A Strategy as Lovely as a Tree

Ad strategies are supposed to inspire creative ideas. Some ad strategies are good at giving strategic direction and lack giving creative inspiration. These can still be good strategies, but the creative teams need to add some pizzazz or flavor to the idea.

As a strategy statement for Airbnb uses “belong” with the idea of engaging with the community. It is a good strategy because it separates Airbnb from all other national overnight-accommodation options (except for CouchSurfing).


Helianthus has the same meaning as “sunflower.” One word is abstract while the other word is visual.

But “belong” or engaging with the community are not good foundations for headlines or taglines (or any other creative execution) for two reasons:
1) They have no drama, no conflict, no humor. It’s a boring statement. The phrase “Chain hotels are for loafs” is more interesting because it has a little conflict.
2) Belong is an abstract word (not a visual word). “Engage with the community” is abstract, too. Visual words come alive and are more powerful. We can visualize a bed, a pillow, a room, and a house… but those words are not in the strategy statement “belong” or engaging with the community. Even the word “community” isn’t too visual (compare it to “neighborhood”). Check out this good article. from Al Ries. It talks more about this visual way to make ideas come alive.

Creative people often need to add pizzazz to strategy statements. They should not change the meaning of the strategy; they should change the flavor of it.

Think about adding drama and adding visual words. Your ideas will be more interesting.


How to write a strong syllabus

There are two main purposes for a syllabus. The first purpose is to guide students and the teacher through the course. The syllabus should show what the course is about, what things will happen, when things will happen, and how to succeed. This first purpose focuses on the future. The second purpose of a syllabus is to be a contract:  attendance policy, determining grades, penalty for late work. This second purpose usually focuses on the past because the syllabus is often looked at when there is a dispute after grades are distributed.

Writing a syllabus for the first time is a challenge. Where to start? Start at the top of the page and work down one line at a time.

Writing a syllabus for the first time is a challenge. Where to start? Start at the top of the page and work down one line at a time.

There are four short questions that will help you write a good syllabus.

The first question is “Why?”  Start off the syllabus by showing the reader why your course matters. Keep this to one or two sentences.
Example:  Everyone in the ad business needs to know how to think strategically, how to think creatively, and how to write wonderfully. It all starts in this course called Story (MASC-201).

Next, focus on the “What?” Specify what you want students to learn (these are called “learning objectives”). Try to have three (or less) learning objectives because they will keep you and the students focused on what’s important. Write them to show the things that you hope students will learn (not what you will teach). A good way to write them is to say, “I hope you will learn… (and continue the list).” Be specific. These are the broad strokes of your course.
Example 1:  The primary goal for this course is for you to learn to engage consumers through writing. The hope is that you will learn to inspire people to change their opinions (and their behavior!) while following the strategic direction of the brand.
Example 2:  In this course we hope: 1) You learn more about your creativity. 2) You learn how to generate ideas. 3) You learn how to evaluate ideas. 4) You learn to present your ideas in multiple media.
Example 3: In this course we hope you gain a working knowledge of InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. The secondary goal is for you to learn the basics of layout design.

The third question is “How?” Start flushing out the learning objectives. Describe how students will learn the things specified in the learning objectives. This can be in a narrative or just a list of bullets. Things to include:
– Books, movies, online videos, and other resources.
– Projects, papers, and other assignments.
– The number of tests and quizzes.
Someone once said, “There is no learning when there is no assessment.” So, in this section describe how the grades will be determined. Include information on these three aspects:
1) Indicate the value of each assignment or test toward the final grade (Example: “Each test accounts for 20% of your final grade.”).
2) Describe how work will be judged. Describe what A-level work is like (“Exceptional”), what B-level work is like (“Real good”), and C-level work (“Average”)… and so on.
3) Include your grading scale. I use a ten-point scale for simplicity (100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, and so on).

The last question is “When?” In this section, show the schedule for the class. Indicate the topics covered in each class. Highlight the test days and the due dates for projects. To help students determine if they are on the right pace, breakdown large assignments into smaller stages. Example:  If the first test is on the first half of a book, give weekly reading assignments of a chapter or so.

