I start teaching again this week at FIT

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This year will be different.

I will not curse within the first 5 minutes. I will not make sarcastic comments when someone says something that makes no sense at all. I won’t lock the door at 6:30 so late arrivals can’t get in the classroom. I won’t tell anyone they’re completely full of @#$#.

That’s what I keep telling myself. I will behave. I will be kinder and gentler. Unfortunately, I know the truth. This year won’t be any different. Someone will say something and I’ll jump on it. Someone will show up late for the first day of class and I will pick on them immediately to answer a question. Someone will spend the entire class looking at their laptop and I will call on them when I know they have no idea what we’ve been talking about.

But this year will be different.

This year the students will come prepared. They’ll be passionate, hard working and dedicated. They’ll want to improve and get great jobs in advertising. They’ll want to explore their own creativity. They will want to stand out. They will not give up. They won’t care that they have to work hard. Just like some of the best students from years past.

This will be my third year teaching ‘Senior Portfolio Design’ at FIT. And I’ve had some amazing students. Of the 28 students I’ve taught, 6 currently work at my agency. Ryan, Liz, Jenny, Candice from 2012. Olivia and Priscilla from 2013. All have amazing potential. All can be stars. There are several others I’ve tried to hire but lost to other agencies.

This year will be different.

This year I’ve completely changed the way I’m teaching this class. This class will be as individualized as humanly possible. Each student will be treated differently since they will all have different strengths and weaknesses. This year each will reach their maximum potential. Everyone will get an A.

Thursday is the first class. I’ll let you know how I made out. I may also ask one of my students to guess blog on this site – so you can hear their point of view.

Now that would be really different.

Stay tuned….



20 intern interviews later …

Over the past three weeks, I’ve interviewed 20 intern candidates for our Spring creative internship program.  The maximum number of interns I will hire is 5. That means you had a 25% chance of getting an offer letter from my agency to work here and learn from some of the best creative people in the industry.

But the odds decreased with every interview mistake.  So after meeting students from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, The University of Delaware, Temple University and the School of Visual Arts, I’ve identified 5 mistakes that most of the students made and have to correct.

Mistake #1 – The portfolios are not ready for prime time.  The most common line I heard from the students I was interviewing was “I’m still working on my portfolio.” That line was closely followed by “I plan to work on my portfolio over the break.” I find these statements incredible.  You’re an advertising student. The entire purpose of going to school is to create campaigns and ideas to fill a portfolio. Have you not noticed that you’re graduating in a few months? When were you going to put something together? After all your interviews are finished?  The best portfolio had 1 or 2 good campaigns. The worst had none. Some had no campaigns at all, but a collection of images that were supposed to be ideas.  My advice: Get to work. Now.

Mistake #2 – The ideas seemed small. In many of the portfolios, I saw ads. From time to time I saw an app or a website. Once in a while there would be an environmental idea.  But the ideas seemed confined by the page.  There was nothing that was huge.  Actually, that’s a lie – I saw one HUGE idea but the creative team that worked on it never understood how big it was, and made it very small. Instead of a movement that could change the world, they made an app. But that was the exception. Most times I saw well-crafted executions without the hint of an idea.  My advice: Know why you’re doing something, not just what you’re creating.

 Mistake #3 – Typos, typos and more typos. Virtually everyone had mistakes in their work. Resumes with really bad typos. Campaigns that spelled the name of the product incorrectly. I even saw a resume that had the name of the college misspelled. I don’t know how many times I have to say this – hire a proofreader.  You can’t see your own spelling mistakes. Trust me, I know. I’m the KING of typos. Read virtually any of my blog posts and you’ll find a typo. That’s because I don’t follow my own advice. I don’t have these posts proofread before I add them to my blog.  But I’m not looking for a job. You are.  My advice: Everything needs to be proofread. Twice.

Mistake #4 – The work lacks passion.  This was the most surprising. These students get to choose what they create – yet there wasn’t a single campaign about something they were personally passionate about. I met dancers, photographers, custom sneaker artists, improv actors, horseback riders, competitive swimmers, and women’s rights advocates. And guess how many of them created campaigns about these passions. That’s correct, zero. I told them all to create a campaign for these passions. That’s because only they could create them. Nobody else has that point of view. Nobody else knew the subject matter as well. That campaign would not (and could not) appear in any other portfolio.  My advice: dig deep inside yourself and find that campaign that only you can create.

Mistake #5 – Bad Interviews. 50% of the interviews were awful. 25% were bad. 20% were just OK. 5% were good.  Do the math, 5% of 20 people.  Yes, 1 good interview. What made these interviews so bad?  Asking no questions. Asking really dumb questions. Wearing something completely inappropriate. Not knowing anything about the agency or the work we do. Pulling a folded resume (with typos) out of a backpack as if you’re handing in a homework assignment. Having nothing interesting to say. Being bored. Being boring.  The good interview was very different. We had plenty to talk about. I gave some advice about his portfolio, and by the time he sent a follow up e-mail, he had made the corrections. Great attitude. Great work ethic.  My advice: Practice interviewing. Do research. Don’t be boring.

I am making my decisions today on who to offer and internship. I may offer 1. I may offer 2. I may offer none. I feel really torn. The teacher in me wants to take the least prepared students so I can work with them. But should I be rewarding them? This is very hard.  You would think that it was easy, but its not.

If you interviewed for an internship, good luck. If you’re thinking about a career in advertising – please pay attention to these tips. It could really help you get the job of your dreams.

