Creatives fail key test

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For people who sell things for a living, most creatives verge on pathetic when it comes to selling themselves.

Unemployed writers and art directors approach me every week looking for jobs. Their experience levels range from new kids with just a few months in an agency to those having decades in the business. Here are a few tips that might help in the search.

* I get it already. I've seen lots of books. I see the work that goes through our shop every day. I stay on top of the industry. I don't need to see 20 or (worse) 30 ads to judge whether I think you have a clue or not. That impression will have begun to form with the first piece.

By the time we discuss three or four pieces, you'll have a rough position in my mind vs. other books and in relation to our current staff. After that, you're more likely to undo positive impressions than to shift negative ones.

Show me five or six good pieces in one category (print, TV, radio) and then move on.

* Beware of one-hit wonders. Seeing a few arresting, interesting ads is great. What's impressive is seeing two or three campaigns with more than one ad. It shows you understand how the work fits into a greater context, and demonstrates you can produce beyond the first idea. You can show me three campaigns of a few ads if they're good. (More than that? See above.)

* Who's the customer here? Five minutes on our Web site will tell you that at our agency, Nelson Schmidt, we're strategic marketers with a focus on branding; an integrated shop, not an ad shop. While you might be selling ads, ads, ads, we're buying ideas, ideas, ideas.

Round out your book with a 3-D mailing, some Web work, a stunning piece of collateral. Two or three per category will do. An integrated campaign is ideal.

* Easy equals unimpressive. Be assured I have already seen spec campaigns for 1) the local bondage store; 2) the barbecue restaurant with insanely spicy food; 3) Porsche.

If you need a little spec for your book, choose something potentially mundane-the kind of product most of us work on more often than we want to admit. Then bring it to life in a memorable campaign.

* Old is actually ancient. People say there is age discrimination in this industry, which may be true. Or is the real problem that the work we do ages so quickly?

In Rome, old is thousands of years. In advertising, it's 36 months. Unless it is absolutely killer or a sentimental favorite with a great story attached to it, don't show stuff more than a few years old. It will be littered with visual clues and verbal references that scream dated! The subtle message here is that you're showing pieces from 1993 because you haven't had any better ideas since.

* How many people will this room sleep? It may feel relaxed, but make no mistake; you are making a presentation. The interviewer judges what you say and how you say it. It doesn't mean you need canned shtick; it means you need to be able to explain what you did, why and what happened-quickly and clearly.

It helps to not be redundant. Forced is not good, but bright and interested work pretty well. If your explanations are so boring you're about to go to sleep, so am I.

* Perhaps I am an idiot. There's really no danger in keeping the presentation of your work quick, pointed and interesting. It's useless trying to convince me your work is great if I haven't quickly come to that conclusion on my own. I'll either like the work or I won't.

If I don't, blame it on me. Maybe you're so brilliant I just don't get it.

* Hello? Is anybody home? Listed here, then, are some things that have not endeared prospective hires to me:

-A request to meet at 10:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. because "I kind of have trouble getting up in the morning."

-Work in an art director's portfolio that was actually done by a friend of mine.

-Multiple typos in letters and resumes from writers. (It happens all the time.)

-A production artist telling me we would "have to pay a little more" because he didn't have a complete mastery of all the software programs and that learning them would be stressful.

Getting laid off stinks.

Finding a job right now can be tough. Remember, though, that you're selling yourself and your work.

If you do that well, there will be plenty of time for detailed discussions and follow-up. You're crazy not to do everything you can to put the odds in your favor.

Mark Gale is chief operating officer-creative director, Nelson Schmidt, Milwaukee.

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