What I Learned in 2015

I learned a lot from 2015.

I learned that falling down is easy. Getting up is hard.

I learned that great ideas will come from the most unexpected places.

I learned to accept the ‘new normal’ that surrounds me every day.

I learned that it’s OK to let go.

I learned that wearing cashmere sweaters invites people to hug you.

I learned that the little detail could save someone’s life.

I learned that the toughest conversations could lead to renewed hope.

I learned to accept help.

I learned to enjoy the moment instead of just the achievement.

I learned how to put down my phone.

I learned how to stop making goals that are impossible to reach.

I learned who my true friends are.

I learned to fingerpick my guitar.

I learned the simple enjoyment of splitting wood.

I learned that 600 miles is not too far to drive for a football game.

I learned that I don’t mind hanging curtains.

I learned that I have the greatest team in the world.

I learned that awards don’t mean everything.

I learned that giving back is more important than just giving.

I learned that no matter how hard I try, I still over react to stupid stuff.

I learned to appreciate my time on this planet – as it could be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Thank you for making this year a wonderful learning experience. Thank you for helping me get back on my feet. And thank you for being there when I needed it most.  I will never forget this year. Or the lessons I learned.

Warmest wishes for a happy holiday season.





SCAD Grad Gives Recruiting Advice

Recently, I asked one of our copywriters — Kristine Brown to guest write for this blog entry.  I asked her to write about anything that she thought would be helpful to students graduating college and entering the workforce. These are her words. But what Kristine doesn’t mention is that since she’s joined the agency she has produced her first TV campaign, an internal promotional campaign, attended a brainstorming session in Amsterdam and created countless ideas that have helped us win new business.  It seems we both chose wisely.  Enjoy Kristine’s entry.

My Recruiting Advice by Kristine Brown

Being recruited is a whirlwind of confusion, anxiety, and what if. What if I pick the wrong agency? What if I hate the office? What if my boss is mean to me? What if I don’t like the accounts i’m working on? What if the agency is boring? What if!

There is no easy answer to calming the what if’s other than asking the questions you want answered, doing your own research, and trusting your gut.

My recruiting journey started out like any other recruiting story. I was primed and prepped to enter the consumer world of advertising. My teachers had trained me to write witty body copy about chapstick and window cleaners. I met with numerous recruiters who promised me big brand names paired with beer carts and ping-pong tables. Yes that sounded great, but they never spoke about the agency life, or whom I would be working for, or what I would be doing, or how I would grow. My teachers repeatedly said, “ you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you”, but I never left an interview really knowing what I was signing up for. Before I knew it those same recruiters were emailing me. Pressuring me to accept offers that just had too many what ifs attached them.

That of course changed when I met my current boss. He was my last interview I had while attending SCAD. I will never forget how he stopped my perfectly planned presentation 30 seconds in to ask me if I already had job. At the time I did, I had accepted an internship that I had been pressured into taking. And it was secretly freaking me out. Rich was the first person I interviewed with that spoke to me honestly about his agency, the expectations of the position, and the work he believed in. I could tell right away he was genuinely interested in furthering my career. And that was something very new.

I was lucky enough visit FCB Health and meet the creatives I would be working with. Meeting possible mentors and late night pitch buddies made it all very real for me. I realized I had found my niche in the most unexpected place. I quickly realized the decision I made based off of what my teachers and recruiters wanted, wasn’t what I wanted anymore.

So this is where I give you the secret I learned way to late in my recruiting process. Do what you want to do. Trust the process, ask the questions, and find the place that makes you tick. Find the agency full of passionate people that get you and want to grow with you. Because who cares if the agency is big or small, if it’s consumer or healthcare, or if it’s in Texas or New York. It’s about the people and the work they create. Make your decision based on what excites you the most. Pick the agency that makes you want to get up everyday and create work that you’re proud of. I was really afraid to make the wrong decision, but I’ve realized looking back the only wrong decision I made was not following my own path.



I learned how to staff an agency from Fantasy Football

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I play in a fantasy football league with 9 other members of my family. We enjoy the trash talking. We enjoy the competition. And we enjoy winning. I recently gave my wife some advice about setting her line-up, and I realized it’s the same process I use to staff our office in advertising.  So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Pick the best players. I know this is simplistic, but just as the best football players score the most points; the best creatives do the best work. And this is true no matter what level you’re hiring. Best junior books out of college are your long-term investments. They’ll pay quick dividends some times and long term dividends most of the time.  Senior level creatives who have done great work in the past will some times do great work again in the future.  They may be more consistent. But they may not be as spectacular.

Have a deep bench. Football players have bye weeks. Creatives have vacations, holidays, sick leave and creative dry spells. Having a deep bench will allow you to bring in reinforcements when you need them. And the interesting thing about advertising is you never know when you’re going to need them.  You can’t look at a calendar and say, ‘oh, this week I’ll need to swap out my best player for someone else.’ You need as many really good people as possible. (As I’m writing this – I got an email that an incredibly talented ACD is leaving for another agency. Having a deep bench makes this a little less painful)

Pick your best line-up and let ’em play. Once you’ve brought in your talented people, you have to let them play. You can coach them, you can put them in the best position to succeed, but you have to let them play. You can’t bench them if they have a few bad presentations or new business pitches or weeks.  You brought them into your company because you thought they were talented. Let them do their thing.

