Arnie Franke has taken a number of classes at SVC in pursuit of a job as an advertising copywriter. Along with learning a thing or two about concepting and writing, Arnie has also picked up some valuable advice about job-hunting, which he’s graciously agreed to share in this guest blog post.
The world of the job search is a dark and frightening place; one fraught with false starts and dead ends, crisscrossed with the tripwires of self-doubt and desperation. Luckily, there is one thing that can always lead a job-hunter through the obscuring mists of the search, and that thing is experience.
Even more fortunately for those searchers who are just starting out, the experience in question doesn’t necessarily have to be the hard-won personal variety; reaching out to a contact or mentor is often just as helpful.
To get you started, I picked the brain of one of my contacts: Mike Hayward. Mike is a copywriter and associate creative director with sixteen years of industry experience under his belt. He recently began working freelance for Hornall Anderson after eight years at Copacino + Fujikado.
Here are a few thoughts from Mike on the job search as it relates to upstart copywriters.
Me: How did you get your first copywriting gig?
Mike: I actually started off as an account executive. I knew I wanted to be a writer but didn’t know where to start. Got my foot in the door then worked my way over to the writing side by taking on any assignments I could get my hands on and taking classes at SVC.
Me: Do you think it would have been a different experience if you were starting out today?
Mike: I still see some creatives make their way over from account services or another department but I think it’s more rare these days. It’s just tougher for someone to compete for an entry level job without a really polished book. I think agencies are less likely to take a chance on someone who has scribbled out a few great ideas on some loose paper. You have to have a site and you have to have work that looks damn close to real. I didn’t have that starting out. A few creative directors saw potential in my work and helped me become a full-fledged advertising writer. I don’t think there’s the patience for that as much anymore.
Me: In your opinion, is it more important to be highly skilled technically, or very pop culture savvy?
Mike: I’m going to say neither is more important. Advertising writers need to be able to write well, and write well for any client. That means you have to be pop culture savvy when it’s relevant, and always highly skilled technically. I will say though that I’ve met writers who really weren’t strong writers, but were good idea people.
Me: When you look at a copywriter’s portfolio, what are the top three things you hope to see there?
Mike: One: I want to see at least two or three complete campaigns around strong, central ideas. Show me you can write, but more importantly, show me you can think. A real insight that becomes a campaign is much more impressive than a bunch of funny headlines.
Two: Social/digital/interactive work. It’s an absolute mandatory.
Three: Visual thinking. Some of my best work as a writer involved no words at all.
Me: What are the top three things you would be disappointed to see there?
Mike: One: The shock value campaign. You know, where you drop the f-bomb because it’s so edgy, or do a detergent ad with a photo of Hitler.
Two: The worthless app. Yes, there’s a place for mobile in a portfolio. But in the real world apps cost $200k and up. So you better show me an idea for an app that would be a) worth it and b) something someone would actually use. The days of fart-related apps are over. Sadly.
Three: Nike/Apple/Skittles spec ads. Or any other spec ad for a product or company that already has great advertising. You will not likely do a Nike ad better than Wieden. Don’t try.
Me: How has the job description of the copywriter changed during your career and where do you expect it will go in the future?
Mike: It’s changed, but it also depends a lot on the agency or industry. In the creative advertising world, it almost seems odd to call yourself a writer sometimes. Like with one of my recent campaigns for Seattle tourism, the “2 Days In Seattle” campaign, there were a lot of moving parts, a web site, OOH [out-of-home], radio, train wraps, a significant social media play, but very little writing. I was still very much involved in the idea and execution, just not in terms of cranking out a bunch of Word docs. I do think though that there will always be a place for writers, even as the industry evolves. But in the future, and even now, writers need to help move creative forward in terms of digital, mobile, social and experiential thinking. You can’t just sit back and crank out headlines and body copy anymore and expect to have a long career.