Checklists make work better and learning richer

Self-assessment is when students evaluate their own work. Self-assessment helps students learn and do better work (advice from “McKeachie’s Teaching Tips”). The trick is to get students to be critical at the appropriate level. One problem with many self-assessment exercises is that many students say that their work is better than it is.

One of the benefits of checklists is that they create gaps in students' knowledge, and that makes teaching easier.

To facilitate self-assessment, I’m trying to create checklists for all assignments. For example, one assignment in Judgment (a portfolio course for senior-level ad strategy students) is to make a strong resume. The specifics of the assignment include the checklist. Students use the checklist to make sure they thought of everything to make their work as strong as it can be. The checklist must be turned in along with their resume. And I use the same checklist to evaluate their resume and to determine their grade.

The checklist helps students realize what’s important on an assignment. And if a student doesn’t know how to address one of the elements on the checklist, he/she usually contacts me at that point instead of skipping over that element of the assignment. Some students turn in work with items not checked off of the checklist (often with a note or a question mark next to the check box). I like this because we can have a conversation about something that they already realize is a problem with their work. They are eager to learn what they know they don’t know. In “Made To Stick,” Chip and Dan Heath say that when there are “gaps in people’s knowledge” they are eager to know more. The checklist makes students curious (and interested), and that makes teaching easier. The self-assessment is working.

I have not figured out how to make a detailed and objective checklist for all projects, but I’m getting better at it. The key is to be specific and add guidance to the student how to improve their work on the specific criteria. Try to make each check item objective, measurable and quantitative (rather than subjective).

I have always included a rubric with each assignment… a list of 4 – 8 criteria on which the work would be evaluated. By turning the rubric into a checklist with 20 – 30 specific items (along with specific guidance), it becomes a tool that students use to create better work and engage deeper in the learning. Give it a try.

Here’s the checklist for making a good resume: ResumeChecklist


AKQA Drives Beyond Thinking Horizons

At a recent VCU Brandcenter Friday Forum, Adam Creeger (Technical Architect at AKQA) presented the Fiat Eco:Drive campaign. Wow! That’s some really cool stuff. Check it out here. It’s like Nike+ for the car.

Fiat Eco Drive

AKQA designed something that will change how we drive in the future -- Eco:Drive

Can you think of a car company doing anything like this 5 years ago?  Can you see the possibilities of this thinking in 5 years?  I’m excited to see where it will go. There’s plenty of room for pushing this idea. First of all, it’s silly that a USB drive is needed to make the technology work. It will be only a couple of years before all new cars are able to connect wirelessly with our PCs — skip the USB. Or, skip the PCs altogether… cars will soon be displaying this information right on the dashboard.

I love how “ad agencies” are pushing the thinking of product design.  Eco:drive will make us smarter drivers and change how we drive.  Good advertising is smart design thinking that communicates the brand, creates benefits, and solves problems — regardless if it is “advertising” or not.

I used to work with someone who limited her own thinking horizons. When she was pressed to push her thinking beyond her self-imposed boundaries, she would say, “I didn’t know we could do that.” It would drive me bonkers. Too often we create thought boundaries that limit our thinking horizons. Fortunately these boundaries are NEVER real; they are only perceived. Let’s commit to always pushing ourselves to go beyond. Never say, “I didn’t know I could do that.”

Bravo, AKQA and Fiat!

Adam had some great advice for those just starting out in the ad business:  “Do something… now.” He said, “Make something. Make mistakes. Learn from it. Make it great.”  It doesn’t matter what it is; just make something. Great advice.

Advertising’s Biggest Enemy is Indifference.

Indifferece was the focus of a recent presentation from Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden + Kennedy, Amsterdam. The presentation was one of the weekly Friday Forums at the VCU Brandcenter… always rich with inspiration. Here are Weigel’s ways to defeat indifference along with some of my thoughts thrown in:

Most consumers will not care about your client’s product. For most brands half of all sales come from 20% of the consumers. So that means half of all sales come from people who are indifferent about the brand.