Always look for value players. Just because someone didn’t succeed at a competitor, doesn’t mean they won’t succeed under your system. I always tell a story about my first day on the job at another agency. The current CD’s told me that this art director needed to be terminated. I refused. And after 6 months in the new system he was winning awards and being promoted. I can point to 10 different stories like this one. Where someone flourished under a new system or a new team or a new partner. These team members can be the most valuable and loyal on your team. Because your need each other to succeed.

Don’t be afraid to cut big name players. Some times you just have to admit you made a mistake. You spent a lot of money on someone and it’s just not working. They’re just not performing, as you would have hoped. And sometimes its just time. We all know people who stayed in jobs way too long. And we also know people who are on our staff who would probably be doing better some place else. But we’re afraid to make the big move, have the tough conversation or rock the boat.  You have to rock the boat. Believe me, its better for everyone.

If you’ve done your homework, if you’ve hired correctly, you should have a winning year. But remember – your team is a reflection of you. How well you hire is how well they’ll perform. Good luck. And may the best team win.





How To Create Your Best Campaign In Your Portfolio

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When I’m sitting with someone and they want to show me their portfolio – I always have the same request “show me your favorite campaign.”  And I’m surprised how few people know the answer to this question.  Some say, “I like everything in my portfolio,” which you and I both know is not true.  Everyone should have a favorite campaign. A campaign that you loved when you created it. A campaign that you still love.

And if you don’t have a campaign that you love, here is the easiest way to create one — I call it a passion project.  Create a campaign for something that you are incredibly passionate about. Maybe you were a ballet dancer as a child and still love dance. Maybe you have a passion for Ultimate Frisbee. Perhaps you always loved to travel and spent 3 weeks in Prague. Do that campaign.

There are two reasons to create a passion campaign.  First of all — it won’t be in everyone else’s portfolio. Every year there are advertising college competitions. And every year I see hundreds of campaigns for the same product.  One year it was KFC. I can’t tell you how many KFC campaigns I saw. And I would always ask the same question — “did you win the competition?”  And everyone says, “no.”  (BTW – if you enter a student competition – don’t put the work in your portfolio if you didn’t win.)  The second reason (and the most important) is when you present a passion project; you present it with more passion. You know the subject matter inside and out. Your face lights up. And as a viewer, I can feel your excitement.

A former student of mine created my favorite passion project. On her resume, in the about me section, was a line about the Girl Scouts of America. She told me that she loved being a Girl Scout. So she created a campaign to try and persuade tween girls to stay in scouting longer. She told me a story about how Girl Scouts actually gets better as you get older. That you get to do more meaningful community service. That you get to make a difference. I loved the campaign before I even saw it. Because I loved her explanation.

From that moment forward, I have always encouraged students to create passion project campaigns. Every time I see one, I’m happy to see how much heart and soul go into those projects. The projects are always about something very personal. The arts. Dance. Theater. Hiking. Travel. Someone even create a campaign about their favorite biker bar.

No matter how ‘finished’ your portfolio, you can make it even better by creating a passion project campaign. Trust me on this one. It will become your favorite campaign. It will be the first one your present in an interview.  And it will be better than anything you create for KFC.




You Can Go Home Again — Returning To Temple University

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I graduated from Temple University before 1/3 of my creative department was born. I’m almost embarrassed to say, that I hadn’t been back on campus since I picked up my diploma. All that changed last Thursday.  I was invited to speak on campus about healthcare advertising. I was nervous. I was excited. I couldn’t wait.

I was met in the parking lot by the Director of Career Services. She walked me to her office and then graciously allowed me to camp out there all day. Throughout the day I met the Dean, the Chair of the Advertising Department and other members of the faculty. I also got to meet with some incredible students.  It was inspiring to see what the University had planned for the future of the department. It was great to listen to the dreams of the students. And I was in awe of the campus that had grown and improved dramatically since my last visit. (By the way — the Tech Center is absolutely amazing.)

About 150 students came to my lecture. Many asked questions. Several stayed after to ask one-on-one questions. I met a future Account Executive star, several incredible graphic designers, art directors and writers.  I was impressed. And I’m not easily impressed.

But I think the thing I liked the most was the hunger that everyone displayed. The faculty wanted to know my thoughts on how to make things better. Career Services wanted to know how to best prepared their students for the real world. And the students wanted to find a way to intern, get a job, keep in contact and get better in their craft before they had to leave for the real world.

Temple University students are hungry. To improve. To prove they’re just as good as the “advertising school” grad students. To make a difference.  I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a graduate from Temple University. Last Thursday only made me more proud.

Well done Owls.



The Best and Worst Advertising Schools in America

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I’ve been touring the country for the past few weeks meeting advertising students.  I’ve met plenty of nervous graduating seniors who are worried if they have the right stuff to make it in our industry. I’ve met faculty and deans who want to know how their programs stack up against other institutions. And I’ve got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of these colleges and universities. And while my tour is not completed — I felt the need to give you my (incomplete) ranking of the schools I’ve meet.

