After flitting about North Florida for a few months with a shiny degree, a spec book, and unabashed enthusiasm for writing advertising, I decided that to really break into the field, I had to look to people who loved it as much as I did. Namely, Creative Directors at the big agencies on Madison Avenue.
So I spent hours at the library pouring over the Red Book to find shops in NYC that seemed to best match my particular style. I targeted eight agencies with a very specific appeal. I found the names of the top CDs at these agencies, and even called to confirm that these people still held these posts. Then I decided to put my skill to work for myself.
I knew that getting the attention of such important, creative and busy people meant more than a nicely written letter with some spec ads that demonstrated my ability to solve creative problems. I needed something that they’d actually see. And remember. So–I sent each CD a fresh Vidalia onion in a small box with a hand-written note that succinctly juxtaposed the creative problem solving process with the layers of an onion. I ended the note with the line, “Now go wash your hands.”
Imagine being the personal assistant to the Group CD at a major Manhattan advertising agency and receiving a note for your boss like this. Let’s just say – it got noticed. Of the eight agencies I sent the onion to, I received six calls and three interviews. The other three were just to say they appreciated the effort.
My point is not to give you the idea to use an onion as part of your own appeal, but rather to take the time to demonstrate your passion by utilizing your own strengths. And if you’re a creative person, don’t forget to dance with the one what got you here.
As the owner of a small boutique agency, not a week goes by that I don’t receive an employment inquiry via email. I’ve found that most of people fall into two categories:
1) Here I Am! – These are the folks who don’t reference you or your company by name, but who feel that because they have graduated with a degree in design or PR, that they have an inherent right to work in advertising and that by God I should be lucky they’re contacting me at all. These emails get deleted with no response.
2) There You Are! – These are the people I respond to. Sure, because we’re a virtual agency, and rely heavily on seasoned talent, we don’t hire right out of college. But when someone takes the time out to mention the work they see on our site, or effectively translate their passion for this business in a sincere way – I always make a point to respond and provide any references I can to help them out.
If you want to break into any field, not just advertising, my advice is for you to prove it. Because one of life’s hard lessons is learning that the world owes you nothing. Stephen Crane put it this way:
A man said to the universe, “Sir, I exist!” “However,” replied the universe, “the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.”
Proving your passion means more than a nicely written cover letter and going through the front door. Sometimes it means using a crowbar. Or an onion.
8 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Feb 23, 2009
Sending an onion is the most brilliantly original idea I’ve ever heard.
No one is hires a resume, they hire the person. So be a person, even if you’re just a multi-layered, smelly person who makes people cry.
Feb 24, 2009
Thanks for this article, Jim. As you know, I’m graduating soon and this is a big help.
Nichole / @napril1023
Feb 24, 2009
Genius. And it’s not a one-off approach. This lesson also applies once you get the job, when you have to promote your ideas over all the others.
Feb 24, 2009
Great story, thanks for sharing!
Mar 10, 2009
I love it! I shall share this with my students. The orange eye is a bit on the creepy side, though.
Jun 12, 2009
Great sharing on your experiences. I belong to the second category – there you’re.
Recently, in direct mailing to prospective clients I thought to rewrite a small piece of website text – to have a taste of it – and send to the clients.
Or a one off ad which gives them a glimpse of what I can bring to the table…. some ideas like that.
Question to you: is it the right way to do it? How do the people in the company or agency think of us? Don’t they think we’re overselling to them?
Thanks @ Regards
Jun 17, 2009
Solomon – yes, prove your talent. That’s all there is to it. Want to break in – be creative. Do what comes natural.
Nov 19, 2009
Showing your creativity and talent was a crucial part of getting a potential employers attention. Before you even contacted the CDs though it sounds like you did a LOT of research.
The quickest way to be discounted by a potential employer is to not do your research. You found the agencies that seemed to be a good fit, called to confirm the right folks were in place and then got their attention.
Too often college grads take a pray and spray approach instead of figuring out the best fit and the appropriate audience to target. Here ends my $.02; love the blog Jim!
My novel – Minor King
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