If you missed it, check out some great work from Vince Engel.
WS: What do you look for in a student book? And what impresses you?
VE: I think probably the first thing is just smart ideas and I think something a little bit different. And usually that tends not to come from a lot of the ad school students because I think they get set into a program of…They all seem to have, in my opinion, a similar look and feel, everything like the type is very, very small and the logo. And there’s very little copywriting today and that’s what I miss. I mean, I want to see examples that someone can actually write. Not that every ad is a long-copy ad by any means, but you seldom see that in writing anymore. There’s a clever headline and that’s as far as the writing goes, and I like to see a lot more than that. I think it’s more just showing off their creative thinking—anything that shows off their creative thinking, whether it’s a story they’ve written or paintings that someone may have done or a cartoon that they’ve…whatever. I just want to see how they think and solve problems…
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WS: You mentioned putting other things in the book besides ads; do you have any tips on how to do that?
VE: I think it’s almost like a scrapbook of the way you think or what you like—what you’re interested in. To me—and again, I’m very different than I would l think, a creative director at Grey, or McCann Erickson might be or whatever, and I can blame that on years at Wieden+Kennedy, I guess—that the most interesting things are the unexpected. Like Jeff Kling, I mean, like hiring him, it was like you’re hiring this performance artist rather than a writer and he turned out to be a great creative guy—really great mind. He thought really, really differently than most people, the kind of person that we needed at Wieden at that time. And I remember I hired a copywriter who had never worked in the business before. He had come out of the navy. This was in Australia. He came out of the navy and he had a book that he had done. What he had done was written letters, because he had a lot of time in the Australian submarine corps. I think maybe they had three subs. And he wrote letters to companies, to the Queen, to the President of the United States, everything. And he kept all the letters and he kept all the responses from them and he made a book out of it. And he had photos—like he wrote to the Mars Company about how much he loved…he wrote such intriguing letters. They sent him cases of Mars candy bars, Milky Way, and all that kind of stuff. He got dog food. He didn’t even have a dog but he got dog food, and all this stuff. It was just…I don’t know. They were just really interesting letters, and back then it was just photocopies in a book, bound. But I remember when I interviewed him. He came in and the creative director at the agency at the time—it was Ogilvy and Mather—said, “This guy is weird. He scares me. You should go talk to him.” So I talked to him and I said, “So where is your work?” And he said, “Oh, you probably know most of my work,” and I said, “Oh really? So tell me about it.” Then he said “‘Stop.’ That was one of mine. ‘Do not enter.’ I can’t take full credit for that because the original guy who wrote that said, ‘Turn around you’re going the wrong way’ and I just kind of tightened it up.” And he was dead serious when he was delivering this and so I was starting to think that, “Oh my God! This guy is crazy,” and he went on and sighting all these things and after a while I realized, at least I was hoping that it was a joke, and then I started laughing and he said, “No, no. Seriously, I’ve never worked in advertising but here’s my book.” And he showed me this thing and I was looking through it and it was just so interesting. And you knew a guy like that…and he literally came in and there was just something fresh. He had no preconceived notions of what advertising was. It was…to him, “I got some time and the medium to entertain people and hopefully in that entertaining I can tell them an entertaining story that they buy into,” and he ended up doing really well. He ended up going to Thailand and running a big radio station and stuff. But as a writer. And that was his love—radio. But still, it’s just interesting.
I think the other thing is just constantly keep updating your book. Find something fresh. Listen to people; don’t listen to everyone. I got told that I was never going to make it and that I should quit and not even try to get into advertising. Maybe the guy was right but I seem to have fooled enough people. But it’s like that and listen to the people that make sense, but you got to be true to yourself and not make your book…if you start making your book to be what other people want…and that’s part of the concern I have about a lot of ad-school students, is that they’re trying to make books that look like the work that’s being done in agencies. I want someone that thinks differently. I don’t want another one of me. I don’t want another one of what I’ve already got. I want someone different who’s going to shake things up and come in with a totally different perspective on advertising or not even… Advertising has gotten to be such a weird term. Just someone who can talk to people…talk with people.