For young creatives looking to break into advertising, the book crit is a pretty big deal. It’s a chance to share fresh creative ideas with the people who spend all day making them, take a peek inside an ad agency and get a taster of the job to come. It’s also probably your best chance at landing a placement, and then (fingers crossed) a job.
Sarah Hardcastle knows what it takes to nail these precious meetings, but she's also made a few mistakes along the way. Now she sees students making the same slip-ups when they present work to her at Mr. President. So, to help you get that foot in the door, here are her top tips for winning at book crits.
Despite the possibility of being offered a placement as a result, a book crit is not like your typical job interview. Instead, I like to think of it as a workshop, a chance to share ideas with other creative people. It’s an opportunity to learn about the process, and how to turn an OK idea into something special.
Which is why taking notes is vital. Who knows what exciting insight might pop up and spark something in your head, only to disappear into the ether once you’re on the train ride home?
Present With Pride
There’s nothing more disheartening than hearing the words "Sorry. This one’s not very good."
Having confidence in your ideas doesn’t come easily, especially when you’re lining them up to be criticised. But it’s important to at least like them. So if there’s a piece of work you’re not proud of, swap it for something you’re excited by. It doesn’t have to be fully scamped up or visualised, it could be just the seed of an idea that you’re eager to develop. That way even if your book’s not quite placement-ready, at least you’ll leave the impression that you’re passionate about the job.
Keep It Killer, Not Filler
Think carefully about the type of work you show. Too often I’ve looked through pages and pages of stretched-out executions for half-baked ideas that were flimsy to begin with. While I understand the desire to show a knowledge of different mediums, often these executions feel like lazy filler – an idea that’s not really an idea but a functional use of the medium. (I’m looking at you, Tinder.)
It’s much more worthwhile to fill these pages with any other ways that you use your creativity. Maybe you made your own food stall, started your own ‘zine, or learnt to code so you could build your own app. It’s far more interesting to see how you’ve used your skills to actually go out and create something real, rather than looking at Photoshop designs for ideas you’d like to do but rarely will.
Always Follow Up
It’s networking 101. The easiest way to make a good impression? Follow up on every meeting with a thank you.
Creative directors are busy people. They see lots of teams, do a lot of book crits, and unfortunately it’s very easy to get lost in a big inbox pile. So what can you do to be remembered when a placement team-sized window pops up?
Luckily, once you’ve had a book crit your foot is already part way over the agency threshold. The book crit’s not just a great source of advice, it’s the beginning of a professional relationship. So use it. Once you get home, do the polite thing your mother always told you and send a quick note of thanks. But don’t leave it there in silence for the next three years. Follow up with how you’ve got on with their advice, and arrange to meet again when you have something new to show.
A word of caution: don’t be the blanket email pesterer. Copy pasted spam is obvious from a mile off and won’t be appreciated. Focus your attention on the creatives and agencies you admire most and truly want to work for, and treat them with politeness, patience and positivity.
Value Potential Over Perfection
This one’s for you Creative Directors. It seems only fair, while we’re at it, that you get a tip on how to win at book crits too.
When it comes to hiring new creatives, everyone wants to grab the most talented, most-awarded, ‘perfect’ team to bring a much needed boost to an agency’s creative output.
The problem is, how do we define ‘perfection’? Creative opinions are subjective, and one person’s idea of a game-changing campaign is easily dismissed and torn apart by the next. Often perfection means we look for the teams that can ‘do it all’, which in turn leads to hiring people who are very good at creating work that fits in. Work that’s on trend, impressive in its knowledge of current culture, but tame enough to be ran the next day without much fuss.
That’s why I think the hunt for ‘potential’ is much more interesting, and worthwhile in the long run.
The creatives who haven’t quite got the hang of a print ad, but have big ideas that span far more than conventional mediums. Often they don’t appear to be advertising creatives at all – they might be engineers, filmmakers, journalists, cooks, dancers, entrepreneurs, poets, athletes. These people aren’t perfect in an advertising sense, they might need some help figuring out a tagline from a proposition, but they have the potential to make work that’s strange, challenging and unique. It’s long been ascertained that the advertising industry has a diversity problem. So in an industry that’s in desperate need of a good shake up, we need the people and ideas with the potential to make extraordinary, different, things. So let’s do what we can to help them grow, even if it’s just a book crit.
Sarah is now a creative at Mr. President, and up for a cuppa over your book any time.