What’s left to do? By answering these four questions, you’ll have the basic structure for a good syllabus. To make a great syllabus, follow these tips:

–  Inspire and engage. After reading the syllabus, students should feel inspired to want to take your class and want to learn. Pique their interest. Show your passion for the subject. Make your syllabus engaging.
–  Don’t say “don’t” (or “no” or “never”) too much. Try to spin things around to the positive side (or at least to the non-negative side). Focus on what everyone should do (instead of focusing on what everyone should not do).  Example 1:  “No hats in class” could be written as “To promote blood flow to your brain, please remove your hats before class.” Example 2:  This is positive: “Meet all deadlines and you’ll earn a 5% bonus at the end of the semester.” This is negative: “Do not miss deadlines; late work will suffer from a 25% penalty.”
–  Will you take attendance? It is up to you. You might believe that students are paying for the right to take the class or to skip it. So you aren’t going to require students to attend the class. Or, you might believe that your mission is to help people learn, and people learn more when they come to class. So you will take roll and include attendance as part of the course grade. It is up to you. If attendance will be graded, make it clear. Is there a penalty for coming late to class? Every day?
–  Can you measure participation? We want students to participate in the classroom. I find it hard to accurately assess class participation. Consider these two examples:  Student 1)  Mildred participates by coming to every class fully prepared, being a strong teammate, turning in great work, and keeping up with all work. She is a quiet, contemplative student who doesn’t voluntarily share lots of thoughts in class. Mildred doesn’t smile very often because she is self-conscious about her missing front tooth. But she is a great writer and thinker. In many ways, her class participation grade might be a 50%.  Student 2) Brittany participates by always sharing her thoughts in class (even when her ideas aren’t fully baked). She can be counted on to share a funny story. Her wonderful mojo wakes up the class. She makes class interesting. Brittany often flashes her bright eyes and gleaming smile. But, she is a below-average writer and thinker, and a mediocre partner. In many ways, her class participation grade might be a 100%.
–  Tell your career stories. Students will enjoy learning about your day-to-day professional life, your learning experiences, your passions, and your avocations. Tell about the career journey you took. How did you get your first job and your first promotion? Tell the story of when you were fired.
–  Give advice for succeeding in the course. Most courses aren’t only about showing up for class and turning in the assigned work. What little things will add up to make a difference?
–  More about the work. How should work be turned in (typed, mounted, bound, hard copies or email submissions)? What about late work? What about extra credit?
– Write the syllabus in a way that shows you respect students. Talk with them instead of talking down to them.
–  Set high standards. Inspire students to reach past their potential, and you will be impressed. It’s easy to reduce the rigor in mid-semester if it was initially set too high. It’s hard to turn a cakewalk into a rich learning experience.
–  Inspire. I like this quote, “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud” (Alex Osborn). I strive to be rigorous and inspiring.
–  Phone a friend:  Please let me know how I can help you with the syllabus and with the rest of the course. Post your questions in the comments section (below), and I’ll get back with you.

That’s it. Four short questions plus some other things to consider. Keep it simple. Focus on what you want students to learn.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  (William Arthur Ward)

To work at a big agency or a small agency?

Q:  I don’t know if I want to work at a big agency or a small agency. What’s the difference?

Students often don’t know which is better:  big or small. It’s hard to know without working in both. Rob Schapiro (ECD at Brunner) has worked in big and small shops, and he wrote a nice article on this topic. It’s on the Talent Zoo website. Some thoughts from his article are included here as well as some other thoughts.

First of all, Rob defines a small agency as having less than 40 people. And a big agency as having more than 400. That seems like a good place to work from.

– Get to talk with the president the client company (or someone close to him/her). It’s good to work with the person with ultimate authority. You’ll be on a first-name basis with the president of the agency, too.
– Big budgets will never sway your thinking. Creating a great 30-second spot for a few thousand bucks will require good, strong thinking.
– To be noticed, the work must be great. The small media budgets won’t develop anyone’s reputation.
– Learn a little of everything. There are less people around, so everyone wears many hats. Get a taste of different sides of the business.
– Get to know co-workers well. The entire creative department can meet up after work for drinks and easily fit at the bar down the block.
– Christmas Party:  All 37 of you will climb on a bus equipped with a keg, check out the tacky lights around town and wind up at a bowling alley somewhere. Or do something else just as cost-effective.
– Some small agencies think and act like big agencies (in a good way).

– The clients are more experienced. Less of a learning curve about how good advertising works.
– Big budgets. Great concepts can be afforded top-notch talent.
– Even if people don’t recognize your name, they’ll know your agency.
– It’s a little easier to develop into a T-shaped talent because there’s less demand for a jack-of-all-trades.
– More opportunities for movement within the organization. It’s just a math thing.
– Get to know co-workers well. Even in a huge company, we’re all human; we’re social beings who like our small communities. The folks you hang with at work can meet up after work for drinks and easily fit at the bar down the block.
– Christmas Party:  Semi-formal at a nice hotel. Open bar. Good eats.
– Some big agencies think and act like small agencies (in a good way).

