Advice for potential interns

It’s that time of year again.  The e-mails are beginning to flood the office from students looking for spring internships. We will take 4-6 interns. Over 100 will apply. What can you do to insure that you get one of the spots? I’ll provide a few tips. I’ve given many of these before, so hopefully this isn’t news to you.

Hire a proofreader

I can’t tell you how many people have typos in their resume or in their work. A famous typo that I pointed out to a student was for a ‘pro-bono’ campaign to support low-income young women who need interview clothes.  Now remember, the woman who created this campaign had looked at the headline for one of her ads 1000s of times. And this ad is targeted at other women.  Yet she failed to notice that the work ‘count’ was missing a letter. And trust me, she didn’t do it on purpose. When I asked her about it, I thought she would crawl under my sofa and hide.

Another time I was meeting with a candidate who had spelled the name of two agencies incorrectly.  He worked a McAnn Worldwide and Sattchi & Sattchi. Since he was a copywriter, it made me wonder if he really ever worked at either. Good thing he never worked at Gray. (Which in case you don’t know is spelled Grey.)

Know something about your audience

Who are you meeting? What do they do? What do they like? What type of work do they do? You can find lots of information about the people you’re scheduled to meet. ALWAYS ask, “Who will I be meeting with today?” Never accept – “You’ll be meeting with members of our creative department.” That’s too wide open. Try to get their names and titles.  I think it’s quite fair for you to ask why you’re meeting them. Do they have a similar job title? Do they come from the same school? Or do they just have down time?  Virtually everyone in the world has some form of online presence. It’s very easy to find out something about everyone.  One other thing,  don’t use a ‘familiar’ short version of someone’s name. There are plenty of Roberts who don’t like Bob. Christopher is not automatically Chris. Elizabeth is not always Liz or Betty or Betsy. Someone once called my Rick Levy.  I’m not a Rick. I’ve never been called Rick. Its best not to get your audience angry before you begin.

Write an interesting e-mail

If you want a creative position, perhaps a good way to start is with an interesting introduction. Write an e-mail like you’re trying to get a response. Don’t take the easy way out. Spend time crafting it. Show it to people. Proofread it. Revise it. Send it to one person and see how they react before you send it out to hundreds. Test and optimize. Make it personal. Don’t use the exact same e-mail for different people in the same organization. Yes, we forward e-mails to each other. If its cookie-cutter, you lose points.  Be creative. Don’t suck.

Ask your college professors to make an introduction for you

There’s a very good chance the people teaching you know a lot of people in the industry. If they like you, they will happily introduce you to a lot of their friends. It’s helpful for you. It’s good for them.  I hired someone recently simply because their college professor (who I knew) told me I’d be an idiot not to. I trusted his judgment. And he was right. This guy was amazing. I hired him. He’s been great.  Use your network. Use their network.  It’s far better than a cold call.

Have great work in your portfolio

I know this seems obvious.  But if want a job, make sure your work is really tight. Make sure the art direction is fresh and unique. Make sure you know the difference between and idea and an execution. If you’re still working on your portfolio – don’t waste anyone’s time going on an interview. You’re not ready. Again, your college professors need to give you some tough love.  Don’t let them be nice. Ask them to be brutal. Ask them if they’d hire you. Hopefully, they say yes.

Good luck. I start meeting people next week. My fingers are crossed.









Why Not?

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I once wrote a series of TV commercials (with my art director partner Rich Dahl) for the Bank of America that was called the “Why Not?” campaign. It was all about dreaming what is possible. It was all about being visionary.  And it was perfect for the bank.  They didn’t produce the campaign the way I had originally wanted.  We did a hybrid campaign, mashing two ideas together to create something new. And I was never happy with the final result.

But last night I had a dream about the campaign. I hadn’t thought about it for over 10 years, since the campaign was produced in 2000. When I woke up, I remembered that the original “Why Not?” campaign also came to me in a dream. I wrote down these words (and many others) at 2 AM in a notebook next to my bed:

There will always be skeptics.


People who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

You know them.

They say it will never work. Never happen. Never fly.

But the next time they tell you all the logical reasons why it can’t be done.

Just remember all the times that they have been wrong.

But last night, I wasn’t dreaming about the bank or an old campaign. I was dreaming about my job. My dream was telling me to press on. To keep moving forward. That even when things seem impossible, we have to keep looking forward. Keep inventing. Keep trying. Never give up.

Yes, there will always be skeptics. Healthcare advertising can’t be creative. It has to be one way. It can’t have a human voice or insight. But they’re wrong.

There will always be those who do not value what we do. They don’t understand the blood, sweat and tears we bring to the office everyday. And we do it with one purpose in mind – to make their brands succeed.

Every day, someone will tell us what we do will never work, never happen, never fly. We must continue to reach for the stars and not settle for the expected. We must go back and find another way. We must have think skin and short memories.

