In case you’re not familiar with it, check out some of David’s work in yesterday’s post.
WS: What do you look for in a student book? And what impresses you?
DD: It depends on what needs we have. For me, the most important thing is—and there’s a couple of high-level generic things—but I’ll drill down. Obviously, there’s no question it comes down to their thinking, and the diversity of their thinking, and the originality. I think a lot of students spend their time trying to emulate what’s been done before, and to be on a level that’s in sync with the certain agencies that they’re going into, or stuff that’s won awards in years gone by. And for me, it’s not about that. For me, it’s about the broadness of their thinking and really just seeing how they tackle something in a lateral way.
Obviously, being a student is a fantastic thing because you can cherry-pick any brand and work on anything, right? The canvas is huge and completely open-ended. And I think I like to see the degree of difficulty that they put in their book as well. I said the broadness of their thinking, and how they’ve brought it alive in more than just a couple of mediums. For me I’m not seduced by the finish of the work. If I’m looking for someone as a designer then I want to see aesthetic sensibilities and all that sort of stuff. But if I’m looking for someone purely on a conceptual level, I really don’t care how it’s mocked up. It’s more just to see the diversity and the degree of difficulty. Because, as I said, I’m a classical advertising guy. I was sort of brought up in, and built my career on, TV and print. But now, particularly with what we’re trying to do now, while we still do that and I still believe in that strongly, there’s so much more out there than that. So I want to see the different canvases that people play on. That’s what I look at. And the thinking within those.
WS: You mentioned the finish of the work. What about just sketches? Can that be enough these days?
DD: It can be enough. There are some books that I’ve seen where the finish is so extraordinary. They’ve put so much effort into how they’ve mocked something up and brought it to life. But the idea—the foundation of the idea—is so rubbish. So I feel bad for them that they’ve wasted so much time. Again, if it’s someone who’s going to have a heavy art-directional role or a design role, then I want to see their eye. No question. But if it’s a conceptual thing, I don’t care if it’s on a…I mean, in London I’ve hired people who literally did have, almost, scraps of paper. Maybe that was a statement [from] them, but it was original. But it was what was on those scraps of paper.
WS: What about copy for writers? Do you want to see the evidence that they can write?
DD: Definitely. I think copy is one of those things that goes in and out of favor all the time. But as someone who started as a copywriter, I see myself as a writer. I like to know that they understand the craft of writing. And I want to see their personality. How they write. Because whether it’s long, long copy, or it’s punchy, I still want to see that they understand the best way to convey something in their words. So, definitely. I want creatives to have a skill set. I don’t want everyone to be so neutral that they’re all vanilla.
We don’t have departments as such. It’s pretty integrated here. And people have certain skill sets. So the digital designer sits next to the old-school designer, or whatever you want to call them. But I like to know that people do have skill sets so they can mix it up a bit. I think just having a floor, just of concepters, sounds really exciting for the first phase, but when it’s got to go live, you drop the ball if the nuance parts aren’t crafted. So it depends who you’re looking for. But, first and foremost, it’s the thinking. And then I think it’s a shame that the craft of advertising has disappeared. Because all the best stuff you admire, whichever, wherever it is, there’s still a great craft to it. That’s a shame because a Mac can’t craft something for you. It can make things easier for you, but it doesn’t craft them for you, it doesn’t write them for you. So definitely, I like the old-school values with new-school outlook.
WS: And what do you think about putting things in a book that aren’t ads at all? Just personal work, or art, or journal writing…
DD: I think if it adds dimension to who they are. If it’s just trying to paint them as a wacky, interesting person, maybe. I look around my office and I’ve decorated it with some real Chinese contemporary art. It’s a bit of who I am. If it adds some texture to who they are and tells more of a story so I can understand a little bit more about how they think, definitely. But if it’s just things they like and they borrow from, if it doesn’t manifest itself in their work and their thinking, then it’s a distraction.
WS: I mean their work that they’ve created.
DD: Oh, absolutely. Our website is quite simple, but as much as we celebrate our work, we celebrate our people. There is a whole section which is what people do outside of work. And I don’t judge what they do, but I love to know that people in our office are not just one-dimensional advertising people. Some of them have a passion for photography, and art, and movies, whatever. I just like people to be well rounded. So, if it adds that dimension, definitely. I think there’s no downside to that.
Some people become such disciples of advertising. And they think if they can quote every ad that was ever made, and who wrote it, and who art-directed it, that makes them more interesting. Well no, that really just makes you a library of information. It doesn’t actually make you forward looking. I like people who have reference, but I’d rather take one who has more dimension than just advertising because that’s what we’re in. We’re in the business of communicating, and understanding emotions and people and trends, and all that sort of stuff. And you can’t actually, really, sincerely get involved in it unless you have empathy with it, and an understanding of it. So I think that helps.
WS: Do you have any other advice for someone who’s putting a book together or just trying to get into the industry?
DD: My thing is I’m not a big fan of people who do weird and wacky things to try and get in. Do you know what I mean?
WS: Like stunts?
DD: I always appreciate the effort. But I’ve often found, with the majority of people who do that kind of thing, their books are never as good, or as original, or as funny, as the stunts are. So I often get disappointed. And sometimes it crosses the line where it’s almost like stalking and all that sort of stuff. I absolutely admire persistence. I think it’s fantastic. I think really understanding who you’re sending your book to and what they’re about in the agency and all that is fantastic. So it’s not just a mass mailing. But crossing the line where it’s stalking doesn’t really work with me. I’m sure to some people it makes them stand out. But only do it as long as your book is even better. I always find it more disappointing when someone does something funny and I get to meet them and their book is just boring and mainstream and all that. I think, “Wow, it’s a shame you didn’t put more effort into your book.”
I remember way back when I was in Australia and London there were a couple people who were relentless, persistent, showed work ethic, showed understanding, showed learning, all that sort of stuff. And they just bombarded us with new thinking for…it’s almost like they redid their book every week and sent it over. And, in the beginning, I didn’t even like the stuff, but after a while the ideas got better and better. And I just thought, “This person is unbelievably persistent.” And they did it for something like three months. So they’re prolific. They’re prolific and the work got better, and I just thought, “That’s someone who’s seriously keen.” Realize it’s not an easy thing—just hoping that lightning strikes straight away. And I hired them. I was like, “This is the type of work ethic and person that I like.” Obviously, as I said, I liked their thinking because it’s not about just creating a sweatshop. But I think being tactical and smart about how you get in, as opposed to just, “I’ll just send my book out.”
And also sometimes students think you have to target just the creative director. Obviously the person at the top does make the final decision usually but sometimes it’s smart to work your way up through the agency. If you befriend someone in the agency who can give you some advice [that can work]. So, you navigate your way through the agency to get your book in there. I think definitely, obviously, in the new world, most stuff is done with links, which is always a good way. Because it lets people navigate through in their own time.
WS: Do you prefer a website to a physical book?