Want to Be Great at Advertising? Immerse Yourself in Everything but Advertising

Career tips from six more top creative directors

Headshot of Tim Nudd

If you’re an aspiring copywriter or art director, there’s a lot to be said for being aware of the work being done in advertising. But it’s also critical to seek inspiration outside the industry, too.

In the third installment of our “Advice for Young Creatives” video series, Jeff Goodby and Juliana Cobb both urge young people to get away from advertising work—and to draw inspiration from the creativity, and the knowledge, circulating in other fields.

Check out the video above for more, including tips from Trey Laird, Kevin Brady, Jan Jacobs and Matt MacDonald. And see excerpts from their advice below.

“Don’t go straight to advertising school.”

—Jeff Goodby, co-chairman, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

“This isn’t going to be a popular opinion,” Goodby says, “but I don’t like people going from high school straight into an advertising school. I like people that get an undergraduate degree of some kind, and learn about the world, and know something other than just advertising. I feel like the best advertising people are people that consume culture in interesting ways and recombine it. And I think if you have a degree in something else, it makes you more like that.”

“Seek inspiration outside advertising.”

—Juliana Cobb, group creative director, Droga5

“The minute you get out of ad school, or the minute you finish your portfolio class, start seeking inspiration outside of our field,” says Cobb. “I think this is critical for all of us, even as we continue to go on, because this is where you start to get more and more unique fodder for your ideas. There’s brilliant work out there, but often the inspiration for that work didn’t come from someone else’s ad. It came from a movie someone saw, or a piece of art, or an installation, or a comic strip. And I think it’s so important to kind of make yourself, no matter where you are in your career, seek out some of that other stuff.”

“Understand the power of an idea, and what an idea is.”

—Trey Laird, CEO and chief creative officer, Laird+Partners

“What I try to tell young creatives at my agency is to really understand the power of an idea, and really understand what an idea is, and what it can do,” Laird says. “It’s surprising to me how many young creatives don’t really understand what it is. It sounds simple, and it sounds obvious, but I try to encourage them to really develop that and recognize it and build it and grow it, and grow that skill.”

“Don’t be so responsible.”

—Kevin Brady, executive creative director, Droga5

“A lot of young creatives think they have to be responsible,” says Brady. “Right now, you have to go out there, think of some crazy stuff that I have never heard of, and then slow it down and back it up and explain it to me again, and make me jealous. Make me be like, Damn, I wish I was where you are.”

“Don’t mistake technology for an idea.”

—Jan Jacobs, chief creative officer, Johannes Leonardo

“My advice for young creatives would be not be too seduced by technology because technology is not an idea in and of itself,” Jacobs says. “Even if you have amazing technology like Apple, you still have to come up with arguments and messages and a point of view to make that valuable to people, to explain the role of that thing in their lives. So, don’t mistake technology for an idea in and of itself. And make sure that you learn how to formulate very strong arguments and points of view for the brands and the campaigns that you work on.”

“Don’t be cynical.”

—Matt MacDonald, executive creative director, BBDO New York

“The best advice I have for any young creative is to not be cynical,” says MacDonald. “It’s really easy to be cynical and jaded, and I think the most successful creatives are the ones who approach the world, and approach every task, with that sort of naïveté and innocence and the feeling that you really can do anything. If you keep approaching things, if you keep being resilient, if you keep going at it, you can create amazing things.”

Below, check out the earlier two installments of the “Advice for Young Creatives” series. And don’t miss our “Best Advice I Ever Got” videos, in which top creatives tell us the best tips they ever got from mentors in their own careers.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.