And of course, someone will show us research – and tell us all the logical reason why it can’t be done. It’s our job to remind them all the times research has been wrong. That sometimes when you’re trying to change an industry, you have to do things in the face of logic.

What we’re doing is hard. We’re trying to envision a world of endless creativity in an incredibly regulated industry. But I think you know what I say to that.

Why not?



In case you’re curious – here’s a link to the Bank of America spot from 2000.

Don’t give up.

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Today someone is going to tell you that the amazing idea you just came up with is not a good idea.  Don’t give up.

Today someone is going to tell you that in a focus group somewhere in the world, someone didn’t respond to the work you’ve spent the last year creating. Don’t give up.

Today someone is going to invite us to a new business pitch that will have a timeline that’s too short to do good creative work. Don’t give up.

Today someone will walk over to your personal workspace with bad news. Don’t give up.

Today someone will call in sick – and that rush project you spent all night working on will suddenly have 4 extra days. Don’t give up.

Today the product you’ve been working on will fail its primary study endpoints and die. Don’t give up.

Today an FDA advisory panel will vote 0-12 against your product causing a two-year delay. Don’t give up.

Today the client you’ve spent the past 3 years building a relationship will be transferred to a different brand – and the new guy doesn’t like you. Don’t give up.

Today you will be booked in back to back meetings and still be expected to create amazing new work. Don’t give up.

Today someone will quit. Don’t give up.

Today someone will be searching the Internet and find that someone else has created a campaign that is exactly like the one you’re proposing to a client tomorrow. Don’t give up.

Today you’ll get contradictory direction. Don’t give up.

Today someone will tell you that the client wants to stop working and go back to an ad that you created 4 months ago. Don’t give up.

Today you probably won’t have time to get lunch. Don’t give up.

Advertising is tough. Everyday there are new challenges to overcome. Everyday there are new things to learn. New problems to solve. New people to meet.  

And yet, that’s also what makes it so much fun. Because, just when the crap is hitting the fan, people come together to do amazing things. Miracles.  They don’t give up.

Today I’ll see a video that was created for a client that makes me jealous.

Today someone will create an idea that takes my breath away.

Today we’ll win a piece of business that will make it all worthwhile.

Today someone will get promoted.

Today we’ll solve a problem that yesterday seemed impossible.

Today is another day when we can make a difference.

We’re trying to do the hardest thing in the world. Improve the overall creativity for an entire industry.  It’s not easy. I never said it would be. But it’s worth the fight.

And every day I have to remind myself of one thing.

Don’t give up.



(PS – Today is world diabetes day)

It’s time to get out of the weeds.

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I attended a brainstorming session this week. One of our teams was stuck. The creative team and the client couldn’t agree on a way to move forward. The client thought we were close. But clearly something had to change.

Within the first hour I knew the problem.

The team, both client and agency, were stuck in the weeds. The small stuff.  The functional stuff. They recognized that their product could do some amazing things, and they wanted to talk about all of them.

But they were missing the point.

The combination of all of those things leads to a much bigger idea. If we stopped thinking about how it worked, we could get to a much more interesting idea.  We had to raise our game. Instead of focusing on the small pieces – we needed to look at the whole. Because the whole story was pretty amazing. In fact, it’s so amazing, it’s almost unbelievable.

And that was the point.

In a category that has had no good news in decades – we had the ability to change everything. For people who had no hope – we had the opportunity to be a beacon in the night. And for the people in the room – we had the responsibility to make sure we didn’t settle for anything less than brilliant.

That also meant starting over. Examining everything. Questioning everything. And putting marker to paper.

But something else happened in the room that day.  Everyone felt liberated. By throwing away the baggage from the past, it allowed everyone to dream a bigger dream for the product. But not being concerned about each individual data point that may or may not be better than a competitor, we allowed ourselves to imagine a new path forward.

It was magic.

The logjam that had paralyzed the team for several weeks was suddenly open to new possibilities. The different factions of the company all suddenly agreed on what was possible for the brand. We talked. We created. We voted. We disagreed. We argued. But in the end we came together.

We now have a single purpose. We now have a vision for what was possible. We now have a way to go.

It’s this clarity that will help us all get to an amazing new idea. And is a great reminder that sometimes the best way to find the path forward, is to take a step back.



I made a client very unhappy yesterday

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When you work in a service industry, we’ve all been told to ‘keep the client happy.’ Happy clients say nice things about you. Happy clients want to give you more business. Happy clients don’t call your boss and tell him/her that you’re being a horse’s ass.

And yet, yesterday I made a client very, very unhappy.

Because I told him that I thought he was wrong. I told him that in my experience what he wanted to do would backfire. I told him that one of his ideas was in poor taste. I told him that what he wanted to do was off strategy, would potentially do harm to his business, and would potentially harm the reputation of his brand.

