Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On being a student.

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. 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.


Tore Claesson said...

thank you for so generously referring to my blog, which mostly consists of snap shots and some personal blabber inspired by the images, or vice versa. One thing you most certainly won't learn from my blog is how to survive and make money in the ad industry.

mary said...

i liked this post, as usual. but frankly, and with all due respect, i just cannot believe you learn to make more money. maybe it can be a result, but a reason? i say this, because i like learning to satisfy my curiosity, searching for truths and similarities, finding differences, understanding issues, finding reasons... making more money somehow never fit in there.

george tannenbaum said...

Ah, you're probably right Mary. I do learn to be good and my job. That leads to more satisfaction and then, more money.

mary said...

now i learned something! :)

george tannenbaum said...

You probably also learned, Mary, that sometimes I forget to proofread. Sorry for the typo. I meant "at my job."

mary said...

oh, no problem. i assumed that was the intended meaning. either "at my job" or "to be good and better at my job". which didnt make that much difference in this context for me. i am not as eloquent as you (english is not my first language). but even if, any 'mistakes' on here would be forgiven any day. i really enjoy reading your blog.

Todd H said...

Great post.

As a fellow employee of said agency, I spent many lunch hours downstairs at Barnes & Noble, which was the very first B&N, by the way.

Here's something sad: That agency remains, to this day, the best-designed workplace I've ever worked at. It was a time when management still put some thought (and effort and money) into the physical environment.

Considering the dumps many of us now work in, the "broken windows" theory of crime can probably be expanded to include the quality of the work we put out.

sheriffshooter said...

this one warmed my heart because it's exactly where i am. every detail, including the two jokers in the hall of fame. i'm amazed at the similarities.