk around the block, go into a Starbucks, call someone, just kill time. Then, somewhere around seven to five minutes till, go inside to the reception area. By the time the call comes through to the one who's interviewing you it will be just a couple minutes before you're due, allowing them to hit "send" on an email, use the restroom, and casually come out to say "hi."
6. Have some favorite ads in mind. In every interview I ask, "what are some pieces of communication that you like?" This isn't a trick question. I don't want to hear pieces my agency did and I'm not expecting to hear a Gold Lion winner at Cannes, I just want to hear that you like something. There's really no wrong answer. It just shows that, in your spare time, you're paying attention to the industry (see 'passion for industry' above). No matter what's on the resume, people who can't answer this question don't get a job with me. (This isn't just entry level, by the way. At the mid-level sometimes people can't answer this. It's always shocking when one can't.)
7. Thank you. Yes, always send a thank you, but it doesn't have to be a note card. An email is fine. In fact, an email allows you to attach a link to a great ad, or an interesting page, or something that may have come up during the interview. It allows you to keep a dialog. But note cards are always nice too. Send whatever you're most comfortable sending.
8. Check your sense of entitlement at the door. Yes, you're smart, but coming out of college, you don't know how business works. You can't. It's impossible. Even if you've interned somewhere, you haven't been "in business" yet. The company will give you a shot, but it's up to you to add value and learn. The company doesn't owe you anything except to provide an environment that's robust with opportunities to learn. It's up to you to grow and make that business better however you can.
9. Watch the industry trades. Agencies won't make room for you. They hire when someone leaves or they win business. Filling the void of the former is pure luck or you quickly responded to a Craig's List posting. The latter is accomplished by watching Adweek or industry blogs, such as this one. If an agency wins something, float a resume in with a note of congratulations. They need to staff it.
10. Keep trying, but don't be annoying. Once you establish contact with someone at the shop, keep in touch. Forward something cool you found online every once in a while, send a note of congratulations if you read an article about them. If they don't respond, don't worry. They're busy and they'll see that you're interested. Just remember the rule of "half": If a month has gone by since you last sent a note, it will seem like only two weeks to them. Pace your timing wisely.
That's it. Everything else is common sense. Good luck out there... (Anyone have additional thoughts/advice?)