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Books are improving. Now skip the “advertising”

Posted on June 15, 2010 and read 3,337 times

Books are improving. Now skip the “advertising” thumbnail

beak Books are improving. Now skip the “advertising”Tom Beakbane
CEO, Creative Director
Beakbane

Creative directors look for different things when evaluating a candidate’s work. We all want to see demonstrations of “creativity” but each of us defines it differently.

In my case, I judge the work on how effective it would be at building a client’s business. I try to answer the questions, “Could I sell it to the client?”, and if I could, “Would it connect with the target and build the brand?”

The answers to these questions change over time. Everyone battling it out on the front lines knows that what clients demand these days is changing dramatically. Most no longer want “advertising”. Instead they want campaignable ideas that can come alive on websites, as viral videos, in sales presentations, out of home, in-store, as apps and in other ways that fit with the changing habits of buyers.

This poses a huge challenge for students wanting to build an appealing portfolio because what instructors teach tends to be at least five years out of date. And consequently most books we see at Portfolio Night still consist of what was needed in an earlier epoch. We see a lot of print ads for packaged goods products with a strangely consistent format comprising a headline, a picture, a tagline and a logo or a small product shot. The ads are often quirky, humorous or in some way clever.

Unfortunately, the market for this type of communication has been shrinking. More unfortunately, the skills needed to create a print ad are not the same as the ones needed to develop a campaign, particularly a digital campaign.

I have participated in Portfolio Night Toronto for the last four years and have been pleased to see that candidates’ books have been getting better. Amongst the books I have seen here in Toronto, I have noticed the following improvements:

-       There is more collaboration. Artists and writers are working together and proud of it. Credits are often noted prominently.

-       There is more evidence of proofreading. This year I didn’t see any glaring typos in headlines unlike previously.

-       Now many books feature apps – mostly for the iPhone.

-       There is a wider diversity of guerilla executions that show fresh ideas for new media. These are sometimes titled “ambient” – which is a puzzling term for executions that are designed to surprise.

But there is still not enough work that demonstrates the skills for communicating with a variety of screen sizes online. However, I wouldn’t advocate that candidates build their books around “digital” communications. More important is to build skills in defining a focused message and communicating it using a diversity of methods to audiences with differing spans of attention. Copywriters should demonstrate that they can tell a story, hold an audience’s attention and explain concepts that are complicated. That means including work that consists of more than just headlines and short blocks of copy.

To help candidate’s get in step with what clients and agencies need here is a suggestion. Do not build your book around “advertising”. Advertising is history. Get rid of the pithy magazine ads for consumer products.

Instead create campaigns. Here’s how: start with a consumer insight of some sort – perhaps a change in lifestyle or need. From that, pick a product or service and define its key benefit. Then create a message that communicates the benefit. Once you have defined this message focus you can move on to developing executions for different mediums. Start with what the communication should look like on a computer monitor and on a mobile device.

Then pick two or three other mediums. Perhaps packaging. Perhaps something environmental. Perhaps a live performance. Perhaps an event. Maybe a brochure – sure they are uncool but they still have a role.

To make the executions good you will need to collaborate. Step outside the world of graphic designers and writers. Work with media students to figure out innovative ways of connecting with the target. Talk to programmers to make sure your mobile app is not just fantasy. Work with musicians, performance artists and fashion designers to come up with ideas that might surprise and delight.

Marketing communications is an amazing industry because every day we can create something that did not exist the day before. No art, no craft, no cultural trends and no technologies are off limits. We can build on our experiences and cultivate new interests.

Next year, if you participate in Portfolio Night 9, do not restrict yourself to what you think “advertising” creative directors are expecting. Instead, include executions that are fertilized by your experiences and your passions.

And one last thing. Take business cards and copies of your resume.





  • http://www.facebook.com/ericgall Eric Gall

    Great post, Tom.
    I agree with everything you say about what to show in your portfolio. Having said that, the traditional model has not completely gone away. (Make no mistake: old school advertising’s leadership role is over — though it may take some practitioners a little time yet to realize it!) So, sure, show your guerilla, ambient, whatever you want to call it ideas. Those are what “advertising” is becoming. But there may still be an argument that says you should be able to do the full spectrum. Ads haven’t gone away. They’re just one of many deliverables you should expect to produce if you make it into an agency.
    Now, as to what that agency is going to look like when you get there, that’s a whole other column!


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