Tag Archives: Creative

5 creative ways to get a new job as a writer or designer

I was recently in a discussion online with a group of creatives, where the topic of interviews came up. The basis of the question was, is it ever OK to ‘cheat’ a little bit in order to get an interview or be hired. By this they meant, exaggerate accomplishments, etc.  As you might imagine, the discussion was quite lively, but the consensus among professionals was that you never exaggerate — you tell the truth and hope you’ll stand out among the fakers who are also interviewing.


Carol Worthington-Levy c. 1984 – during my first year as a direct marketing creative.

There is a shortage of integrity when it comes to interviewing for jobs, and creatives are not alone in this, but we’re claiming to be creative — so we should be able to develop a more creative strategy to get a job!

I can’t say I’m a bona fide authority on this, but I HAVE gotten my foot in the door a few different ways that I’ve been told were worth sharing in this forum.

Now, I am not an ivy league graduate or even a grad of a private university. I went to a state university of 12,000 out in western Pennsylvania and my final degree was not in copywriting or design or art direction — it was in fine arts and teaching. There were times when I wondered how in hell I’d get into advertising. Here are some of the things I did that proved helpful for me to get not only my full time jobs, but also, eventually, a vibrant freelance career.

For stark beginners or those ‘starting over’…

1. Learn specific skills outside of your scholastic environment.

Beginners need examples of their work. But work done in a classroom has limited appeal, often being irrelevant. We rarely graduate with a skillset that makes us ready to walk into an agency unless we happen to be a grad of a place like Art Center or RISD.

So after my first 2 or 3 unsuccessful interviews, I realized that I was missing some essential skills to work professionally in the field of design.

A conversation with a friend opened a door — his stepfather was representing a company that had a four-book-course on doing layout for advertising. He GAVE me a set — I will always appreciate his generosity, and I still have the books as a memento of an important step in my career!

Much of this was very new for me. So I paged through the lessons in the books and learned how to hand-letter and lay out ads the way an agency would. This did not actually take much time to learn! I really worked at it, with the goal of filling a portfolio with quality examples – just enough to show a potential employer that I knew how to do it, and was willing to work hard.

From there, I looked in magazines for ads that I thought were missing the mark. And starting from scratch, I redid about 10 of them, writing my own headlines, drawing marker comps and using techniques i had learned from the books.

When I next interviewed, I was very clear with my interviewer that I had not been trained in this specific field, so I self-trained using a great course, and then I developed these concepts as new options. I even showed the original ads so they could see I hadn’t copied anything from the ad.

By building my own portfolio as I did,  potential employers could see that I wasn’t a whiner and I wasn’t afraid to work hard. And they could also see how I liked doing this work. They were impressed, and I got a job quickly after that, as a junior… just starting and a crap salary … but so grateful to finally have my foot in the door!

For any interview at any level:

2. Listen, ask questions, and accept constructive critique.

In addition to showing the examples (now, my portfolio) to new interviews, I called one of the folks who had interviewed me before, who had very kindly told me that I was missing these skills, and he allowed me to show him what I’d done. While he’d already hired someone, he assured me that I was ready and was proud that I’d used his critique wisely.

I had asked this potential employer specific questions about why he didn’t feel I was ready (when I was in the interview) —  and he provided it! So while he did, I listened and came back later to show I’d listened.

He was impressed enough that he referred me to another art director for an interview!

3. Don’t dwell on your old examples.

If you were lucky enough to be trained in your creative field, It’s worth it to keep and show some assignments you had for your first interviews, but after your first job, put it away! Interviewers want to see real work.

If you have work that’s over ten years old in your portfolio, you probably should remove it before going out again. It looks odd to employers to see old stuff, and it requires too much explaining. Often it just looks old, and employers don’t like that.

4. A foot in the door is great — but will a toe do the job?

Connect with a company like Aquent or CreativeGroup, who specialize in employment of part time or freelance creatives. If you believe your days are numbered at your current job, it’s worth it to go through the process of qualifying before you’re without a job, because you’re more confident and more attractive as someone who is working. Accept assignments that are short term or freelance, then perform your stuff. Often they continue your assignments until it makes sense for them to just hire you on full time.

