Check out some great work from Monica Taylor.
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WS: Do you think there are common mistakes or traps that a lot of students fall into when they’re putting their book together?
MT: It’s not about completely tailoring yourself to what you think a particular agency is looking for. It’s more like dating. Be yourself—in the form of your book—and find a place to work that appreciates what you have to offer and is attracted to your work. And vice-versa. I think creatives are pretty good at saying to themselves: “I like this agency, and I want to work there. And I think their work and mine are a really good fit.” Keep that in mind when you go to meet the person from that agency, rather than thinking, “What are they looking for? How can I twist myself to be that? How can I change?” Take their notes, sure. They know what they are looking for, and can help you. But don’t lose yourself. You’ll be happier in the long run.
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WS: What was it like when you were just starting out?
MT: I graduated into a huge recession, a lot like it is today. It was extremely tough to get a job in advertising. I was living in Boston after graduation, taking my book around, and I remember the Boston Globe ran an article then, about the collapse of the advertising industry. They had a quote saying it was “easier to get a job in Boston as an actor than it was to get a job in advertising.” And you know how many acting jobs there are in Boston? Not many. I’d tell you more, but it was just too depressing. It was a Grapes of Wrath start in advertising. I finally got a job more than a year later, at a very small retail agency. I did coupon ads and circular covers, and I was grateful. And I’m not kidding, everyone wanted my job.
People I came up with through the business, we’ve spent a lot of time drinking and grousing about “how tough we had it” and, “kids these days have it easy.” Sometimes we whittled while we complained. Typical old-person stuff. While business was booming, the career paths of graduates were fast and high. We were just jealous. Jobs were much more plentiful. Now again, it’s tough out there.
I want to tell students: We all lived through it and had careers, and you will too. You can’t control what economy you graduate into. You just have to be more competitive.
The upside is I do think the talent that gets the jobs in this economy will have a huge advantage over people who started a few years ago when things were flush. When the money gets tight, agencies only keep their best people, and hire the best people. There aren’t a lot of people coasting through anymore. That’s a good thing. Five years from now, you could be sitting at your desk at some great shop, looking to your left and right at your peers, and be part of a deep team of amazing talent. And I hope to be sitting anywhere near you. Whittling.
A story: When I got a job here [Wieden+Kennedy], I had a little portfolio epiphany. It was the morning of interviewing here. I was nervous. I was taking a last look at my book before leaving, and I remember there were about four or five elegant print ads that I thought my book needed to make it really full and nice. They were good ads, but there were a few other comps that I had in my back pocket. They were spec ads for Converse. My creative director didn’t like them, no one ever thought they were any good, but I just loved them. And it was getting late, and I had to leave for the interview. I ripped out the elegant stuff and I put in these Converse things, because I thought to myself, “If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down with the stuff that’s closest to my heart.” And it was a wonderful moment because Dan Wieden looked at my book, and he got to these things that no one ever loved but me. And he said, “Wow!” He loved them. They made an impact on him, these spec pieces. And I don’t think the others would have. And it made me think, “This place is different than all the other places I’ve ever been to. I really want to work here. I can do more of that stuff here. The stuff I always wanted to do.” It had a huge effect on me.
WS: So it is like dating. Be yourself.
MT: Yeah, but sometimes people don’t know who they are. So that’s not as easy as it seems. And it doesn’t mean, “Just relax.” It means, figure out who you are and put it in the book. It’s a creative person’s life story. I’m still working on it.