Many advertisers try to overcome indifference by making ads bigger, brighter, and flashier. But consumers are getting better and beter at ignoring those ads.

Weigel says that the conventional wisdom is that 80% of brand’s sales come from 20% of the customers. The 80/20 rule does not exist for the vast majority of brands. Weigel says that the accurate ratio is 50/20. This is counter to many experts’ thoughts about the influence of brand loyalists. However, the numbers don’t matter (for this discussion). What matters is getting people to care.

Q:  How do we get people to at least mildly care about the client’s brand? How do we defeat indifference?

A: Engage the audience with natural human instincts — primitive creature impulses. When we strip out all of the demographic and psychographic data, consumers are beings that react to stuff – like all living things do.

Weigel says that brands need to “stir” consumers’ emotions.

In The Persuaders (a great PBS documentary), Coltaire Rapaille says that brands need to go deeper than just appealing to emotional needs. “All purchasing decisions really lie beyond conscious thinking and emotion,” says Rapaille. He says purchase decisions reside in “a primal core” — the reptilian brain. “When we [are] born, we have the reptilian brain.” The reptilian brain is where the first reaction to things takes place, before emotions.

Back to Weigel’s great presentation. Weigel says that brands need to use these four tools to defeat indifference:

– Beauty

– Immersion

– Transformation

– Shock

Beauty: Humans seek out patterns naturally. Beauty is seeing the world so that everything fits and everything has consequence. For an intellectual illustration of this, Weigel reminded us of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Less-abstract examples are the work of everyday artists, architects, and designers. They all try to get things to fit appropriately into the contexts of time and space. Beauty has a way of bypassing critical and rational thinking. It persuades us to act on our emotions and to make impulse decisions. Many studies have shown that beauty, pattern, structure, and order add perceived value. Weigel concludes that “beautiful brands are stronger than unorganized, random brands.”

Immersion: To get lost in the moment and to be part of something bigger. Weigel gave examples of Burning Man, sex, music, and intoxication. Professional sports teams do a good job of making their fans feel like they are part of a bigger cause. I’d say that many colleges do that, too (but VCU has some room for growth in this area). Immersion is turning “I” into “we.” Nike Plus is a great example of that. Another good example is the wonderful cause marketing efforts like Yoplait and their work with several social causes (like the Susan G. Komen for the Cure). The success of Toms Shoes (and many other cause-related brands) proves that when a company becomes a cause, consumers care about them. This also reminds me of the article about “creating fashion” – when a brand offers the customer a sense of identity. Think about Harley-Davidson, political parties, and religions. And speaking of religions, it’s not a coincidence that baptisms are an immersion (figuratively and literally).

Transformation: The promise of change. Barak Obama won the 2008 election by evoking the emotion of transformation. Walmart’s old message was all about low prices and slashing prices. And they did very well with that strategy. But their new strategy is much stronger because it takes the fact of low prices and makes it transformative:  Save money. Live better. The “Save money” builds off of the equity they had established. The “Live better” connects Walmart to a transformative emotion, and makes people feel better about Walmart.

Brands are stories. Good stories (from the beginning of time) have always been about triumph over conflict: transformation.

Shock: Freshness and originality. Weigel says there are two methods of shock:  1) The shock of new, and 2) The shock of recognition. The shock of the new goes along with surprise, especially sudden surprise. When Mini Cooper came out, they connected to consumers with the shock of new. Hummer did the same thing… in a very different way.

The shock of recognition is produced by uncovering things that were always there. Many comedians build nice careers by reflecting back people’s funny situations to them: “What was the deal with the hairstyles of the 90s? What were we thinking?!” While the shock of new is quick, the shock of recognition usually builds a little slower.

Apple uses shock to connect with consumers by turning them on with cool, new products. There’s a quick attraction to the newness of Apple’s neat innovative products. Apple also uses simplicity to create a slow-building emotional attraction similar to the shock of recognition.

Shock creates stimulation, and that causes our brains to release dopamine. Dopamine is connected to the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Weigel says, “We crave dopamine.”

