Check out the work of David Nobay.
What do you look for in a student portfolio? And what impresses you?
I think what impresses me more than anything else is just a point of view. It’s interesting, a lot of young people come here who have been filtered through older people. So they come in and take me through work and I say, “Do you love this? Because I don’t actually love this.” And as soon as I push them in it they say, “No, I hate this, but I was told it would be really good.” Or, “I was told you’d like it.” And I get it because I remember being young and also being told to listen to everyone. But what you’re really looking for is someone who can filter the information around them, even at a young age. So they can say, “Everyone told me this and everyone gave me this advice but ultimately I’m presenting you something having filtered it through my brain that I’m proud of.” And I very rarely see that.
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One of the things I think is a huge mistake is juniors bring in too much work. And it goes back to what I was saying: they can’t defend it. And, invariably, there is one piece they can defend and they love. And I’ve always said, “Bring that one piece.” If you’re lucky, there’s three of them. But if there’s only one, bring that one piece. And the worst that can happen is I walk out of the room saying, “I want to see more.” And that’s a great place to be. But if you’re bringing 5 or 6 or 10—for some reason there’s a strange idea in colleges that you have to have 10 campaigns with three ads in each, which is ridiculous—and 7 are shit, 2 are average, and 1 is great, it throws me. Because I think, “Is that one great because you’re potentially great? Or because you fell on it.”
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You mentioned schools want you to have 10 campaigns of three ads. Do you feel that a book needs to have print ads at all?
The industry has changed. The cliché used to be three print ads with a logo at the bottom and a ridiculously simple proposition. Now it’s the “something” project. The reason why those projects do well, whether it be the Tap Project or something else, is that the core idea is really strong and then it’s just expressed across lots of different places. But a lot of kids get so excited about spreading stuff around in a lot of different places that they don’t spend enough time on the idea. And sometimes there is both: a blindingly simple proposition that you’ll never see once you get in the business—indestructible socks or edible pants—done in an overly simple way. And you get someone trying to be untraditional but, actually, they’ve missed the point and they’re just spreading shit wide.
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Do you think someone could come in with a book of sketches?
I don’t have any format in mind. When someone walks into my office, I don’t have a contract that says, “You need to have three interactive campaigns, two outdoor campaigns, and one ambient.” I don’t give a shit about that. The contract is, “You have half an hour to make an impact.” You have half an hour to show that you have instinct, confidence, the ability to see a story, and the skills to tell the story in terms of craft.
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What are the personal qualities you look for?
In this business, the line between success and failure is so thin. The line between conceit and arrogance and swagger is so thin. I actually think that you need to have a healthy amount of arrogance to be in this business. And I don’t mean going around and being arrogant, but there’s an arrogance to presume that when you look at this piece of white paper, you’ll see something different from the millions of other people who have looked at that paper with the same brief. If you were full of humility, you’d just collapse on the ground and cry. Because you’d think, “Oh great, it’s another four-wheel drive.” There’s an arrogance you need to dig in somewhere and go, “I reckon I can take this somewhere no one else has been.”
What we sell as a company for a long time is vapor. For a long time before you see the gorilla playing the drums, it’s vapor. Once you see the gorilla playing the drums and once it’s gone viral and once everyone is jumping up and down, a lot of people will tell you how they always knew it was a great idea. But the reality is someone managed to tell that tale while it was vapor. And that takes confidence. That takes swagger. It’s hard because what I look for is difficult to define. I don’t want megalomaniacal monsters. At the same time, I don’t want shrinking violets. I’m looking for people who find their own voice and find their own confidence and they manage to push things out in a positive way. It’s hard to prescribe. But you can recognize it when you see it.
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Sponges are overrated. If a guy came in here and gave the impression he knows everything, you wouldn’t touch him because he doesn’t know everything. But if a guy came in and said, “I don’t know anything; I’m here to learn,” then I don’t want him either.
If people only take one thing from this interview it should be: If you got one great idea, bring it. If you got 10 great ideas, fantastic. But if you got one great idea and three that you’re not sure about and two that you don’t care about, just bring the one idea. Wear the pain of only having one idea. Because at the end of the day, we’re not buying the book, we’re buying your ability to see right and wrong.