CD / Copywriter

Generic Advertising Advice

Trying to break into advertising?

Here's my generic advice. 


Read “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan

It’s the definitive guide to copywriting and will teach you more than I ever could. Can’t afford it? Email Peter J Wagoner at Google’s electronic mail service and I’ll send you a copy. 


Decide if you want to be an Art Director or Copywriter 

Some students attempt to be both. But I have yet to have a job opening for someone that's okay at art and okay at writing. Pick a skill and master it. (There are of course other skills, but these are the two classics.) 


Make some ads

A surprising number of people try to get jobs in advertising without any ads to show. It’s no different than any other craft: if you want to get good at it, you have to practice it. And if you want someone to hire you, you need to show what you’ve done – even if it isn’t  great yet. Would you hire an illustrator without seeing any sketches? A singer without hearing a demo? 


Make more ads

As Luke Sullivan will tell you, your first ideas are rarely original. I made about 30 campaigns to assemble my first portfolio. Don’t want to spend all day making ads? Maybe a career in advertising isn’t for you. 


Create a portfolio (also called your "book")

Assemble your best 6-or-so campaigns. Each one should show a single concept executed in a variety of ways. You’ll know it’s good if people go “huh, I never thought of it that way.”  Here’s a checklist to get you started: 

- 3 print ads (To show you can express the idea simply in several different ways) 
- An interactive digital execution
- A clever use of a digital service
- A social media execution
- A physical stunt / takeover


Get inspiration from other portfolios 

Check out the portfolios of students at VCU Brandcenter and talented Junior Copywriters like  Mikaela Thomas.


Make interesting ads for boring things

Don’t make ads for Nike, Lego, or hot sauce. Find ways to make boring things interesting. I won’t be impressed if you can make Tesla seem cool – I will be impressed if you can make Dockers seem cool. (Lord knows I can’t.) 


If you’re a copywriter, don’t stress about Photoshop

We’re used to judging ideas by sketches at work. Focus on the craft you want to get hired for, not the one you don’t. However if you do have an art director friend, learning to make ads in teams is good practice for the real world. 


Try using Starters Concepting Cards

They’re a great way of getting your thinking started. You’ll find them here


Focus on your portfolio. Not your resume or email strategy.

If people are ignoring your portfolio, keep revising it until they can’t. I promise: nothing opens doors like amazing work. (And most people don't read resumes – they just look for a link to your portfolio.) 


Don’t go to grad school for writing. 

It simply doesn’t make sense for advertising. Luckily, portfolio school does. 


Consider Portfolio School 

That’s the best way to get a job-worthy portfolio. Creating a portfolio is like getting in shape. You can do it yourself for free, but your chances of success are higher if you pay a professional to yell at you while you do it. (You can also throw thousands at expensive equipment and never get in shape, but the analogy begins to fall apart after that.)

Many people consider VCU Brandcenter to be the best in the country.  Other popular portfolio schools to start your research are The Creative Circus, The Miami Ad School, Portfolio Center and The Book Shop. 


Do informational interviews 

Ask professionals to review your book. Then take their advice. And on your way out, ask if they know anyone else you can talk to. 

You can find people to reach out to on LinkedIn, in credits from award shows, and on portfolio school websites from past graduation years. 


Don’t just email the CD. Email the Junior. 

I got a great pice of advice years ago: don't try to impress the person who does the hiring. Impress the person who has the job you want. The Creative Director has met hundreds of young, eager people like you. And even if you do stand out, chances are  the CD has more pressing things to do. 

 But that junior ADs / CWs? No one calls her. No one asks her advice. And boy does she want to help you. Ask her to meet you for a beer. Ask her to rip your book apart. Follow up. Become her pet project. Let her help you make your book better. Get wrapped up in her pride. Then when she moves on to her second job sometime in the next year or so, she'll slap your book down on her bosses desk as a suitable successor. Boom. You're in.