To battle indifference, we need to make others care. We need to look at the things that humans crave all of the time, and give it to them: beauty, immersion, transformation and shock. If we’re successful, it will inspire consumers to come toward the brand (not back away from it). It will inspire consumers to share the brand with others – automatic word-of-mouth promotions. And if we wipe out indifference, it will change how ads are perceived and received. Ads won’t be something that interrupts the audience; ads will be welcome. To illustrate the last point, look on YouTube to see how many great ads from this week’s Super Bowl have over a million hits. these are ads that have broken through the indifference barrier.

I wondered what others were saying about indifference. After a quick online search of quotes about indifference, I found this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, writer, political activist, and college professor. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Wiesel also said, “Nothing good can come out of indifference. In fact, nothing can come out of indifference.”

To battle indifference, we need to make others care. For Elie Wiesel it’s getting people to care about each other and to make the world a better place — a noble cause. For Martin Weigel it’s getting people to care about brands. Not as noble, but still very difficult.

Am I creative or am I strategic?

“I hope so.”

The VCU ad program (undergrad) is split into two majors:  Creative and Strategy. Many first- and second-year ad students ask the same question:  “Am I creative or am I strategic?”

This should not be an either/or question. It should be a yes-or-no question. Advertising is a business for people who can think creatively and strategically to solve business problems through communications.

People who lack creative thinking skills will not do well in advertising (the ad business or the VCU ad program). The ad business is a creative business. Everyone in advertising needs to find new ways to solve problems. And each client problem is different from all previous problems. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for writers, for account planners, for art directors, for media planners, or for account managers. Everyone is expected to engineer new solutions. To be creative.

Check out this little video (from the Effie Awards) to see the story behind the strategy of an ad campaign... and to see the creative execution of the strategy. The link is at the bottom of the article.

People who lack the ability to think strategically will not do well in advertising. Solving a business problem with new ideas requires a full understanding of the problem. It also requires an understanding of business in general so that competing ideas can be evaluated against each other. Critical thinking abilities are required from account planners as well as from art directors.

Work Communications (a creative talent agency in the UK) talks about the connection between creative thinking and strategic thinking:  “Commercial creativity is all about using original thinking to solve difficult problems in the real world. By definition, innovation takes you into the unknown; any action that is truly pioneering has an element of risk to it. So if you are going to do something that is genuinely new and different, you’d better know why you’re doing it and what you hope to gain from the exercise.”

There are plenty of under-inspired people working in creative departments. And there are plenty of scatterbrains working in account services or planning departments. These people are not the leaders; they are the followers. Most of the ones I’ve known tend to be happier after they leave the ad business.

So, back to the question, “Am I creative or am I strategic?”  The best answer is “I hope so.”  If the answer is “yes,” then I can help you pick a track. If the answer is “no,” then I can help you pick another major.

Let’s assume you’re creative and strategic. Then which advertising track is best for you? Are you a writer? Do you love to write? Really love it? Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

If you’re not a writer, are you an art director?  Mark Fenske says, “If you come up with good ideas but they all look bad, you’re a copywriter.” From Mark’s wisdom, we might assume:  If you come up with good ideas and they look good, you’re an art director.

Or, is the Strategic track best for you?  Grab a drink and some popcorn, and watch “The Persuaders,” a Frontline documentary from PBS. It’s about the strategic side of brand communications (advertising). It shows how companies and organizations figure out how to persuade you and me to buy their products. If you get excited from the documentary, you’ll like the strategic side of advertising. Watch the film here (click on “Watch the Full Program Online” – a link on the right side of that page).

Some final advice from Helayne Spivak: “Exciting ads come from excited people with incredibly diverse backgrounds and interests. And while most creative advertising people have a healthy interest in their field, they have an even healthier interest in the world around them. In other words, the single-minded study of advertising and advertising alone will not make you a better writer or art director. In fact, the best advice I’ve ever heard for aspiring young creatives is something my mother said to me years ago: ‘Turn off the damned television and go outside and play.’”