Which one is better?  Rob Schapiro summarizes it by saying, “It really depends on you.” I’ll add a little more by saying, “It really depends on you and the particular agency.”  It also depends on your career goals. If you want to eventually work at a big agency, start there to learn how big agencies work. If you want to eventually work at a small shop, start there to get good at wearing lots of hats.

Ten Steps to Prepare College Students for the Job Market

A real good article in a recent Wall Street Journal offers ten steps to prepare college students for the job market. The reporter spoke with career coaches, recruiters and recent graduates. Read it here.

The ten pieces of advice are:

1. Look for a job early (while still in school).

2. Network with professionals while in college.

3. While is college, work part time or take an internship.

4. Get involved with career-related clubs and activities.

5. Apply for many jobs, but don’t be a application hound. Apply for jobs that you’re qualified for.

6. Become professional while in school:  Dress well, create a LinkedIn account, clean up your online presence, make business cards.

7. Set career goals. They can always change (and probably will), but write down specirfic goals with deadlines.

8. Go to the college career center.

9. Keep track of your achievements and share them online (like on your LinkedIn page).

10. Develope relevant skills. You don’t need to have a job to practice and get experience. Be creative and make things that are similar to your career goals.

Bonus tip from me:  Be positive, energetic, and do at least one little thing every week to help make your life’s work a reality.

How do I make a portfolio?

Q: I hear that I should have a portfolio, but I have no idea where to start. I just started on the Strategic Ad track at VCU, and I don’t know what should go into a portfolio or what one should look like. I was wondering if you can just offer some insight where I should start or what are some pieces of work I should include.

There are many books that show how to build a good ad portfolio. Most (if not all) are focused on creating a portfolio for a creative position. They are worth reading for strategists because the same thinking goes into portfolios for strategists.

A:  Most people won’t expect you to have much of a portfolio if you’re still in college. Especially since you’re not a senior yet. But, any ad student (Creative and Strategic) who wants to secure a wild internship or an exciting job, should have an interesting body of work. It will help to sell you.

Simplify your thinking of a portfolio. It is just a collection of work — stuff you’ve done. To make a portfolio, first make it easy. Then make it better. And better.

First, just begin with a WordPress blog or any free place to collect your work. Put 10 things up there, and you’ll have a portfolio!! Then make it better.

Listed below are things you should show in a portfolio. I have listed them in the order of importance:

1- Show passion. A deep interest in anything. Really anything. And I mean a deep interest. That means that you go further than most people. People with deep interests are interesting people. Successful ad people are interesting people interested in things. In advertising passion trumps skills all of the time.
2- Show creation. Make stuff and share it. It doesn’t matter what you make, just make stuff. Stand up comedy, spoken-word poetry, write hip-hop licks, design a laser-light show, write music, redesign album artwork, make strawberry shortcakes, write stories, brew beer, design houses, or knit sweaters.
And share it. Put it out there for others to enjoy, criticize, steal, and get pissed about. Because creation without sharing or publishing might be OK for fine artists with issues, but it doesn’t work in advertising.

3- Show you’re willing to try, and suck, and try until you get better. That’s another big part of advertising. Ad folks are always presented with new problems every day. Every client wants something really new (never tried before). So there’s going to be things that don’t work out as planned. Trying hard and failing is a big part of the ad game, and so is trying again, and trying again… and eventually winning. Yippee!

4- Show you are a student of the ad business. Do you read at least one of these on a regular basis:  AdAge, AdWeek, CommArts, or Creativity-online.com? If you did, I’m sure you could show the ad knowledge that you have gained.

5- Show your ad chops. I know you have had Curiousness. Have you had Empathy, Awareness, Imagination, or Perspicuousness? How about Story? Did you have projects in those classes that you could share to show your ad skills? If your work wasn’t exceptional, you have two choices:  1) forget showing the work to anyone, or 2) rework it until it’s exceptional (see item #3 above). I suggest reworking those assignments until they are exceptional.

And you could do one thing that covers all of the 5 sections above. Here’s an example: Create a blog. Then get a list of the companies in the Fortune 100. For the next 100 days, write a one-hour brand analysis every day. Start at company #100 and work your way up to company #1. This project would show a passion for brands (#1). This project is a creation that’s shared (#2). This project would show that you kept up on your trying and learning about brand analyses (#3). This project would show you have a deep interest in the ad business (#4). And if your work is good, this project would show you know about branding.

