Big Ideas, Bad Presentations and Everything In Between

Last night was the first graded presentation in my portfolio class at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The students were a little nervous, the room was ridiculously hot, and a case of the stomach flu was running through the room. (No pun intended.)

But through it all some amazing ideas were presented. I was incredibly proud of the students. They did a great job.

Here are some standouts.

The best idea of the night belongs to a student who didn’t even want to present her idea to me last week. She didn’t think it was good enough. Or she thought it was too simple. Or she was concerned because the idea came to her in five minutes. But once I saw the idea I knew that – as Charlie Sheen would say – it was a ‘winner.’ The best part of the idea – was that she got all the key points of the strategy across in a very, very simple visual. Congratulations.

The next grouping of ideas were all really well done – but has small flaws. Things that can be fixed. Little components that, given more time, would make them really great ideas. I was especially proud of three students.

The first took a simple idea and wrote some really good copy. She is very unsure of her copywriting ability, so it was great to see her experimenting with words and come up with a great solution.

The second took an idea that was good and made it great. The execution was so much better that I expected. If it wasn’t for some small type issues, this could have been the #1 idea of the night.

My third favorite moment was a woman who hates to present. You remember her – the woman who used the word ‘like’ 22 times in one sentence. She has been working really, really, really hard to improve her presentations. And last night was the best presentation yet. Not only was her idea crisp and interesting, but also her presentation was excellent. And not one inappropriate usage of the word ‘like.’

Of course, there were also a few near hits, a few near misses and a few great ideas that were presented poorly. But for the most part, last night was a huge success. Since the work we created is spec work for really companies, I can’t post the winning concepts. I would probably get sued. But you’ll have to trust me, they’re really fun.

And for the guy who had to leave the room because of the flu – don’t worry – I’ll give you a chance to present next week. And thanks for trying.


“Your site looks like crap” and other comments people have posted about my blog.

I’ve received a bunch of comments about the design of my blog. Many people feel that it’s too hard to navigate, too sparse, too simple and not nearly attractive enough. I’m not sure I agree. I think it’s very easy. I like the use of white space. And at the end of the day, it’s easy to read.  But here’s what you’ve said:

“Does anyone use that ugly teal color anymore?”
“Where’s the navigation? I’m looking for older posts and they’re all the way at the bottom. I hate that!!!!” (I love the four exclamation points.)
“Uggggg – I love the writing, hate the blog.”
“I’m a freelance designer who will happily redesign your blog for you.”

OK – I give – I’ll try some other designs.

You can be my mini focus group. Think of today as a quantitative testing methodology. Your choices will be counted and tabulated. The results will be immediate – as I will keep my blog in its current format – or in the newly redesigned format beginning tomorrow.

Vote. If there’s a format you particularly like and I didn’t include – please let me know. Click on any image to see it larger.

The Current Format:

Choice #1:

Choice #2

Choice #3:

Choice #4:

Choice #5:

Choice #6:

That’s it. Seven choices in all. I’ve picked them all for their simplicity. Some have easier navigation. Some have areas for images. Some are just nice and easy.
I can live with all of them. What do you think? Fill out the poll below. Thanks.

Random things people forget in my office

I have five or six meetings in my office every day. The average number of people in those meetings is about four. And every day, someone leaves something in my office. And the interesting part – most never come back to look for the item they’ve left behind.

Here is a short list of some of the items left behind in the past few weeks.

You would think that someone would notice that they’ve left their glasses behind. I mean eventually you’ll have to read something. But that would be logical. The glasses have been in my office for about two weeks. I finally put them on a file cabinet outside my office – and someone did claim them. I can’t believe it took that long.

I carry this really nice metal clipboard. It holds a small pad and is very handy when going to internal meetings. The problem – the clipboard is not mine. Someone left it in my office. I’ve asked everyone. Nobody has claimed it. I carry it to meetings and nobody ever asks ‘is that mine?’ I know it’s a low cost item, but I would certainly want my clipboard back. But in three weeks, nobody has claimed this item. So now it’s officially mine.

Coffee Cups
This is the #1 item left behind. Empty. Full. Lipstick stained. Fresh. Every day I throw away at least 3 coffee cups. And many are full and brand new. I don’t care. If it’s in my office, and you leave, I throw it away. So you know all that money you’re spending at Starbucks? It’s ending up in my trashcan.