And he didn’t want to hear it.

I knew within 15 minutes of the beginning of the phone call that I was not on solid ground. The client had already made his decision. Testing would prove whether he was right or wrong – and he really didn’t want to hear my opinion. And yet, I feel my job is to scream when I see something dramatically wrong.

He didn’t agree.

So where does that leave us? We’re doing what he wants. Plus we’re doing what we think is the right thing to do. If he is completely reliant on testing to make his choices, we have to trust that testing will prove us right or wrong. But that’s putting a lot of faith in 8 people behind the two-way mirror. How do I know that? The most famous campaign I ever created – the Verizon Wireless ‘Test Man’ campaign – came in second place in nationwide focus group testing. That’s when I learned one of the most valuable lessons in my entire career. The Chief Marketing Officer of Verizon Wireless said something to me that I thought was amazing. “Research on a campaign is but one data point. Our judgment is a data point. What we think will propel the brand forward is a data point. What will motivate our sales force and store employees is a data point. Our own history of what drives business is a data point. Research is a data point. An important one. But not the only one.”

I have never forgotten those words.

The other thing I will never forget is that research results are interpreted by humans. And humans make judgments on what they see and hear. Results are not always 100% factual. You can spin the results to get what you want. I’m not saying that happens often. But I’ve seen it happen. And in this case, it scares me to death.

What’s next? Research begins next week. There are 5 pieces being tested. And while I never want to make a client unhappy – I really think the research will prove that what our client wants to do is the wrong thing to do.

I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong many times in the past. But just as I knew that the Verizon ‘Test Man’ would be a huge success – I know that this project will be a huge failure.

My goal is to always make my clients happy.  But I also have to be truthful.  No matter what.






Trust Us, We Graduated 163 Days Ago

As many of you know, I teach a portfolio class at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Two of my 2013 students, Priscilla Cutri and Olivia Maramara were hired as Junior Copywriters on my team.  This week I asked them to write a guest blog post. “Tell everyone what the real world is like,” I said. “Give them tips on what they should know, things they don’t tell you in school.”  

Below are 5 thoughts. I think they have an incredible insight on what it means to be successful at a large advertising agency. If they follow their own advice, they can go very far. Enjoy. 

You may think you’re ready for the proverbial “real world” once you graduate. Let us save you some time: you’re not. There’s so much more to this industry than designing three posters and an app.

You’re not a team player until you understand there’s no such thing as “my idea”; your great work ethic will be put to the test when your boss asks you to stay late; and your communication skills are challenged when your partner doesn’t like your brilliant concept. This is the real world, kids, and you have to prepare yourselves. Here’s what you should know:


Come in early. Stay late. Work weekends. Drink a gallon of coffee. Eat a bag of stale honey wheat pretzel sticks for lunch at 4:13PM. In school we were told all the time that this was the industry standard. We saw Mad Men. It was the “pitfall” of advertising, yet we all so badly wanted to be Don Draper. Here’s the thing: when you love what you do, you lose track of time, and 9pm doesn’t seem so bad.

Ask, “Can I help with anything?” Ask a hundred times. Bother people. Be proactive about learning and work on everything you can get your hands on.

Be that copywriter who can draw or the art director that can write. Don’t let your job description define your abilities. Show off. The more valuable you can make yourself, the more people will want you on their team.


Lose your inhibitions. This leads to creativity, which is why we’re all at this party in the first place.

Say your worst ideas out loud. Every bad idea has the potential to drive the thought process to an insanely brilliant idea. Don’t be afraid to get weird. And don’t think for a second that everyone else isn’t weird, too.


Don’t be shy. Working in a large agency, you tend to regularly see a face you don’t recognize. Change that. Say hi to everyone in the hallway/break room/elevator/restroom. Chances are they won’t bite. Even better chances are that you’ll make really important connections.

Hit up happy hour. Connections are easier to make in a more casual environment. And it’s okay to have a beer with coworkers. Just don’t get up on the bar to do the robot.


Find your team synergy. Eat/work late/laugh/stress together + make weird nicknames for each other + have each other’s backs = create amazing work together.

Get excited about your stuff. Present your team’s ideas as if they’re going to change the world. 50% of the creative process is convincing other people that your idea will work. 100% of convincing people is believing in it.


Make choices based on your own opinions. Don’t listen to anyone when they tell you healthcare is boring or something is not for you. Experience it for yourself, and then decide.

Believe that you’re an adult. You may not feel like one, but you’re getting paid and trusted to be. The only way people will take you seriously is if you take you seriously. And that doesn’t mean you can’t break the rules once in a while, because let’s face it—everyone loves a badass.

Questions? Comment.


[Priscilla Cutri + Olivia Maramara]