I'm currently judging the Young Lions for this year's Cannes Lions. I was asked by PJ Pereira to be a part of this jury. He is the heart and mind behind the young lions and the ferocious defender of young bloods. To him and to me, it's important to support young adlanders (a term coined by my friend Anat) for many reasons. On a macro level it's important because our industry needs new energy, new ideas and new enthusiasm that pushes the established players to be even better at their game. On a micro level young talent means that there are new ideas in agencies for clients needing solutions, and it ensures that salaries don't keep going up and up and up.
But getting into the advertising industry is no easy task, especially in today's economy. So I have turned to one of the leaders in the stewarding of young careers, someone who works with the next generation of talent. Those who are chomping at the bit to break into advertising and the digital space, those who want to change the
game and make their mark. His name is Anthony Kalamut. He's one of the good guys, and he happens to be Professor | Program Chair of Creative Advertising and Seneca College School of Communication Arts, one of the more respected communications schools in the world.
Anthony is highly respected by students and the industry alike, entirely passionate about the business, and probably as unorthodox as they come - oh one more thing, he cares about his students. It's not easy to get into his class of course, but it does provide an invaluable education. He is the perfect sage in a time of tumultuous change. He works with and shapes the young talent who are about to enter the business, and gets them ready and psyched to take on the world and win a Titanium Grand Prix. And many days he consuls them when the going gets tough. Especially these days when it is difficult to break into advertising. He had some very good insights for young talent that I wanted to share with you. If nothing more, these words should give young talent inspiration and ideas for how they can break into the business. On a purely selfish level, we at StrawberryFrog love to work with young talent because they bring some of the freshest ideas, and by supporting them is like being a part of self fulfilling prophecy where the more you assist them the more the best talent want to work in your agency. And currently we are looking for interns.
So here are some questions I asked Anthony:
What is the most important thing for advertising students?
It’s passion, Scott. The one thing I can’t teach. I can only reach inside myself an look to inspire. I start all freshmen classes with a couple of simple promises, "I won't teach you anything" and "When this becomes a job for me, I will resign". All I can offer is inspiration, and lead you to the idea if you love something you will never work a day in your life.
This industry beats the tar out of these kids, but by hell or high water the believers survive and succeeded.
We (the program) work them to the bone to see if they really want it, and my faculty and myself have a passion to share every day in class – but every year I have kids with A+ averages come into this program and I feel for them, because if they don’t breath and sleep advertising all the A’s in the world won’t save them.
I hope that doesn’t sound like there is nothing to teach. This is after all a professional business and a major force in economic culture, but at the end of the day when all the teaching is done – passion is the only factor that really creates the success stories.
The day I discover how to teach passion by rote, I’ll be a very rich man.
(If you’re asking about Anjali Vijh in specific, she is one of those bright minds with passion. Not being able to teach it makes you very good at spotting it.)
What do they need from the establishment?
Short answer: Opportunity
Creativity never happens in a vacuum, I’m sure one of the reasons this business will always be tied to brick and mortar is because sometimes the air inside is electric. Competition and creativity push big minds and big ideas farther. Students – honestly passionate students need to feel that, they need to be a part of that. My faculty shapes and molds... but that shine only comes with being apart of that office energy. The structure.
Long answer: Everything the establishment does and why it does it. That way they know exactly the right time to break it. Sure it’s an old cliché but I still think it applies “if you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him”. These kids are the future of this business and this business is like mercury. If they are going to adapt and break molds they need to learn all the lessons we learned over our careers. If you know why something failed, you can shape your break out big idea to succeed. If you don’t, then history repeats itself.
Another gem is pretty simple too, "Being neither teacher nor guru, the most one can do is help point the way. In the end it resides in you." The establishment can't teach either, but it is seen as the "guru"... so the establishment must let what resides within the individual to nurture and grow.
(Again regarding Anjali specifically, StrawberryFrog might be her one opportunity to break into the Indian market place – a place where a strong intelligent woman could do amazing things.)
What can they bring to the table for an established agency?
If they have nothing to offer, you can be dam sure I’m not letting them out the door of this program. Not on my watch. But what they really bring the table is: Honesty and Youth and Optimism
Three non-renewable resources in this business, and sure some wells are deeper than others but there is nothing like that "Jed-Clampett-black-gold-geyser" that new minds bring. We hammer these kids and prepare them for the worst this business has to offer.
We teach strategy, media, and creative at the same time. Creative or business every student is expected to stand behind every project they complete.