A Leather Glove
A woman left a single leather glove in my office. Black. Size small. I could have a Cinderella fitting – come by my office and you can try on the glove. Or if you have the mate, I’ll give you the match. But it’s been a few weeks, and I think it may be time to chuck it in the trash. I don’t think anyone is coming by to claim it. But if it’s yours, please raise your cold hand.

Another common item left behind is a notebook. Usually I can figure out whom it belongs to by looking inside. Luckily, I haven’t looked inside a notebook and read any mass murder manifesto or some plot to overthrow the government or even an I HATE RICH rant. So far it’s been pretty tame. Although someone is practicing his or her ‘star’ signature a little bit too much.

Hot Sauce
I think someone ate something in my office recently and left an entire bottle of hot sauce. I thought that was kind of strange, since I don’t remember anyone eating in my office. And if they did, do they carry their own bottle around with them? Who does that? And if you’re reading this – I threw the bottle away, sorry.

The other things that end up in my office, pencils, paperclips, lots and lots of paper, push pins, ring binders and even an extra chair are all a part of doing business in a big company. But if you’re looking for your MacBook Pro – I’ve locked it in my desk.

See you after my next meeting.


Great TV Campaign – Great Idea – Great Reactions

I love this campaign.

It was created by the San Francisco office of Draftfcb. It was based on a very simple idea. If you mom hates something, it has to be cool. Especially when it comes to a video game.

I met the creative team behind the idea. Great people. And really focused on making a great idea that would connect with their audience. They didn’t begin brainstorming by trying to create ‘an award winning campaign.’ But it happened anyway. This has won multiple awards and recognition from everywhere.

I just admire the idea. The perfectly simple idea.

I hope you like it, too


A TV Commercial With Great Surprise

I watch a lot of TV commercials. Here’s one that when I saw it, I laughed. I also love the premise.
And it’s the type of campaign I love, as you can imagine the rest of the executions within the campaign.

Plus it has a copy line at the end which is just perfect.

I wish I was in the room when the creative brief was written. You know it had a simple message. You know that everyone in the room laughed and said “I wonder if we’ll ever REALLY get away with this.” I can also imagine the creative team presenting the idea to their clients. “We see these friends driving backwards all day!” I can picture the clients squirming in their seats a little. “Will people really watch the commercial – I mean it’s about guys driving in reverse.” And the creative team will answer “Yes, we’ll give them just enough to make sure our message gets across.”

And they did. And it went viral. In a good way.


I’d love to know what you think. Please post comments on the WordPress site instead of FACEBOOK. (I’m trying to get on the front page of the wordpress site.) Thanks.

The Best Campaign In A Long Time

I judged an award show today and saw a campaign that I loved. In fact, I gave it a perfect score. And I don’t give anything a perfect score. You should check out the link, because once you see it, I think you’ll agree it’s an amazing campaign. It’s for the Troy public library. It’s great.

And here’s the kicker. The budget for the campaign was $3,500.

Now I didn’t forget any numbers here. That’s right three thousand five hundred dollars. Many campaigns have bigger budgets for client entertainment.

It just goes to show that a great idea done brilliantly is better than an OK idea with a ton of money behind it.

I also judged entries that have $100 million dollar ad budgets – Troy library was better. I saw amazing special effects TV spots – Troy library was better. I saw emotional tug-at-your-heart campaigns – and Troy library was better.

Please take a look and let me know what you think.

That’s it for today. A simple brilliant campaign. I wish I created it. Kudos to the team who did.


Funny Stuff People Put On Their Resumes

I interview a lot of people. I also find that they’re surprised that I’ve read their resumes and want to talk about some small fact that is in small type way down at the bottom. And I’m always surprised that they’re surprised. Those little things, interests, hobbies, first jobs and special skills are the things that make people interesting. There are a lot of people who have had a lot of jobs working on a lot of clients. But how many people claim that they create ‘shiny, empowering, intuitive user experiences.’ I instantly wanted to hire this woman.

Here are a couple of thing that are on some resumes that are sitting on my desk.

Interest: Hiking, Danish Industrial Design, Humor, Organization and Facial Hair. (I think he was surprised when I asked about his favorite style of facial hair.)