Designers could start with the same list of 100 companies and redesign each company’s logo. Writers could write engaging answering machine messages for each company’s phone system. Have fun with your portfolio!

Recently some advertising hiring executives visited VCU to talk with students. A student asked William Manfredi, Executive VP – Global Human Resources for Wunderman, what he looked for in undergrad’s portfolios.  Manfredi said that Wunderman is so large that there isn’t one thing, but he looked for a fit in personality and in culture. Then he listed two specifics, “Energy and passion.” Susan Lim, also in Global Human Resources with Wunderman, nodded her head in agreement.

You can see that there is no one way to make a portfolio. There is no concrete list of things that should go into a portfolio. Tell the story of what you have done.

One last thing:  Include you in your portfolio. People want to see the person behind the collection of work. Tell your story. Stories are compelling (hey, that’s one more last thing).

Get your portfolio together and you’ll have some life-changing experiences. Best of luck!!

10 Things To Look For In A Great Logo

While working with a team of students on a quick logo design, we developed criteria by which to evaluate the logo designs.

Logos are pieces of commercial art that are required to work with a wide array of styles, words, usage, and audiences. What works for one logo design may not work for another logo design.

The 10 things to look for in a great logo are not requirements. This is not a scorecard; the highest score is not the winner. These are the core elements of good logos. Good logos don’t need to have all of these things, but good logos have many of these things.

10 things to look for in a great logo.

1. Personality. Good logos are an extension of the brand personality. So the first step in designing a logo is to understand the brand. Know the brand personality so the logo has the right tone.

2. Simplicity. Good logos have one main idea. Good logos are easy to read and easy to understand… quickly. Don’t try to say too much in a logo.

3. Compact. Good logos tend to be all together. You should be able to draw a circle, triangle or rectangle around the logo, and there wouldn’t be a lot of white space inside the shape. Good logos don’t have things that stick out. Logos don’t take up much space.

4. Scalable. Good logos work when they are about the size of a nickel and the size of a barn.

5. Typography. Good logos have refined typography. Take care to pick the best typeface. Be sure to manage the space between letters, between words, and between lines of text. There usually isn’t a lot of variation in typefaces, weight of the type, color, baseline and alignment of the type.

6. Craftsmanship. Good logos are a piece of art.

7. Efficiency. There isn’t redundancy of thoughts (visually and verbally). For example, the logo for Oak Tree Realty doesn’t need a picture of an oak tree because that idea is in the words. If the words and the visual say the same thing (like oak tree), then the visual needs to say it in an interesting way (like show oak tree in a creative way).

8. Visual. Good logos don’t ignore the power of visual communication. Words are more abstract than pictures. People don’t remember abstract things as easily as concrete things.

9. Creative. Good logos are designed with a fresh, new, original look. They have a special magic that pulls the viewer into them. They are interesting.

10. Progress. Brands are growing things. Good logos help the brands grow by communicating good things.

Remember that not all good logos do all of these things. This is a list by which to judge your designs… not a list of must-haves for a good logo. A good logo might have only a few of these things, and a weak logo might have a few more.

Steps to designing a good logo:

1) Know the brand and how it stands out from the competition.

2) Think up many, many ideas. Get to about 75 ideas.

3) Review your ideas for the most interesting ones.

4) Doodle all of your best ideas on paper.

5) Explore the best typefaces for each design doodle.

6) Pick the best idea from the doodles, and create it in Illustrator.

Good logos are hard to make. The combination of simplicity, communication, and creativity makes it hard. Good designers make it look easy… but it’s not. Good luck!

Advertising internship at Apple (writer)

Copywriter Internship for Apple:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork, and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple is reinventing the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced its magical iPad which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.

Apple is looking for a writer intern with a "positive attitude and a curious mind.".

Looking for a copywriting student to spend the summer at Apple. You would be working on projects and campaigns with design interns, which would potentially include work across social media, in-store posters for Apple stores, web, app development, and iAds. Ideally you’re able to write great headlines and body copy so we could also pull you in on other day-to-day projects. And as you can probably guess, you would need to write in a way that makes all the tech stuff easy to understand and keeps with the voice of the Apple Brand. By the end of the summer you’ll have written a lot, everyday, and potentially have your work seen by millions of people worldwide.

Good things to have:

  • Advertising writing with headline experience
  • Ability to tell a story and be creative
  • A positive attitude and curious mind

Please send resumes and sample of work to Amber at akostik@apple.com