Why is this a popular resource for agencies? It’s an easy way for agencies and businesses to ‘test drive’, hire and try talent to see who fits into their organization best. Now that our nationalized healthcare situation is happening, you can work like this and still have health insurance.

5. Join and participate.
All over the country there are professional organizations that meet monthly or quarterly, and sometimes even weekly, Local branches of the DMA and the Advertising club are typical. Despite the cost of the meetings, plan to go to meetings, get there early, put on a smile and work the room. Ask questions of other people – find out what kind of biz they have etc.  Make friends, and you’ll meet potential clients.

If there is a BMA – business marketers association – those meetings can be fun and it’s rare to find a creative coming to the meetings. But these people need love (and great creative) too!

The organization you’re going to for the meetings is undoubtedly a volunteer organization. Offer to help the organization with promotions and so on. This is a good place to meet people for potential business or a job, too. As you have gotten to know them better put it out there that you are looking. (But wait til you know them a little bit so you don’t look like you’re only there to find a job.)

The bottom line is, keep your integrity, don’t feel desperate enough to show work you didn’t do or exaggerate. Instead, show them what a go-getter you are through some of these suggestions. Persevere, keep an open mind, and eventually you will find work you really enjoy.  You might end up moving from job to job more than you may like…. but remember, it’s all part of the adventure of developing a career! And wherever you go, there is something you can learn from someone there.

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14 tips for creating headlines that draw in your customer.

Inspired by an article in Target Marketing by the inimitable Denny Hatch, I thought I’d pursue the issue of bad headlines in this quickie post. To see Denny’s great article, visit http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/what-s-wrong-with-these-headlines

You may not be doing anything in print and think this doesn’t matter. But it does. This topic is key to people reading your posts, your online ads, your postcards, your home pages, your landing pages. All of those customer contacts must have a great headline, or the effort is going to fail, or at least under perform.


Here are a few of our recent efforts with headlines that really racked up the customer visits and sales. These ads were created with Beasley Direct Marketing, one of the leading direct and interactive marketing agencies in the Silicon Valley.
First is a B2B ad for Anritsu, which has developed a cable and antenna analyzer with a host of new features including an extremely long lasting battery (convenience – they don’t have to leave the field and recharge the thing halfway through a job.)

The next one is also B2B: it’s for Rovi and it was an award winner for customer retention. Rovi’s service/product is very likely the rolling list of TV shows you see on your TV, particularly in hotels. The ads that run on those platforms are paid advertising, and the format is irresistible to most viewers.Rovi ad

I’ve pared some tips from Denny Hatch’s article, and I’ve added some additional tidbits from admired and powerful writers (and yours truly). Check out this comprehensive ‘laundry list’ of what should be considered for better headlines:

1. “Avoid the “hard-to-grasp” headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance.” —John Caples

2. “Remember that every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise.” —John Caples

3. “Some headlines are “blind.’ They don’t say what the product is, or what it will do for you. They are about 20 per cent below average in recall.” —David Ogilvy

4. “The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat’. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of products you are advertising. If you are selling a remedy for bladder weakness, display the words BLADDER WEAKNESS in your headline; they catch the eye of anyone who suffers from this inconvenience. If you want mothers to read your advertisement, display MOTHERS in your headline. And so on.” —David Ogilvy

5. “Clearly state a benefit in your headline.” —Craig Huey, president, Direct Marketing Creative Group

6. “The headline selects the reader.” —Axel Andersson, founder, Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg, Germany, World’s second foremost expert on direct mail

7. “People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter, which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it.” —Claude Hopkins

8. “Specifics sell. Generalities don’t.” —Andrew J. Byrne

9. “The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit–like a whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. Rifle through a magazine and count the number of ads whose headlines promise a benefit of any kind.” —David Ogilvy

10. “Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new way to use an old product–like serving Campbell’s Soup on the rocks. On the average, ads with news are recalled by 22% more people than ads without news.” —David Ogilvy

11. “If you are lucky enough to have some news to tell, don’t bury it in your body copy, which nine out of ten people will not read. State it loud and clear in your headline. And don’t scorn tried-and-true words like amazing, introducing, now, suddenly.” —David Ogilvy