  1. SCAD – Savannah College of Art & Design – Your students were amazing. Very organized. Great questions from the faculty and students. Cool location and great housing at Magnolia Hall (even though I had to jump the fence to get in). Your students had (by far) the best portfolios and were the best prepared for the real world.  Grade A-
  2. University of Texas at Austin – Go Longhorns. You get high grades for the facilities, the faculty involvement, having me meet the Dean and for organizing the students to meet.  Many students had really good portfolios. If I was born in Texas – I would want to go to UT/Austin. If only to wear a “Keep It Weird” T-shirt. Grade B+
  3. University of Georgia — Go Dawgs.  I’ve now met your students several times over the past two years.  They get high scores for being really nice and very driven.  You have an amazing campus. You bring your students to the Cannes advertising festival. But while you have some stars – the quality of the student portfolios is not as good as other schools. (It hurts me to write that — because I like your students so much — they’re so NICE.)  One overarching comment I get from your students is they wish they were pushed harder.  Grade B-
  4. VCU –  I’d like to thank Ariana and Connor for coming to our meeting prepared. I would also like to thank Mike from the Ad Club for arranging a meeting with some students. Even the student who fell asleep during lunch. I think he was they guy who wants to create the next Uber. You better create your own company – because you’d be fired from mine. I left VCU saying I’d never come back. But I feel that’s wrong. Because clearly Ariana, Connor and Mike really care. And really need help.  Grade D
  5. FIT – Fashion Institute of Technology – Yes, I know this is not a fair assessment – in full transparency I teach a class in the Spring at FIT. But that also means I have a very good idea where they stack up on this list. I also have hired plenty of FIT students and have hosted countless FIT interns. The school does a pretty good job preparing students for the real world. Being in NYC helps. Grade B
  6. Syracuse University – Go Orange. Incredible faculty. Incredible facilities. Passionate students. My only issue with Syracuse is the separation of Art and Copy Students in different schools. Many students I meet would benefit from working with either an Art or Copy partner. Figure out a way to get them together more often. But overall – they do a great job. Grade B+

My New Favorite Advertising Idea

You have to watch this video. You have to share this with everyone you know. You have to help Mollie’s Fund change behavior around the world.  The first time I watched this video my heart skipped a beat. Granted, I knew the punchline. I heard about this idea months ago in an office when the creative team was pitching the idea.  I loved it then. I loved it even more after the production.

Now it’s your turn.  Share it. View it. Spread the word.  If we can save one person, we did our job.  If we can save thousands, it would be a miracle.  If we can save hundreds of thousands, then our work would be done.

Thank you all in advance.



Crazy, Big Ideas

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It’s been a long time between posts.  I’ve been working on a new idea for the blog. Hopefully, it will launch in the new year.  Until then, I wanted to bring a new campaign to your attention. This was done to magnify the significance of type-2 diabetes in the world.

Yes, there are over 300 million people in the world with type-2 diabetes.  That more than the size of 60 Denmarks, 11 Saudi Arabias, 14 Australias, 392 Djiboutis, or 16,397 Palaus.  So yes, that’s a lot of people.

Check out the video on Vimeo:

You can also look at the website: http://thestateofdiabetes.org

And while the cause is important, the real reason I’m bringing this to your attention is that it started with a few people having a crazy idea ‘what if we try to make diabetes its own country and petition the UN for a seat at the table?’

I love this kind of thinking. I love being able to dream so big that every idea seems impossible. I love when people come to me with ideas to help draw attention to a problem, an underserved population or in this case, a global issue.

You can only hit home runs if you swing big. Go to the video. Go to the website. Like it (if you do), Share it (if you like what  you see), tweet about it.  This type of thinking has to be rewarded.  If we can’t rally around a great idea, then we have no right complaining about the state of healthcare advertising.




What the #@!*$#% Was Coke Thinking?

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I haven’t written in a long time. But I had to write about this. I hate the new Diet Coke campaign. I’ve been walking past the same bus kiosk for weeks now and I keep looking at the campaign is disbelief.

You’re on Coke.

Really? The great American icon Coca-Cola is running a campaign with the tagline ‘You’re on Coke.’ At this moment, I feel like my father ‘I remember the good old days when Coca-Cola stood for something good in the world.’

I work in advertising. I’m familiar with the thought of getting attention. But I think this crosses the line of taste. This also seems like a bad fit for the brand. I’m a huge fan of the work done by Droga5. Not this. I don’t like this. The fact that virtually every parody online is a drug reference only makes the point – Coca-Cola Company thinks the only way to perform at your best is to be coked up.

Coca-Cola’s response? “This advertising is one part of the new campaign for Diet Coke, which is called ‘You’re On.’ It celebrates ambitious young achievers from all walks of life and reminds them that Diet Coke is there to support them in the moments when they are at their best. Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance.”

No – that’s not what the campaign says. It doesn’t say we’re there for you when you’re at your best. It says to be at your best you need coke. The brand has become a punch line.

It’s Monday. It’s still too cold in New York. And I’m not feeling like I’m at my best. Maybe I need a Pepsi.

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….