Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MY College Experience

I hear graduation bells. To be fair, I hear them in the middle of the night immediately before waking up in a cold sweat from a truly awful dream. In the dream, I am about to graduate from college with a diploma in Advertising, only to discover that everything I’ve learned is nonsense, and real life is laughing at me. I search and search for jobs, but at every turn I am foiled like some tawdry super villain in a second rate comic strip. You don’t have the necessary skills, the hero says as he denies me yet another job.

In reality, I am six weeks away from entering a frighteningly competitive job market, especially as an advertising specialist. Did college provide me with the skills necessary to succeed at an advertising agency? Quite frankly, the answer is no. Now that’s not to say I didn’t receive some useful training; I wrote marketing plans, and learned the very basics of Adobe Suite. Through luck and a little skill, I was able to compete in an extracurricular marketing competition, and won the right to develop my plan for an actual client.

You may have noticed that while the word marketing is mentioned numerous times when describing the competencies in which I’ve become proficient, the word advertising is not. While the two bear some commonalities, they are essentially different sides of the same coin. I now know that Marketers hire advertisers to do creative work aimed at a defined target. As an advertising student, logic would dictate that the vast majority of my studies should have been based around the creative aspects of the medium.

Of course it is important to understand the nature of a marketing plan. They are the means of communication between the two disciplines; without a proper plan, advertising is impossible. But to become a great advertiser, you need to be armed with more than understanding of demographics, psychographics and statistics. Advertising, I’ve since learned, is about feel. It’s about taking arcane numbers and translating them into art, be it written, visual or audible. It’s about the “big idea” and the creative development process.

To be hired in the creative department of an ad agency, you need to have a portfolio. And not a portfolio of marketing research reports or make-believe Pepsi Cola campaigns. Art directors want to see well written ad copy, scripts and professional print ads. They want proof that you can storyboard a campaign, or write a boring manual with both skill and grace. Of the six semesters in my program, one was committed to copywriting and two were devoted to art design. That means 3 semesters were based around topics that do not build my portfolio. Now I’m not sure how much time graphic design students spend learning design principles and practices, but I feel confident that it is more than 50%.

Perhaps the fault lies more in the nature of the beast. Maybe creativity and the structure of art design are too ethereal of topics to actually “teach”. Some believe that when it comes to creative, you either have it or you don’t, that simple. It’s possible that 4 semesters of storyboarding, writing taglines, designing logos, rebranding companies and creating flyers in Adobe Suite would be too boring for many students. In fact I’m sure I’d find the repetition dry and the advancement slow. But at least I’d have a nice, thick portfolio to take to job interviews once the bells have rung in 6 weeks.

ou leaO O v r 2 u can about them so that you can build a closer relationship, using the things you learn to create the commonalities behind successful partnerships.

Quite simply, knowledge is power. The more you know about those around you, the better you are able to control how they perceive you.

Market Yourself

I am not a particularly good looking man. My hairline has receded to the point that my friends say I’m balding, and a mysterious bulge has begun to emerge around my mid section. I’m no more intelligent than the next guy, and while I have a flare for the creative, Steve Jobs I’m not. By appearance alone, I am the average, invisible co-worker many of you work with every day.

Appearances can be deceiving. In fact, appearances are deceiving. I have chosen not to be invisible. I have chosen to control other people’s perception of me. And it has worked. I golf with my boss and get invited by the HR girls to karaoke night every week. When big projects come a-knocking, I’m the first person my manager looks at for project leader. I have carefully cultivated my co-workers perceptions of me, using a technique that is so natural, it truly surprises me that very few people do it consciously.

Have you ever thought “I wish I was more like Mark the copywriter”? You know Mark. 45 year old assistants giggle when he winks at them and knock-knock jokes have had a surprising resurgence under his careful tutelage.

The truth is Mark is no better than you. He has merely developed an understanding of how to market himself favorably in a variety of scenarios. In marketing, knowing the demographics and psychographics of your target is the key to success. Where do they eat? Shop? Do they go to church? What kind of movies do they like? The better you know the answers to these and a host of other questions, the more you can tailor your product, service or advertisement to them. Marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying this information, but you can get it for free at your workplace by simply listening to your co-workers.

Back to Mark. By listening, he discovered that Nancy, the boss’s assistant was divorced four years ago, when she was 41. She enjoys the attention she receives when Mark playfully winks at her, and giggles accordingly. Nobody likes knock-knock jokes. Nobody except the guys in the I.T. department, who Mark overheard previously laughing hysterically at a knock-knock joke of their own. To the outside observer Mark is one suave guy. But in reality, he is just a normal guy who pays close attention the likes and dislikes of his friends and coworkers, and uses this information to build connections with them.

It may be necessary to do plenty of secondary research as you begin to change people’s perception of you. You want to be known as sporty? Well research and play sports. You want people to look to you for answers? Well start reading more. Read the news, fiction, non-fiction books, magazines of all sorts, and read them voraciously. You get the point. To be seen in a specific way, you have to become that perception, even if it is outside of your comfort zone.

Seem disingenuous? It isn’t. Generally speaking, people reserve this type of behavior for their spouses and very close friends. You learn everything you can about them so that you can build a closer relationship, using the things you learn to create the commonalities behind successful partnerships.

Quite simply, knowledge is power. The more you know about those around you, the better you are able to control how they perceive you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The End is Near...

The end is nigh! I've lately been suffering from a bout of depression, and couldn't for the life of me understand why. I actually have a pretty awesome life. Then it hit me. School is almost over, and the real world beckons. All of my preaching about being well rounded and versatile are soon to be put to the test, and we will see if I'm wise or foolish indeed. But before I am churned out into the world, there is one compulsory test I must yet pass. Placement. Working for free to gain experience, or something. I can't really get past the whole working for free thing to be honest, its anti capitalist, but whatever, it needs to be done.

So, my placement will be with Frontenac Shores fractional ownership resorts, where I will be doing database management, copywriting, customer relations management and sales. If I prove myself, my new boss might even let me do some ad design and take a swing at media buying. If that seems like a lot, you may need to diversify your skill-set and pick up some new tricks, because excelling in every one of those disciplines should be simple. Realistically I'm not as adept at Adobe Suite as I'd like to be, but I would happily take on some challenging ad design and learn advanced techniques on the fly via YouTube tutorials, just to say I did.

What is my point exactly? Simply this; I’m only going on placement. If I’m going to be asked to do this many things on a little 6 week placement, just think of the grab bag I’m going to get to pick out of when real work comes-a-knocking.