Product Design
  • Interview Excerpt: Gerry Graf, Founder, Barton F. Graf 9000, New York

    Check out some great work from Gerry Graf.

    WS: What do you look for in a student book? And what impresses you?

    GG: The first thing I look for is campaign ideas. It’s like the first filter. Not just a lot of one-shot-y things, or guerrilla tactics, or this and that. Just a bigger idea. And then I look for people who don’t think the way I think. I like to look at an ad and not really be able to figure out how the person came up with it. I mean, a lot of times, you still see the same crap…like you see a lot of toothpaste ads with a lot of white people because it makes things really white. I love seeing ads that I like but not understanding what wavelength that person is on. So, odd thinking, 
I guess.

    WS: How did you get into the industry initially?

    GG: I was a stock broker when I graduated from college. I wrote for a comedy review at Notre Dame. I went to the University of Notre Dame and I loved doing that. So I kind of had a sit-down with myself and I wanted to wake up each morning and want to do what my job was. And I thought back to what my favorite thing to do was and it was writing for that review. So I screwed around with pilots and all that kind of stuff, and it didn’t go anywhere and somebody said, “You should try advertising.”

    So I took a class in LA, some night class with some guy who used to work at Chiat, and I put a horrible portfolio together. It was horrible, and I showed it to everybody in Los Angeles where I was living and couldn’t get a job. And then one guy liked one ad out of the twelve that I had and he pushed me a little and then he had a friend in New York who was hiring at Saatchi and they hired me. And I’ve told the story before, but I found my first book when I was moving a couple of years ago, and it’s just dreadful, but that’s why I don’t…I never look for a perfect book because they rarely come by. You just try to see something, some kind of talent in there.

    WS: Do you have any tips for someone who’s just starting out on how to put together a book or how to improve?

    GG: How to put together a book? Well, nowadays, you need a website. That’s the easiest way to get somebody to look at your work. That’s not the best way. To present your work, it would be great to sit down with the creative director and have the actual ads and be there to talk through everything. But I think the big thing about getting a job isn’t how your book looks, or how you put together the book, or do you have a website or a disk, or whatever. The hard thing is getting somebody to look at it. I mean look around us—see this? All of this stuff, except for my kids’ pictures, are people’s books–people’s lives, right?

    My advice is to keep calling, and calling, and calling, and calling, and don’t ever worry if you’re bothering somebody because I have a guy who works for me now, who hounded me once a week for about a year and a half. And he kept working on his book, and working on his book, and working on his book, and then I hired him. So, I would say, put something together to show your ideas, but be relentless when it comes to getting your work in front of somebody because that’s the biggest thing—is to get somebody to stop and look at your work. And if it’s really good, if there’s a couple of things in there, then I’d take the book off the ground and I bring it over to my creative manager and I say, “Call this person in.” So it’s a bitch. It sucks. It’s really hard.

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