Interviewing for the first time? You’re more than a bunch of ads.

August 8, 2008

An editor requested I write a brief story about how I got my first job in Advertising. They will be publishing it, and others like it, over the next few months. Here’s a advanced copy of mine:

I put my book together the old-fashioned way: with markers and tape. An art director from my dad’s office scribbled me some quick drawings and I markered in the headlines. I got 3 offers in one week. Took the one at Leo Burnett. I still remember the number: $19,500 a year. And that was $1,500 dollars more than the offer I got at JWT (then called J. Walter Thompson).

Beyond the better salary, LBCO promised me a chance at working with a rising star they’d just hired from Doyle Dane Bernbach. They still called it that. My new boss did anyway. His name was Ted Bell. He had a partner, John Eding. The two of them, I was told, were cut from a different cloth than the TV-centric majority at Leo Burnett. They cherished print and were good at it. The duo had actually created some of the more famous print campaigns of their time. Chivas Regal being one of them. (Look it up.)

Anyway, I took my book into Ted’s new office and came out with a job. How’d I do it? To this day, I know it wasn’t just on account of my book. I had that right mix of awe, enthusiasm and confidence. I was able to sell him on myself. I remember showing stories I’d written for my university newspaper. I kid you not. I had my own music column in Madison, Wisconsin. Highlights from that foray into journalism include a review of a sparsely attended saloon gig by the Replacements (“These guys are going places.”) as well as coverage of the Violent Femmes. I don’t think Ted knew who either act was but he liked that I was a writer. I may have even shown him some song lyrics I wrote. You laugh, but I got the job.

Of course my book had ads in it. Three campaigns consisting of three or more print ads. I had a couple TV scripts but Ted didn’t read them. He did, however, read the body copy. Like I said, Ted loved words. FYI, he’s a best-selling author now.

Three campaigns of three or more ads. The Rule of 3. I still tell creative candidates that this is your price of entry.

One line of mine from that fateful interview I’ll never forget (partly because Ted always liked to remind me) was when I told him “with the right art director I could sell venereal disease.” I knew he would laugh, get it, and get me. I had a sense of him. I read the room. A gift I have since embraced as something from God. We all have such gifts. Nice to know what they are before interviewing!


10 Responses to “Interviewing for the first time? You’re more than a bunch of ads.”

  1. chicagowriter said

    hey, I can sell various forms of cancer. Can I have a job?

  2. SRP said

    Funny… I think.
    If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and a decent book, look us up.

  3. JackieO said

    Sounds like you were a bit arrogant. What about humility?

  4. I just landed my first job as a copywriter. In my book I have a poem called Ballad of the Love Banana. I don’t think it got me the job, but I know it wouldn’t let them forget me. Thanks, Love Banana.

  5. SRP said

    You’re probably right… but I got the job.

  6. Jason Fox said

    Sounds more like confidence than arrogance. Confidence is knowing what you can do and being able – and eager – to demonstrate it. Arrogance is claiming to be able to do something and being offended when asked to prove it. Sometimes the two mingle a bit. But if you’re out schlepping your spec book, you better not just humbly offer up your work for scrutiny and accept your beating – I have no use for someone like that. If you can argue why a suspect piece or line works, without being a jerk about it, I appreciate it. At least I know you’ve got some nascent strategy skills lurking in your brain.

    And $19,500 for your first gig? Lucky.

  7. David K said

    Love it…remembering the first gig and thinking that it you’d made it…that it was all about getting to the other side of the desk. Then the first time real work comes your way, your first original idea, first big sell, so many vigin moments to break through. Nice to remember… Thanks for the memory.

  8. I actually got a job once based on something that wasn’t even in my book. I was out of work following 9/11 (as a lot of us were) and it was taking FOREVER. Finally, out of desperation I printed up some coupons offering a week of free work, just to try me out. The headline on the coupons was “Eventually, everyone has to do a coupon ad.”
    I was flown out to AZ for a week, left with a job and a call into UHaul to move my stuff. My boss at that agency made it no secret that he hired me because of that piece — that to this day has never been in my book.

  9. SRP said

    I’ve heard tell of this piece. Either you sent it to me or I was made aware through conversation. Very clever. Sometimes it takes what it takes. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I probably sent it to you. We’re talkin’fall of 2003. Yeah… thanks for calling! Ha.

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