Here’s the link to the Canadian Club video (from the photo above).

How to be a good creative (copywriter, art director).

Tom Lichtenheld is an accomplished creative director (at Cramer-Krasselt and now freelancing). Before that, he was a fantastic art director (at Fallon). Last year he spoke at the VCU Brandcenter’s Friday Forum on the myths about creativity. It was a great presentation (see my notes on that topic here). I recently ran across some more of my notes from the presentation. Tom made a list of seven things to be a good creative. Here is Tom’s list combined with my thoughts:

To be a good creative, one must give the creative director:

1) Passion (the most important thing): This was the top thing for Tom, and it is the most important attribute listed by most people when talking about being creative. Passion creates the desire to want to be creative. Passion fuels the need for generating the strongest idea. Passion helps us endure the endless pursuit for absolute beauty in the writing and art direction of advertising.

The author, Sir Ken Robinson, is an expert on creativity and innovation. His book is about finding your passions and how that can change everything.

2) Studiousness: Being a good creative is a never-ending pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge about the craft (writing and art direction). The craft is ever evolving. Knowledge about people – people in general and specific knowledge of the target audience. There’s always more to know about the target audience. Knowledge about culture – what are cool things that people are doing around the world (fashion, hobbies, technology, opinions, interests, etc). Culture is how creatives use their craft to connect with people… they do it by creating culture. Knowledge about he brand. How do people use is (apart from it’s primary use), why do consumers buy it (really), how does the brand fit in with people’s aspirations in life?  As a creative, there’s always more to learn

3) Constant focus on the brief: Creatives are paid to think of millions of ideas. To succeed in that mission, it is natural to veer away from the direction of the brief. That’s OK. That’s expected. In fact, that’s encouraged. However, good creatives always get back to the brief. The ideas that are presented are always on brief. And if ideas are presented that are off brief, those ideas have rationale telling why they diverted from the direction of the brief.

4) More ideas (and fewer pixels): Wonderful direction! The best tools for generating the best ideas are:  paper, pen or pencil, and brain. Notice that “computer” is not on the list. Our capacity to generate ideas is infinite. And all we need to tap into the endless resource of ideas (our brain) is the passion to want more ideas (see #1 above), the background knowledge on the topic (see #2 above), paper and pen/pencil (to record the plethora of ideas that will flow.

5) Good presentations of the work: Raymond McKinney (a CD at The Martin Agency) once told me, “Ideas that are presented like shit, are shit.”  In my years in the ad business (and my years outside of agencies, too), it was easy to see that the ideas that were presented well had a better chance of approval than all of the other the ideas. The guys who always presented their work in a strong, fluid, and easy-to-understand manner, got their work approved. Approved work equals bonuses and promotions. Learn to present your ideas well.

6) Acceptance of critiques: As the saying goes, “Everyone has an opinion….” Creative directors are hired to have opinions and to give critiques. It’s their job! Good clients give good feedback (compliments and criticisms = critiques). So creatives job is to accept all critiques, use them as tools to make the work better, and flourish. The opinions of the creatives are important, and everyone has an opinion. Creatives who don’t respect the opinion of the client or the creative director, tend not to get respect.

7) Independence: Good creatives take direction (as described on in #3), while at the same time they push ideas further (as described in #1). Creatives are expected to own the projects, push the work on their projects, and see the projects through without micromanagement. Creatives that require close scrutiny or micromanagement are less creative and drain the mojo of everyone else.

Tom Lichtenheld makes a great presentation. He is smart, he is down to earth, and he is funny. Every junior art director and junior copywriter should tape this list to his/her cubicle wall. Live by these ideas, and you won’t be a junior for long. And when you’re ready to be a creative director, Tom has a new list for you. Along with this list of how to be a good creative, he shared ways to be a good creative director. I’ll post those thoughts later.

Help Wanted: Account Coordinator, McDonald’s account, Richmond

Moroch is one of the top 20 full service independent advertising agencies in the country, based out of Dallas, with multiple field service offices around the US. We provide research, strategic planning, media planning and buying, brand and retail creative execution in print, broadcast and web for one of the world’s most beloved brands, McDonald’s.

