The catch, of course, is that in order to have a good book or reel, you need to have worked at a decent agency. If you've spent your career writing the direct marketing materials for the local power company, it's tough to put together a dazzling creative presentation; but, in order to work on better projects, you need a job at a bigger or more creative shop. It's Catch-22 all over again. Deutsch CD Eric Hirshberg offers a way out of the cycle: "No matter what level you're at, if you're not happy with the work you've done, do spec work," he advises. "I think a lot of people are afraid of spec work after a certain point because they think it's frowned upon, but I still think it's preferable to the old `I've been at a bad agency' excuse."
Of course, you have a fabulous portfolio. So what else can you do to distinguish yourself from the hoi polloi? Try flattery. And not just any old "nice tie" smarm. Even jaded ad professionals are excited to hear someone express a positive interest in their agency or work. Tiffany Warin, director of creative resources at Deutsch, counsels, "Know about Deutsch once you get there, like the last big thing we won or lost. Have something to talk about. Ask smart questions -things fall apart when you have nothing to ask."
Deutsch's Hirshberg takes this a step further - he likes to be criticized. "I hope this isn't bad advice, but I like it when people have something intelligent and critical to say about our work. It's unusual to like an entire agency's output, and while I wouldn't crap all over the agency's reel, if you can say `you know what I would have done differently,' I'll listen because that means someone's taken the time to think about our work." An applicant's enthusiasm for the agency is an especially important factor in the world of creative advertising, when many candidates seem to be interested only in building their own reel. Lynda Bass Clark worries that too many jobseekers are interested in working on a particular account, rather than for an agency. "At a big agency, you need to have patience. We have some clients that people would die to work for, like Sony, but they'll also have to work on something difficult like Whitehall or Colgate. You've got to be a team player."
Asked about worst interview experiences, Deutsch's Warin volunteers the one that involved a candidate who was extraordinarily unrevealing. When Warin asked about the woman's work history, she responded, "I can't tell you." She had no portfolio with her and was unable to find any of the web design work that she had produced online. "I finally said, `I just have this feeling that you're not really who you say you are,"' remembers Warin. "And then she got up and ran out." Austin Kelley CD Jim Spruell, a part-time rock musiscian, once showed up for an interview "looking like the lead singer in Poison" in head-to-toe leather and freshly dyed hair - and he was offered the position. The moral of these stories? You can show up looking like a hair band refugee but you probably shouldn't act like an escaped convict.
Of course, if the success of "Wassup" is any guide, you could also ignore all of this advice, get together with your childhood friends and produce a little video about your peculiar way of greeting each other. That seems to work, too.