It was really tough for me to break into advertising back in the 1980s.
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 and 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, their Creative Director, taking a chance on me.
I fetched coffee, sharpened pencils, made presentation boards, counted characters and columns depths for classified ads and did whatever “yucky jobs” nobody else wanted to do.
But I was in. It was Expo 1986 and the real learning began.
I was fortunate back then 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 actually, hand drew each ad in pencil and sometimes felt pen for presentation to clients. They were craftsmen and were patient enough to rework my terrible design work without belittling my efforts. Brian, 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 my clunky work but thankful for their thoughtful advice.
Since then I’ve had a few opportunities to teach intern designers and help guide their projects. They have gone on to better jobs and are happily on their way.
Companies too can have mentors, without even asking their role model for guidance. While I was at Nature’s Path, we had several brands we looked to for inspiration and guidance. Brands that did one thing or another very well. We didn’t copy them exactly but looked to them for best practices and as role models. Some had incredible packaging, others showed us the way to better share our sustainability stories and others demonstrated an ongoing commitment to their customers that informed our social media practices.
No matter our successes 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?