Other: Grammar, Sudoku, Pop Culture Trivia, Ukrainian and Spanish. (A lot of pop culture trivia in the Ukraine?)

In My Free Time: Ultimate Frisbee, long-distance running, reading and baking cookies. (It was the cookies that got my attention.)

About me: Even though I’m from the South, I don’t have a Southern accent, and I’m certainly not a Republican. (Welcome to a Blue State.)

Other: I’m a copywriter who promises never to use ellipses in any of my headlines. (OMG, this fed right into one of my copywriting pet peeves….)

Summary: I work well in groups and play well with teammates. Yo, ho, ho, it’s the copy life for me! (She had me right up until the time she used the exclamation point.)

About me: If I were a betting man, I would bet that I named something in your medicine cabinet. If you are a woman, I probably named your phone. (Ironically, he didn’t name anything in either my medicine cabinet or my phone – does that make me subhuman?)

About me: I’m a digital technology geek who actually likes being out in the sunlight. But only some of the time. (I tested him by interviewing him at 8 AM.)

Skills: Marathons, Dancing, proofreading and exchanging pleasantries. (Oh very nice, you’re looking fabulous today.)

Bonus Info: I’ve managed to become a licensed stockbroker, a licensed real estate agent, an award winning bartender and a published writer. (This is advertising, the bartender part is an important bonus skill.)

Activities: Avid ultimate Frisbee player (college captain), cooking international foods, urban sustainability, playing sports, traveling and hip hop. (I think we should start an agency ultimate Frisbee team.)

But this one is my favorite:

Skills: Proficient in a lot of stuff that you probably won’t understand. (I loved the honesty of this digital technologist.)

So there you have it. If you’re planning to interview with me, expect that I will have looked at your resume. And don’t put anything on the piece of paper that you don’t want to talk about. Cheers.


A Few Things That Made Me Smile

Today’s posting is going to be about a few odds and ends that I’ve been meaning to write about but never got around to putting them down on paper. Dumb things that made me laugh while commuting to work or things that happened that just made me smile. You know, stuff.

Do you remember the arcade game Frogger? If you don’t, the basic premise of the game is a frog is trying to cross the street without getting run over by a car or truck. That’s it. That’s the entire game. And yet I would play over and over again until I got the high score on the machine. Every morning I play a human version of Frogger while getting of the Shuttle train from Grand Central. As soon as I get off the subway the foot traffic pattern means that one group of people have to cross a second group at a 90-degree angle. So imagine the game of Frogger, I’m the frog and the foot traffic is the car. You move one step forward, one step to the side, someone passes, you step forward again. And you try not to get hit. The problem, just like the game, you always gets hit. Someone always curses. Someone always yells. And eventually, it’s game over. Who would’ve thought way back in 1981 that all those quarters spent on Frogger would be helping my morning commute 31 years later. Certainly not me.

Instant Classic Ski Race
My son had a ski race this weekend. He came in third. He was really happy about winning a third place trophy and was very proud of his achievement. But what really made me happy was that he was incredibly happy about HOW he skied. He told me immediately after his first run that it was the ‘best run of his entire career.’ I love the fact that he thinks about his ski racing as a ‘career.’ Later that night when we were looking at photos I took at the mountain, he called them ‘instant classics’ and wanted them printed for his bedroom wall. He told me that the race ‘will be the highlight of his entire year.’ He was very happy with the result, very happy at his friends’ reaction to his race, and of course, very happy for the 8” piece of plastic that the Interclub race program calls a trophy. He thinks I should build him a trophy case for his awards. I don’t think so. But they are on his bedroom dresser.

I Don’t Drink
You’d be surprised how many people commented on my post about how I don’t drink. But my favorite was someone who sent the following cartoon. I thought it was hysterical.

I think I’ve written enough about stupid things NOT to say in an interview. But I feel the need to express this one again. Please don’t come in for an interview and tell me that you’re not interested in a certain part of the job. Don’t waste my time. Either you’re all in or you’re all out. I’ve had three people in the past two weeks tell me that they are REALLY interested in 40% of the job description, but not interested at all in 60%. One interview was 4 minutes long. Another waited until the end. And another didn’t tell me at all, but followed up with an e-mail afterwards. I’m not hiring any of them. Please, please, please, please, don’t waste my time. If you want to meet and talk, send me an e-mail and we’ll get together some place for a cup of coffee. (Notice I didn’t say ‘for a drink.’) But don’t waste interview time only to disqualify yourself at the end. Thank you.

