Who the f**k are you?
Please excuse the mildly aggressive headline. It’s not meant to be rude, just emphasize a point. And the point is this: What are the agency buying when they hire you? In the same way that you’d want to know exactly what you’re buying if you were spending £12 – 15k on a car, the agency you’re hoping to get a job at want to know exactly what they’re getting if they give you a contract. In my – some might say limited – experience of dealing with students, placements and I can’t think of a third thing to write here, there’s never enough thought put in to working out exactly who you are and what you can offer the agency.
Yes, you have your portfolio, which no doubt has a selection of lovingly crafted campaigns that show your broad range of skills, ideas and tones. But the problem arises when there’s such a breadth of skills, ideas and tones that you become a master of none. Yes, you are Jack of All Trades. And unless the agency you’ve approached is specifically looking for a Jack of All Trades then I doubt they’ll be parting with their money. They no longer know if they’re buying a designer, an illustrator, a photographer, a typographer, an art director or a digital designer. You’re in no man’s land. I don’t know exactly why this is – perhaps the product of not wanting to be pigeon holed into any one discipline, or perhaps just misdirected enthusiasm. But it seems fairly standard these days that every portfolio/ campaign should have an iPhone App, some sort of social media campaign, probably a clever use of QR codes, some adverts, a ‘viral’ film, some press ads, some business cards and a whole host of other add ons. The result is that people forget what they’re hiring you for. (There are exceptions to the rule – some people are just great at everything they touch, but they’re few and far between. And probably have a job already.)
Go back to the car analogy. I’m sure there’s a better analogy to use, but I’m sticking with the car one. So you want to buy a car, and you go to the car dealership. There are only two boxes you need to tick: 1) It needs to be small. 2) It needs to be cheap to run. So you speak to the salesman who has too much gel in his hair and smells of stale coffee and he gives you two choices: 1) A small car that’s cheap to run. 2) A car that’s not that small or cheap to run, but it has an extra gear. And 30 litres more boot space. And it’s got a built in satnav system, and Bluetooth (even though you don’t have a Bluetooth phone) and the rear seats can pivot around so you can have a picnic in the boot. Which, you know, might be useful one day if you go camping or something, but you’ve never liked camping since that weekend in Wales. Do you go for the car that doesn’t really tick either box, but ticks some other boxes that you never wanted ticked? Or do you go for the car that ticks the two most important boxes that you wanted ticked when you started this whole car-buying, box-ticking experience? Sure, some people will always take the second car. There’s nothing I can do about that. Maybe I should have thought harder about using a different analogy. But any agency worth their money will pick the car that’s small and cheap to run. (Or the person that ticks whatever boxes they’ve got to tick on their list.) In the same way that you analyse a brief to work out what the best way to sell/ position a product is, you need to work out what the best way to sell/ position yourself to an agency is. If you want a job as a designer, make sure your book’s full of the best design you can do – same applies if you want to make apps, or draw pictures or write words or make tea or sell newspapers. Sounds obvious I know, but it seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the line. I blame digital – everyone else does. So in summary: Work out who you are. Play to your strengths. What makes you great. Not what makes you kind of OK. And be true to yourself – if they don’t like it, then the chances are you wouldn’t have liked it there anyway. That’s my advice at the time of writing. Obviously I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in the future.
Si Griffin - Creative Director