Really liked this article, so much thought I'd post it in it's entirety. Lately, I've been doing a number of things with students looking to or exploring getting into advertising. It's great to see how many talented, intelligent and well schooled individuals want to get into ad agencies. It ensures my socks are pulled up fully every day. But it's often disappointing to see how many quit simply don't do their homework or ask good questions. "I've always thoughts advertising would be cool" isn't a good answer to the question why you're interested in advertising. With so many resources and so much information out there, no excuse is reasonable for not knowing the basics of the industry and at minimum a couple pieces of work a particular agency does when you visit.
This is a great story for what it takes to get into advertising but is also a good reminder for anyone. After a number of years you stop asking questions. Or only ask questions that you think will make you look good. At the end of the day the best answers generally come from the dumb or obvious questions.
It pays to think like a student at any age
Published February 26, 2007Not long ago, Thomas Kemeny was a college student trying to break into a very competitive business.
An aspiring advertising copywriter, he set his sights high. He didn't want to work just anywhere; he wanted to work with the best.
He wrangled an internship at one of the top creative agencies, then got his foot in the door at another leading firm in San Francisco, where he landed a job last year as a copywriter.
He'd been out of school less than a year.
Mentors say the 23-year-old is talented and hard working, but there are many talented, hard-working professionals who haven't experienced such early success.
One thing about Kemeny, he puts himself out there. He's willing to ask anybody anything.
It's more than natural curiosity. It's part of a drive to figure out his place in the world while learning what it takes to practice his craft at the highest levels.
He alluded to it in his valedictory address to the Columbia College's Class of 2005, a speech for which he created and inserted a 30-second commercial paying tribute to the class salutatorian.
Graduation is no time to celebrate, he warned his classmates with mock sobriety. "We're about to lose a great right," he recalls saying.
"When you're a student, you can ask anybody anything, and as long as you follow it up by saying you're a student, it's totally acceptable."
He called it "student immunity," and he invoked this right often.
Riding the elevated train, he spotted a guy with a briefcase emblazoned with the logo of ad agency DDB. He introduced himself and asked for a meeting.
"[DDB's] creative director told me every ad in my portfolio was crap except one," Kemeny recalls. "I took that ad and put it on my wall, labeled, `My first ad that doesn't suck.' Then I worked to make it the worst piece in my portfolio."
Students get better by showing their portfolios over and over again. Kemeny put his work in front of anybody who would take the time to look.
"Everyone does it," says Columbia College professor Laurence Minsky. "He was able to improve faster because he did it so intensely."
The spring before graduation, he applied for an unpaid internship at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami. It was a calculated risk. Many would-be copywriters go to portfolio school before trying to break into the business.
He wrote letter after letter to land the three-month gig. Among the reasons he offered as why the agency's recruiter should give him a chance: "I don't smell bad."
Then, employing a loopy logic, he wrote that he wasn't implying the other candidates did smell bad, though the agency was taking a risk they might if they hadn't mentioned it.
His internship was nearly over when Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out power in his steamy, rented room. He slept for 10 nights on the floor behind a desk at the office, showering at the agency's gym and using his cell phone as his alarm clock.
"It took me up to another level," he says of the internship. "I'd worked hard before, but this was different."You made sure every detail was correct, the spacing between every letter was perfect and balanced, things I'd never dreamed of paying attention to."
When the internship ended, he headed back to Chicago with a simple game plan: "Get in front of people who I thought were good."
At an industry event, he spotted Kevin Lynch, co-founder of the innovative boutique Hadrian's Wall, now Zig.
Was it hard to approach Lynch? "Incredibly," he says. "It's never easy, the fear and the butterflies, but you push past it."
Lynch gave him freelance work and offered references at firms, including San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
"He had the drive and persistence you typically find in people who are going to start their careers at such a great agency," Lynch recalls.
Fast forward to the present: Kemeny is off to a splashy start.
He was part of a Goodby team that created a high-profile campaign pairing the scent of chocolate-chip cookies with a simple black-and-white sign, "Got Milk?" The ads were placed in bus shelters in downtown San Francisco in December, but they didn't stay there long.
The campaign made national headlines when San Francisco officials ordered the cookie scent removed after complaints from groups representing diabetics and others.
When Kemeny is not working at Goodby, he's collaborating with friends on a cartoon show.
"Just recently I started taking singing lessons," he adds. "It's fantastic, I highly recommend it."
Where does he want to be, say, in five years?
"I really like advertising for now, [but] maybe I'll hop over to writing TV shows some day. I like writing and exploring and checking out new things, so I'm not sure where I'll end up."
It pays to be a student, whatever your age. Try invoking immunity today.