Hold a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent – in Advertising, Marketing, Communications or Business – a plus

We are growing quickly and reinventing the way media works in an integrated marketing environment. If you recognize that the changing consumer and digital environment creates opportunities to really move the sales needle more than ever before, then please read on, you might be interested in joining us. Click the link for all of the specs about the position. Good luck! Richmond Account Coordinator as of 1-14-11 FINAL

A job at The Martin Agency

Marty Thompkins is a recruiter from The Martin Agency who recently spoke at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She shared some great insights about getting a job and answered a lot of questions from VCU ad students.

She said many things that connected with me. I really liked Marty’s list of the six things that they look for when hiring a new employee at Martin:

1) Excellent communication skills. That means no typos and all of that obvious stuff. But the important point was that Marty wants job candidates to tell their story so that their personality shows. This means no cookie-cutter cover letters and no just-the-facts resumes. This means to write more than just listings of stuff like day-to-day tasks.

Barely There Billboard

Everyone knows The Martin Agency's work with GEICO and Walmart. Here's an example their lesser-known (but still award-winning) work.

A good story has characters that the reader can relate to. The job candidate should be the hero of their story. A good story is a sequence of events. A good story includes a conflict or a problem that the lead character will face. And, there should be a resolution to the conflict or problem. A good story needs to be interesting… give the reader a gift for spending time with the story.

Under excellent communication skills, Marty talked about the need to be articulate in person and on the phone. Practice what you will say on the phone when you call an agency. Practice what you will say if the agency calls you.

An important aspect of advertising is to take a ton of information and to be able to cut it down into a succinct, digestible message for the audience. Resumes need to show that the candidate has this ability. A one-page resume is a good example of this skill.

Excellent communication skills cannot ignore the power of visual communications. Marty said that all resumes should have a “design element.” Granted that media planners don’t need a resume that shows the graphic finesse of an art director, but media folks better show that they are aware of visual communications.

2) Passion. This one was simple. Marty said that job candidates must show their passions. It is not important how the passions are presented. And, it is not important what things people are passionate about. Just have passion and show it.

I recently watched a nice, short TED talk about the eight keys to success. Richard St. John says that passion was one of the eight “secrets of success.” In fact, he says that passion is the first key to success. Watch the video here.

3) Opinions about advertising. Have a point of view about the ad business or an aspect of it. Be able to tell someone what your favorite ad campaign is. Be able to comment on current ads that are getting attention in the marketplace.

4) Be tenacious about getting a job. Other people are working hard to get the good jobs. Anyone who wants a good job will need to work for it. Good jobs don’t just fall out of the sky.

This means to scrutinize your resume, cover letter, and portfolio. Customize everything for each job applied for. This means to follow up on applications… BUT do not become a stalker!  The Martin Agency gets back with every application they receive. Allow two weeks for the recruiter to get back with you before following up.

5) Show that you’re willing to work. The Martin Agency expects people to pay their dues to secure a good job. Entry-level job candidates should not dismiss starting at the bottom because Martin hires from within.

6) Fit into the agency’s culture. The best employees are the ones that fit into the culture of the company (the people, the process, the mission, and the personality). No company has the culture that would be perfect for all employees. Likewise, no job candidates have the personality that would be perfect for all companies.

The Martin Agency looks for people who 1) collaborate well, 2) have integrity, 3) have a sense of humor, and 4) are down to earth. Marty forgot to mention that The Martin Agency also looks for people who know a lot about advertising (or at least a lot about a part of advertising).

At the top of The Martin Agency’s website, there are four links next to the company logo. The first link is “Culture.” It’s important.

Marty Thompkins is a fantastic ambassador for The Martin Agency. She shared her time and her expertise willingly. She was personable. She showed passion for her work and for the ad business. And she was down to earth. The Martin Agency receives around 300 resumes every week — tough odds for any job candidate. Focus on these six elements and the odds will get better.