Should Creatives Be Thinking Beyond The Book?

Writing in Ad Age, CCO of High Wide & Handsome, Mike Wolfsohn, writes that when it comes to being a great hire for an agency, there should be more value given to creatives than just what’s in their books:

Now that I’m in the position of hiring creatives, I’m convinced there’s no correlation between the quality of a creative’s website and his or her ability to contribute to an agency and its clients. Of all the freelancers I’ve hired, the ones with the best books have often been the least capable. Perhaps that’s why they’ve invested so much time erecting a facade of talent.
And given the current economic climate, I’m probably not the only one who’s less impressed by an art director’s Flash intro or industry award than an art director or copywriter who can intelligently talk about a client’s business. Sure, I love stunning typography and a clever headline as much as anyone, but they have no value in this business unless they’re part of a thoughtful response to a brief. Someone who knows how to shift media strategies to reach new customers; reposition a brand in response to category trends; decrease the overall cost of an acquisition — that’s where the real value is.

I appreciate where Mike’s coming from, but he’s definitely in the minority of hiring managers. Dealing with creatives and their books is a quantity experience these days–everyone has a PDF or a site link they can send, so there’s a deluge of submissions for any open job. So it’s a large task for CD’s to look for a real depth of knowledge when evaluating creatives.
I’d love to see creatives get a more thorough examination. And lord knows I wish more creative directors would be drawn to the total sum of business and ad industry thinking and writing I’ve done both on AdPulp and TalentZoo in addition to my portfolio. But it’s still the shiny objects that excite most hiring managers.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Dan, I read Wolfsohn’s piece intently, as you did. Here’s the chunk of his argument that got my attention:

    By and large, though, creatives today continue to be obsessed with — and corrupted by — their books (which, of course, are now websites). And it’s an obsession that continues to be counterproductive to creatives, agencies and clients. The good news: We have the ability to change that behavior. All we have to do is start prioritizing the steak over the sizzle.

    Wolfsohn is so right it’s painful. But he’s too right. Prioritizing the steak over the sizzle is contrary to the business we are in. The idea, much less the practice, runs against a very strong current. Making awesome “sizzle” gets you trips to Cannes, big fat raises and big fat offices with modern furniture from Design Within Reach. Becoming a master of the the steak is another discipline entirely.
    I think the reality today is you need the steak with some very fine sizzle. The sizzle gets you in the door, but once you’re in said door, it’s time to rap and convince the people in the room of your breadth of knowledge and your insatiable desire to learn, and do, more.

  2. A friend of mine badly wanted a job at a very well-known creative agency. The CD told him that he had a fine book of print ads, but writers these days need to understand blogging. My friend went off, started a sports blog, and diligently worked to make it a success. Then he sent his link to the aforementioned creative director. Who replied, “WTF, I don’t have time to read a blog.”

  3. @Matt – the CD you speak of is a wanker. if I have time to produce this site and make a living making “ads,” the CD in question and every other CD in question can definitely find time to read a prospect’s blog, provided the material is worth reading.

  4. David Burn, I thought it was a story that proves your point. CDs ask for savvy, forward-thinking, integrated creatives. But at the end of the day, make decisions based on a couple hot ads in a book.
    I choose freelancers in my job, and I am guilty of this, too.

  5. Most CDs are so full of shit it rots their brain. Behind all the bluster about looking for a new kind of creative, they’re hiring the exact same people they’ve always hired. Men with Big tv spots and Big egos.
    Today we’re gonna hire like it’s 1999!

  6. @Prince – Well said!
    Of course, the ad biz is not alone in this. It seems we very much like to join clubs and find our personal identity in things like the town where we live, the schools we attend, the places we work and the clubs we belong to. It’s gross, this need to belong. Yet, it’s perfectly natural. Like wolves, we need to be in a pack. That’s how we’ve always done things, from hunting to farming. We’re pack animals and we play this out in a million different ways at work and elsewhere. True individuality is a neat concept, but it’s also a bit of a fantasy.