Happy Wednesday,



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]


My Days On The College Radio Station

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My first two years after high school were spent at Rider College (now Rider University) in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I lived on campus in a cinderblock door room with metal furniture.  The first thing I did was offer to work at the college radio station. WWRC-AM. Yes, it was an AM radio station. They wouldn’t get an FM license for years. (It’s now WRRC-FM, 107.7) After a quick trip to Philadelphia to get my FCC broadcast license, and an even quicker tutorial on how to run the equipment, I was on the air.


The first song I played was Elton John’s ‘Mona Lisa and Mad Hatter’ from the Honky Chateau album. I remember that because someone called into the radio station midway through the song to tell me how much she liked the song. That’s all I needed was a little encouragement.  My next song was Eric Clapton’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ from 461 Ocean Blvd. That was followed by ‘One of the Nights’ by the Eagles. The song had only been released a few months earlier – and was still relatively unknown.


You may wonder how I remember all this. That’s because I recorded my first show. I have a reel-to-reel copy of an 18-year-old version of me spinning records, talking about liner notes, and discussing music.  But the funny part is the commercials. Even then – I had to read commercials and public service announcements over the air.  The boring – ‘Jim’s bar and grill just across from campus has a wide selection … – to the embarrassing ‘VD is for everybody, not just for a few.’ Yikes.


And don’t think I was some incredible music junkie. I played a lot – and I mean a lot of crappy music on my first show. The studio had a ‘playbook’ – these were the required songs you had to play sometime during your 90 minutes on the air. I think we needed to play them to continue to get free albums from the music labels. I played Bad Company’s ‘Shooting Star’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’, Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Evil Woman’, and the album of my freshman year Jefferson Starship’s ‘Miracles.’  That album was a staple of college radio.


But the album I loved to play was Peter Frampton’s ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’  Released in the middle of the year, I played that endlessly. One night, when I thought nobody would notice, I played the entire album start to finish without any commercial interruption. (It allowed me to take the elevator to the student pub and get a beer.) That album sold 6 million copies in that year. Amazing.


I worked at the radio station for two years. Had numerous time slots – including a poorly thought through morning radio show with a dorm mate – Wayne Hodges. (Hodges and Levy in the morning). AM, three days a week. I don’t think we wanted to admit that nobody is listening to a college radio station at 8 AM. I broke up the partnership quickly and changed to a better slot.


My time on WWRC taught me a lot of valuable lessons. How to present material to an audience. How to read something for the first time and make it sound good. How to get people to engage. It was a fun time. It was hard work. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


The one thing I didn’t do was have a signature sign-off. It never crossed my mind. I just ended the show with ‘that all the time I have, see you tomorrow.’


So, until tomorrow.



Spring Break – A Long Time Ago

I don’t know why, but I had a dream last night about my college Spring break. It was a time I hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. I was at Rider College in Lawrenceville, New Jersey studying journalism. My goal was to be the next great investigative reporter – you know – the next Woodward and Bernstein. I was in my dorm room in Switlick C (I know, it’s a strange name for a dorm) when my room mate, Weazer asked if I wanted to join him, Space, and Breeze on a road trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. By the way, their real names were Dave, Jim and Paul. I think the real reason they asked my to go was because they didn’t have a car to drive down and I did. But that didn’t matter, I quickly agreed and off we went.

That was the amount of planning.

We jumped in my car with a backpack full of clothes, virtually no money, no plans, no hotel reservation or place to stay. We just assumed we’d figure it out on the way down.

And we had the time of our life.

We drove all night. Decided for some strange reason to stop in Orlando on the way and spend a day in Disney World. The only reason I remember stopping in I have a photograph of Space standing in from of the Space Mountain sign. He has this shit eating grin on his face. I’m pretty sure he was drunk. I seem to remember that we knew someone at a college in Florida – and we crashed in their dorm for a night. Had a fairly late party, and decided in a drunken state to go visit Mickey Mouse. I’m sure at some point in the night it seemed like a good idea.

Next day, off to Fort Lauderdale. We somehow found a place to stay. I think we crashed with other guys from our college, because I seem to remember we had seven of us in one room. We stayed for a few days. Went to a few bars. Met a few people. And then we decided Fort Lauderdale was lame.

So all seven of us packed up our two cars and drove further south to Key West. Again, no plans, no reservations, no hotel. Just seven guys. Two cars. And a few six packs of beer.

By the way – you’ll notice I never mention eating food. From this entire trip, I have no recollection of ever eating. Probably because we didn’t eat. We used all of our available money for beer. But that’s beside the point.

We get to Key West and can’t find a place to stay. Nothing. Everything is booked. So we decide to sleep on the beach. Can’t be too hard to find a place to sleep. Some of us can sleep in the car. Some on the beach. But then a miracle happened. As we’re driving to the beach, we see a beachside shack. Sitting on the porch (and I’m not making this up) are seven local girls drinking beer. They wave at us. We wave back. We head over. Before you know it, we’re drinking their beer, sleeping on their floor, and basically crashing at their shack for the remainder of the trip.

While in Key West, we also ran into another friend from school that had become stranded in the Keys when his group from school left him behind. So he crashed with us. We drove him back. And that was a good thing. He had money for gas. We didn’t. One thing we forgot to figure into our plans was money to buy gas for the return trip.

It’s funny; I often talk about my daughter and how they’ll leave the house with no plans, no money, and no idea where they’re going. And it always works out. Maybe I should let it go – because my Spring break trip proved to me long ago – that some times the best memories are the ones you don’t plan.

Spring break was one of those times.


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.