So there you have it. What’s on my mind today? Commuting, Drinking, Interviewing and instant classic races.


Answers to questions people have asked about my past posts

How’s the exercise going?
It’s been slow and painful. I’m hoping that I can really tackle a set routine this week. I’ve created a daily workout on my computer and I’m beginning to put it into practice. And yes, I’m tired.

Reading my posts?
Someone just said something very funny to me, so I thought I’d share. I just mentioned to a woman in my office that I hadn’t talked to her for a while. She replied, “But I read your blog.” Hmmmmm, somehow people don’t need to talk to me because they’re reading what I’m writing? I hope not. So, if you’re reading this, come by and say hello every now and then.

More funny stuff my son says?
Many people have advised me to create a separate blog specifically for the funny stuff my son says. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to a second blog so soon. For now, he stays on the main site. BTW – look for tomorrow’s post. He said some incredible things this weekend.

Did I purchase that guitar?
While tempted, I didn’t purchase a 1961 Epiphone Casino reissue. I liked the guitar but didn’t love it. So I couldn’t justify the purchase.

When will you write again about your class?
I only teach once a week, so if you’re looking for posts about my class, you’ll see those every Friday.

Do people really say those stupid things to you?
Yes, I don’t make up the dialogue. I have witnesses. In fact, the ‘women on the chairlift’ conversations are as close to word for word as humanly possible to remember.

Do you ever proofread what you write?
Yes, I’m famous around the agency for making funny typos. I’m sorry. I really try not to put typos in my posts. But I’m a terrible proofreader. Of course, that’s just an excuse; I’m actually a terrible speller.

Is this what you sound like?
Yes, if you were in my office, these posts would sound just like having a real conversation with me. And yes – at times I say really dumb things.


Excuse me, Professor Levy

Last night, I taught my first advertising class at the Fashion Institute of Technology, teaching a Senior Portfolio Design class. I hope the students enjoyed it, because I had a blast. What I found was a group of students who were eager to get better, eager to learn, and eager to get a job in the industry.

I was thrilled.

Teaching a class is a little like opening a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump said, “you never know what you’re going to get.” I’ve taught before at the School of Visual Arts, and it was a completely different experience. There were some very talented students and some people who were never going to be good in the field.

But last night was different.

Last night, I met 14 people who all could be very good in this industry. All have the potential to be special. I was struck immediately with these things:

There are some incredible designers. The work all looks clean and crisp. Even the work that wasn’t very conceptual, still looked great. Heck, I may hire one of the students to redesign this blog site. The design work is far, far, far superior to the conceptual work (so far).

This is an area that needs a little help. The ideas are there. Sometimes they’re a little buried, but they’re there. The students have done most of the hard work. But to make some of these concepts great, they need a little more help in the copy department. Luckily, I’m a copywriter. I’m going to need to push harder in this area.

Selling Skills:
We’re going to work hard on selling. When I asked the students what they wanted to get out of the class, almost all wanted help in presenting their work. How to talk about their ideas. How to sell their ideas. How will it hold up in the real world? When I told them that I planned to videotape them in an interview setting and let them watch it, they all squirmed a little in their seats. Clearly this will be a little hard. But the more we practice, the better they’ll get.

Really Fun, Nice People:
I was also struck with how nice everyone was. If there was a prima donna in the group, it didn’t show itself last night. (Perhaps I was the prima donna of the group!) Everyone was welcoming, helpful, fun, funny, interesting and had a point of view.

Real World:
There is a fear that their work won’t hold up in the ‘real world.’ They are all aware that school work and real world work is very different. They are welcoming my real world experience and ask that I be brutally honest. I promise to do that.

Well, one week is in the books. 14 more weeks to go. I’m looking forward to what the future holds. As someone once said in a movie ‘stick with me kid, I’ll make you a star.’ I promise to do everything I can to make sure these students are prepared to get jobs in this industry.

I also promise to curse less. But don’t hold me to it.