12. Don’t over-use superlatives. Words like “best ever,” “amazing,” and “incredible” better be true or you will lose credibility. That’s a bad start for a client relationship. Hype will turn prospects off, not on. — Victoria Eden

13. Focus on why you’re there and stick with it. If your headline concentrates on one thing, and then you change directions during the ad, it confuses your reader, and you lose them. — Carol Worthington-Levy

14. Get to the point, refraining from cute or obtusely clever.  Making obscure references may make you feel smart but it makes them feel stupid and that’s a bad place to take a potential customer. You’ll lose ’em that very second. — Carol Worthington-Levy

15. Your customer is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” The only thing your customer cares about is, “Will this work for me?” And the fact that you think this copy is clever or funny is irrelevant: Your customer frequently doesn’t share your sensibilities. — Carol Worthington-Levy

Now, I’m sure there are folks out there who think rules like these set the stage for an old fashioned, fuddy-duddy headline and effort.

That’s just their arrogance speaking. That’s right, I’m saying that most creatives and marketers who work on advertising  have never seen the direct result of their effort — and these folks ALWAYS overestimate how people respond to it. They cannot imagine the horrendous failure of their efforts!

I’ve seen the testing and it’s dismal. Most of the stuff you see in writing now, whether in print or online, is garbage-can-ready. And what’s pathetic is that these people are paid to make this stuff effective. They don’t even know how to make good on that promise.  So, they continue to do the same garbage again and again, and their clients think this is the best they can get. Wish I had some swampland to sell those clients!

Truth be told, a great headline — one that matches some of the criteria in the list on this post — makes an ad (or post, or website… etc.) relevant to the reader. Imagine that — it’s not about the writer, it’s about THE CUSTOMER!

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty damned tired of copy that says ‘we are the best at what we do’. (Oh, shut up!) What’s missing is the headline that tells me – What can you do for me today? How can you make my life better? How can you make me more successful? Why will everyone love me more when I use your product or service? What can you do for me that will make me appear to be smarter or better looking?

No matter what you’re writing, or what business you’re in, you are guaranteed to get more customers, and better qualified customers, if your copy — especially your headline copy — fits these criteria! — CWL

P.S. Another article i found that I thought gave some good tips on headline writing:

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Now, what is it that you do?

The advertising world is full of good and bad examples of creative. But one approach that is among the most popular, but measurably least successful, is the ‘visual analogy’ approach.

The B2B tech world is especially prone to using this direction, because

1. it’s a helluva lot of work to try to explain what they do and who their customers are;

2. they hire lazy agencies who love to do this kind of ad and are really good at selling this approach. Often they’re ‘art director’ driven rather than copy driven, but in any case, they really don’t understand the value of creating a clear, benefit-driven advertisement;

3. they are just arrogant enough to believe that “our potential customers know who they are.” Oh, please.

Accenture is hugely into this kind of work, and God knows, they must ask for it because they keep getting it. They had ads with Tiger Woods for awhile that had the taglin e “be a tiger” and they bled that almost dry when Mr. Woods had his dalliances and subsequent meeting with a golf club aimed at his head.

Another blog said it well: When you build your brand on the shoulders of another, make sure their brand remains solid

read his comments at http://www.enterpriseirregulars.com/5945/accenture-branded-by-the-tiger-woods-mess/

Now that their hero, Tiger, is no longer anyone’s media darling, they’re on to another campaign that is even more subtle in its reasoning.

Now, I know how compelling it can be to add a celebrity to a campaign. When i worked on Players Club, the first club for midrange gamblers, we used Telly Savalas as a spokesman. Nobody could have been more perfect. He added cred and class to the club. But Telly had been around a long time and was a reasonable price; plus we knew a little more of what we were getting. Tiger is young and very expensive… and apparently,unpredictable. Oopsie.

Accenture bears its soul (pun intended)…

Now Accenture’s campaign has a polar bear in it, with a goldfish in a big cube of ice… see the attached ad. I caught my shot of this in Heathrow Airport this past week on my way back from Europe. (Sigh, what a jetsetter I am…)  And as much as I love animals — polar bears are so darned cute!! — this ad tells me nothing at all about what Accenture does. Not one thing.

