When I was very much younger in this business I worked for a couple of guys who were in the advertising hall of fame. Despite that accomplishment, I quickly determined that there wasn't a lot I could learn from them. They had checked out. They no longer had either the passion or direction that had led to their accomplishments.
If I was to learn, to get good so I could make more money, I needed to be a student. Here are a few of the things I did.
My office at the time was down on 18th Street and Fifth Avenue. A seven minute walk to the Strand, one of the great bookstores of the world with its 18-miles of books. I would go down to the Strand probably three times a month, if not more often looking for inspiration to make myself better. At the Strand I found a trove of old award annuals. I bought pretty much every one I could lay my hands on and they dated from the early 60s--just as Doyle Dane Bernbach was starting to 1988 or so.
Another thing I did was read every magazine and newspaper I could get ahold of just for the ads. I would tear out ads I liked and keep them in a giant cardboard box. I did this for three reasons. One, it was, of a sort, competitive research. If I was working on a telco, I could see what others were doing. Two, it made me aware of who was doing what in our business. Third and most important, it helped my critical eye. At the end of the year I could see how my measure of a good ad stood up to One Show judges. Was I "voting" as they were.
I also started reading "The Wall Street Journal." Not for its neo-fascist politics but because I wanted to be smarter than everyone else in the room, including planners and account people. I was usually the first one in my agency who knew news about our clients and our clients' industries. Also, what I've found is that the "Journal" employed some of the world's best writers--writers who know how to grab your interest and keep it.
The final thing I did was pore over and save a series of ads for "The Wall Street Journal" called "Creative Leaders." Each month or so they would do a portrait of a luminary in our business--how they started, how they approach work, what drives them. I read these like a kid who loved basketball would study the on-court moves of Kobe Bryant. http://www.aef.com/industry/careers/2026 You can find these portraits above. I still look at them now and again.
I have a friend who was the head of the pre-school my darling daughters went to. I'd see her a couple times a week on the crosstown bus. Once she interrupted me as I was reading a book and said to me, "I've never seen a student like you."
I am a student. I still do most of the things I mentioned above. These days I also read a few advertising blogs as well, Bob Hoffman's, Dave Trott's, the observations of Tore Claesson. All because I want to get better so I can make more money.