It was hard for me to break into adverting back in the ’80’s.
I cold-called scores of Creative Directors, Marketing Managers and Art Directors in hopes of someone giving me a shot. I would call and ask each one—not for a job—but a “portfolio review”. I didn’t want to put them on the spot given they didn’t know me, so I thought this would be a good way to make connections with little commitment on their part. The reviews were typically less than stellar, and looking back, my work was pretty bad. But they liked my drive, and I was eager to learn and made changes and reworked pieces whenever I could.
At the end of each meeting, I would ask if they could think of anyone else I might benefit from meeting, and if I could mention their name. They would invariably say yes and I would leverage one contact to get 4 and so on until I finally landed a spot at Baker Lovick (BBDO) in Vancouver in 1986 thanks to Charlie Mayrs, the Creative Director, taking a chance on me.
I fetched coffee, sharpened pencils, made presentation boards spec’d classified ads and did whatever “yucky jobs” nobody else wanted to do. But I was in. It was 1986 and my real education as a designer and art director was beginning.
I was fortunate to be working alongside some older men who’d been in advertising since before the invention of computers—or even felt pens! These guys would hand draw whatever font you wanted and back then actually hand drew each ad for presentation to clients. They were craftsmen; patient enough to retool my terrible design work without belittling my efforts. Brian Johnston, one of the Senior Art Directors would say “this just needs to be tickled up a bit” when reviewing my heavy handed headlines, then begin to redraw things in the right proportions. I was often frustrated by own ineptitude but thankful for his thoughtful advice.
Flash forward: since then I’ve had a few opportunities of my own to teach intern designers and help guide their projects. They have gone on to better jobs and are happily on their way. The experience is always rewarding.
Companies too can have mentors—without even having to ask their role model for guidance. We’ve always had several brands we looked to for inspiration and guidance. Brands that did one thing or another very well. We don’t copy them, but look to them for best practices. Some have incredible packaging, others showed us the way to better share our sustainability stories while still others demonstrated an ongoing commitment to customers that informs our social media practices.
No matter our success and size, we can—as individuals and as companies—learn from others who do things better. We can be inspired by the philanthropy of companies like Tom’s Shoes, the exceptional customer service of Zappos or the playfulness of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Mentors, like the ideal fathers, provide a path that we can follow and learn from and, like fathers, will save us from needlessly skinning our knees as we grow.
Who are you learning from these days?