No doubt the agency who did it had a great old time in the brainstorming session! And while I’d like to think they used a stock photo, you never know. What I’ve noticed is that the art directors who design this kind of hack stuff are really big on location photoshoots. It’s something they can brag about during the awards ceremonies. yawn.

This also reminds me of some work i did recently for a company called Xtime – they develop sophisticated  customer relationship programs for forward-thinking automotive dealers. Explaining how their program works was a real challenge. We were comparing the multi-faceted Xtime system to a crack pit crew where each of the mechanics is expert at what they do… but this concept, as colorful as it was and theoretically ‘tied’ to the automotive client, did not quite hit the mark.

So, digging back in again we came up with a concept based on the viewpoint of the operations manager. We contemplated, “what does his life look like, and what does Xtime do to make it better?” … and the first thing that came to mind was that when I’ve been in the office of a fixed ops manager in a dealership, there are a zillion post-it notes on their monitor. People put them there so that their message can’t be ignored.

We realized that this was our opportunity to say that whatever area of the dealership is putting demands on them for improvement, Xtime is able to handle it all — unlike the ‘auto-mail’ cards and ‘robo-calls’ for service, this is more personal and the database helps them keep track of everything they need to know about a customer’s history. A complicated concept that can turn into chest beating with the wrong delivery. According to my client, we’ve nailed it.

Now i wonder what we’ll do for the next round? Stay tuned!

Cheers! — Carol




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Surprise! High level creativity in a low-tech product pitch

I was recently treated to a very compelling website with a video… but it wasn’t for something sexy like tech or the arts. It was for a plumbing product. Now, I can tell you from experience that it’s often tougher to find a creative solution for low- or no-tech products than for more – er – sophisticated products and services than it is to develop something cool or interesting for a new or cutting edge product. When we developed our Master Blaster campaign (see image posted here) for Remington Arms, for example, it meant changing the product name and developing a lead generation campaign with two highly targeted dimensional mail packages. But that was a few years ago. What would we do today?

Dimensional mail packages for Master Blaster

Remington Arms' Master Blaster was ultimate low-tech... equipment that blasted firing residue from the walls of industrial kilns.

I like to think we could potentially have come up with what David Polisky did for Flex-Drain! see their lead-generation solution at  http://www.flex-drain.com/challenge/

This is for a flexible hose product that requires fewer, if any, cuts and “elbows” when it’s being installed underground, and this video actually shows a race, complete with a referee, during which the team at flex-drain compete with a standard product for the same use, but which requires more work to install. There’s a ticking clock, a race route that we can look at to monitor their progress and in the end, a big winner.

Now, when I show work like our Master Blaster — that is, low-tech B2B solutions that are wildly successful —  to just about anyone in marketing or creative here in the Silicon Valley, they look at me with a bit of boredom, or even sadness, like ‘oh, you poor thing, you had to make do with such mundane product.’ But frankly, since my job is to find workable, measurably successful creative solutions to marketing problems, anything that presents an interesting challenge is worth my time and keeps me very engaged! We do whatever it takes to get the attention of a good prospect using whatever lead-generation vehicle we have at our disposal. And then the outcome… when we start seeing the numbers roll in (in the case of the Master Blaster, it was phone calls, from highly qualified prospects, leading to sales and long-term relationships) is enough to make my heart skip a beat. Yeah! That’s what it’s all about!

So if you do creative work, and feel like every project is less than engaging, take a look at the Flex-Drain video and be inspired by the imaginative solution these folks developed. If you’re hiring creatives to help you get a breakthrough, remember that while it takes a great creative to develop such work, it takes a great client to approve it.

By the way  … If you enjoy hearing about wildly creative solutions to challenging product promotions, plan now to attend the DMA 2011 in Boston from October 3-9, and attend our Creative Slamdown session! Featuring three outrageously talented creatives – Alan Rosenspan, Otis Maxwell and Nancy Wahl — they’ll show you top notch creative solutions that worked to successfully and measurably sell very unusual and less than exciting products. Attend and be inspired!

And meanwhile, if you wish you had attended our Creative Slamdown session at DMA 2010, you can request a pdf of the PowerPoint from that session by emailing me at cwl@worthington-levy.com.

You’ll see why I say, there are no boring products… just uninspired creatives. Don’t let yourself be one!

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