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Your Own Time

Posted on September 25, 2012 and read 2,042 times

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pierno Your Own TimeAdam Pierno
Creative Director
Partners + Napier, Atlanta
Founder
Hunting the Spark

Every day I am sent remarkable websites, apps and fun internet junk done by agency people. Useful stuff. Funny stuff. Dumb, but interesting stuff. And they weren’t done for brands. They were created out of fun, or passion, or pursuit of learning new skills.

For many of us, creating these types of projects seems pretty far-fetched. The day to day is filled with projects not dreamed up by us. They are interesting, challenging and fun. But it’s not necessarily the things you wish you could be working on.

Even for those of us working on projects right in our wheelhouse, it still seems we spend a part of our time wishing we were doing another type of thing. Those people doing big TV campaigns secretly wish they were building a tablet app. People doing tons of print might want to do something besides. And we wait for that brief to come our way. We ask people in the agency for it, we try to Jedi mind trick our clients into doing it, despite it being nowhere near their plan.

In the meantime, I say: do it on your own. Don’t wait for a brief. Don’t save the idea for the right assignment that might never come. Find a partner, or partners, and go make your dream project. Or do it on your own. Don’t know how? Use the project as a training path to get you through the initial bumps of learning that new skill, or getting that piece in your book. Ask people you trust, or whose work you envy, how it can be better. You’ll be amazed how generous most people are with constructive feedback.

Do it after work and on weekends. I’ve been lucky to work in mostly entrepreneurial environments, so I’ve been able to bounce the initial idea off people I thought would be interested in it and watch it go.

Because the reality is, most agencies don’t have a plan for training you. And they don’t have a lot of patience for non-billable projects that are not sure to bring anything back to the agency. And for a lot of agencies, talk of promoting personal projects, or side projects, or passion projects (or whatever you call them) is just lip service.

It seems like a no-brainer to me. Ad agencies want more digital assignments. They want more recognition for digital creativity. They want to explore the boundaries of the interwebs. They want to brag at award shows and conferences. So do most of the staff.

And yet the odds are low of a Copywriter going to a CD and getting this added to the status sheet, and a PM assigned to it, are incredibly unlikely. Almost no shot.

I’ve been a champion for these projects since I took on the role of CD, because when I was coming up back in the Ice Age I was encouraged to work on spec ads or campaigns for small clients that would be treated like real agency work. Under the right conditions, the agency would make an investment in these projects. Young creative people would gain experience and hopefully, the work would yield some awards. Of course, that was back in the days of print. Rarely broadcast. So the investment in a creative team, coming up with some ideas, layouts, a shoot done as a favor, and a mech was relatively low.

The assumption inside agencies is that a digital idea is going to need a small army. Tons of people. Reality is people will work with what they have, and adapt to the tools at their disposal. With fewer than five people on each, I’ve created a parody e-commerce site, an online community for pet lovers, an iPhone app (only 2 of us manning that one) and an immersive two-screen experience.

Because startup shops are used to working lean, they get this. Keep it simple, ask for help. But agencies are built on calling in expert resources to tackle specifics of a project. And the trend of agencies is to prove their worth by talking up the strategic contributions of the team, so even a simple idea can end up surrounded by people vetting the strategic validity of an idea, and experts trying to improve and execute it while the creators of the idea manage the comments. So it’s hard for most agencies to plan for, or even expect simplicity.

Until this changes, don’t wait. On your own time, just get in there and start making things.

Or you can always stand by until the brief for your exact vision hits your desk.





  • http://twitter.com/closehop Ryan Taylor

    Great article, Adam. 
    “Because the reality is, most agencies don’t have a plan for training you.” So true. I’ve found a practical way to foster such initiative is to choose a nonprofit recipient of a cool, innovative idea. Pro bono work is great for an agency. That way the extra work is rewarded with a bit of good feeling for the soul, as well. 

  • http://twitter.com/apierno adam pierno

    Absolutely. A great way to motivate yourself to learn and challenge yourself around a cause. 


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