The portfolio is to a creative what MCAT scores are to med students: don’t apply without one. Legion are the books (and blogs) concerned with crafting impressive books (and blogs — many portfolios are now digital). So creatives have this established protocol for demonstrating aptitude to a potential employer, partner, client — whomever they must convince. If not easy, at least it’s pretty straightforward.
For planners, it’s neither. The title remains loosely defined and opaque by nature, a bit like the CIA operative’s. How do you apply to be Jason Bourne?
The major obstacle is that “planner” denotes as many roles and skill sets as there are agencies to employ one. There seems to be widespread disagreement from shop to shop, and even from department to department within single agencies, as to what a planner does or should do. If you want to become one, this presents a moving target.
At Agency A, planners may be quant geeks regressing purchase behavior on household income. At Agency B, the planners might be clued in trend-hunters mining hip-hop blogs for insight. The position changes its stripes from door to door and you’d need a whole different CV for Agency A than for its competitor down the street.
So rather than storm the gates with wrong weaponry, I’ve been in an information-gathering phase. The past two weeks have been about landing interviews, or trying to. (Planners and creatives are tragically well occupied and tough to pin down, but if you’re trying like me, keep in mind that appearing busy is an evolved defense mechanism. It keeps bosses from firing and unworthy suitors from persisting once they’ve glimpsed the workload. Persevering is part of the interview — the first test.)
Mine are just informational interviews for now, not job interviews. I’m not a “job seeker” and I get pedantic about stressing this point because it is an ugly term, and worse, a real hindrance to efforts at shedding it. Job seeking suggests joblessness suggests desperation, which raises any new contact’s guard against a possible lemon. In that way, it’s self-fulfilling.
Instead I’ve been putting out lines to hook a coffee date with writers, planners, creative directors — folks relevant and experienced. It’s been wonderfully fruitful, I think in large part because my opening move isn’t the resumé shove. I tell them what I do and what my interests are and ask questions until we run out of time. Each sit-down is a gift and each professional has been gracious and sharp.
This confuses people, though, because my sudden move 1,000 miles directly away from the equator to Portland was meant to help me court the industry here, where it lives. When someone asked me yesterday, “How’s the job search going?” I had to explain that it isn’t going yet, really. Maybe at some point I’ll be forced to join the masses, palms up, begging a junior position and a hot meal, but until then my approach is more about research. I think any good strategist would approve.
Previously on AdPulp: The Surfer’s Journey, Vol. 3