If they don’t come prepared I’m proud to say that my faculty channel the best and worst creative directors they have ever known and take our students to task.
The big take away from all this is Honesty. They are honest with the quality of work they bring to the table, they know and believe that what they create will work, and they are willing to stand by it.
Youth can in fact be taught. It’s about being plugged into as many cultural sources as possible, and letting those sources shape you. I’m proud to say that we have a class here on "Trends" and "Trend Hunting" -- What do they mean, if they will last, who is a part of them. We’re one of the only schools in Canada with a class like it and I’m sure a lot of awkward teen moments could be avoided if we farmed the curriculum out to high schools. (BTW - I am working with a high school in Brampton to establish a high school advertising program for the 12th grade -- first class graduated last spring and I have 6 of those students as freshmen this year).
All told we pushed these kids through 90 plus hour workweeks with projects challenging the right and left sides of the brain simultaneously. We ask for full campaigns – not matching luggage, and the only way to get an A is not to bring a big idea, but a rich one. Plenty of creative can already match a misleading turn of phrase with a surprising image, but a rich idea is not just big but culturally relevant and meaningful to a larger group of people. As we push them, their optimism drains – they get exhausted and beaten down. I’m proud to say that by the time they are done, they hate school.
Scott, I do all this with one promise to them -- "If they can get though this and land that first gig, there is nothing they can’t achieve".
I have talked to hundreds of post grads over the years and by the time they walk into an office like yours the well of optimism is so deep you might never see the bottom.
(Anjali has pushed through this process and to her everyday post Seneca is a gift.. when she came back to visit me in Toronto last week, she says her university classes hardly challenged her in the same way)
How can they get jobs in advertising?
I stand firm in this belief, and I think I have covered the five major pillars here:
I never craft e-mails like this often. For every one I send, my students have sent out hundreds... with portfolios attached (yes the business students build books on strategy and media planning). They beat the pavement, create self-promo pieces, and are taught to scour the advertising news to watch for migrating staff and new business acquisitions.
We make them do informational interviews to better understand agency cultures and build contacts – we encourage them to become involved in the advertising community. Join the relevant associations, groups etc... I find every way to get them into the right places. Sometimes pointing... sometimes shoving them. I try and Create volunteer opportunities.
Just as an example I had a student volunteer during Advertising Week here in Toronto as a photographer. He ended up having lunch with 8 members of the Zig staff. Needless to say we excused his absence. These kids know it takes knowing people, the places and events.
Remember, when you came to Toronto to speak in the fall, I had a team of 9 students working the site. From that 4 found placements, others found leads to other opportunities and Kathy Lee wanted to start a "cultural movement" by representing "youth and education" in Dubai. (She leaves this week).
How do you know if they are good?
Probably the same way you do. Open the door to your office and listen.
You know who has the lines… who’s carrying the weight on a team… who’s outside your office with a hacking up a lung but wants to get a approval to go into production.
They prove it. They prove themselves. They prove it to others. As for knowing great creative work when I see it. I push myself. It’s done a number on my personal health and I’m sure there are nights when my 2 son’s wonder what it is I do all day, but I can’t push these kids if I can’t push myself. My six year old thinks I read the coolest books, all pictures and great images, he will one day understand that annual isn’t really a book… but he thinks it cool.
I make it to every “reel” screening at least once. I host “screenings” and educational nights for the ADCC. I am “culture vulture”, a “media whore” and I’m passionate about the craft and the concept. Alex Bogusky had lunch with myself and 15 of my students last spring and reminded us of there being more to this then selling, “live the craft” and “enjoy the process”.
I’ve done internships at 45 just to test my own skill set. Yup, I was the “45 year old intern” a couple of summers ago. I travel to New York for Advertising Week and attend Toronto’s week as well. Above all every CD and VP I have met has my card, and I have asked again and again what makes for great work. I listen, I evaluate and then I relay that in my teaching and mentoring.
Beyond that I have what every CD and every parent has to go on – blind faith and a willingness to make mistakes then correct them.
Anything else you wish to add about young adlanders?
Hire more juniors.
If you’re willing to shepherd them just a little, the returns are as massive as penny stocks or Seattle.
They cared about the environment before green washing.
They wore street ware before 7-up or Threadless caught on.
They are multi-cultural to a degree that puts this industry to shame.
They always knew bankers where up to something.
They will sell their blood, sweat and tears for one chance at greatness.
How do I know this?
Because I get up every morning for these kids and I can call them my kids because I’m proud to say I have watched them grow into real live “adlanders”.