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Reality Check

Posted on October 24, 2002 and read 11,398 times

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In a recent issue of Marketing Magazine Joanne Lehmann, who heads up the excellent Copywriting program at Humber College, took our industry to task for the way in which we treat our graduating students. Specifically, not bothering to attend portfolio nights. Speaking as a Copywriting Instructor, I can testify to the endless days and nights the students put into polishing their books. The hopes and fears and dreams that are invested in this one occasion. Hopes and fears and dreams that are met, all too often, with a shoddy shot of indifference. And, I’d like to ask you, where would you be now if someone, presumably a Creative Director, Art Director or Copy Chief hadn’t, at the start of your career, taken the time to show some interest, offer encouragement and, yes, even a job. Who got you started? And shouldn’t you, in turn, extend the same courtesy to those trying to get their foot in the door today?

But, even worse than this lack of interest in the future of our industry, because that is exactly what these students are, is the way in which some of us treat them if they’re lucky enough to actually get into to see us. I know of one case: a student who, some years ago, was thrilled to get an appointment with a “star” Creative Director, in a “name” agency. Mr. Big spent all of 30 seconds paging through her book, greeting each well conceived and beautifully presented ad with variations on the word “garbage”. What made this scenario so particularly appalling was the fact that Mr. Big had actually been this student’s Instructor. He knew her well. Was aware of the difficulties she had overcome to realize her dream of becoming a copywriter. Difficulties that would have daunted most of us. He had encouraged her. Worked with her. Nurtured her talent. All this over a period of two years. And, in seconds, he destroyed her. My take on this situation: just before the student arrived in his office, someone had made Mr. Big feel really small. Perhaps a client. Or even his boss. So the next person who walked through the door was going to pay the price. And, the price, in this case, was a life. This bright, talented, sensitive student went home, burned her book, destroyed her disks, and is now working full time in the meaningless part-time job that paid her way through school.

An extreme example? Maybe. The student in question was much too sensitive and, obviously, would have benefited from some serious therapy. As would Mr. Big! What we should all remember is that the “attitude” displayed by many students is, all too often, a veneer that goes no deeper than 1/4″. Scratch the surface, and you’re left with a young, scared, vulnerable wannabe. Yourself in fact. Some countless years ago.

What’s happened to us all? Have we got so dazzled by our own glory, that we’ve forgotten how we got here? Jerry Del Femina must have thought so when he wrote this. He was talking about customers. But it’s equally relevant to students. Shouldn’t we at least try to stay in touch with who we were, when we started out?

“Young creative people start out hungry.

They’re off the street; they know how people think.

And their work is great.

Then they get successful.

They start to make more and more money, spend their time in restaurants they never dreamed of, fly back and forth between New York and Los Angeles.

Pretty soon, the real world isn’t people – it’s just a bunch of lights off the right side of the plane.

You have to stay in touch if you’re going to write advertising that works.

Ride a subway.

Stand up on a bus.

Buy a hot dog on the corner.

Stay in touch.”


Jennifer Brown is the Director of “The Right Words”. She is a prodigious copywriter and an outstanding advertising professor in her spare time.






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