For most of us, January marks a new beginning. But for students nearing the close of their academic journeys, January can feel like the beginning of the end. For VCU Brandcenter final-year students, that isn’t such a bad thing, say alums of that fine school: McKinney Planner CJ Franzitta, Associate Creative Director David Sloan, Group Creative Director Lyle Yetman and Copywriter Dylan Meagher. McKinney’s Janet Northen gleaned some solid pointers for students getting ready to head out into the industry.

Is it a marathon or a sprint? Neither. It’s a balancing act.

For CJ Franzitta, a career in advertising is all about learning to enjoy the curves. “It’s going to be full of excitement and disappointment. Learn to deal with both.”

That was a hard lesson for David Sloan, who learned early what clients are often looking for. “Finding out that clients weren’t always looking for bleeding-edge creative was a real challenge,” he said. “We’d spent two years at the Brandcenter with our profs acting as both creative and clients. The feedback we’d most often get back was, ‘That’s too safe. Do something new. Push it.’ But in reality, many clients make the safe choices. I walked in ready to kick down doors and change the world of advertising with really edgy stuff, and my first client call was filled with horrifying moments of stunned silence.”

Lyle Yetman summed it up. “The real world of advertising is a business. There is money involved. People’s lives are at stake. You can’t fall on your sword for every little thing — it doesn’t work like that. It's a balancing act trying to get the best work for our client.” 

It’s time to put away childish ways. And don’t be an asshole.

“Right from the start, Ogilvy gave me and my fellow grads access to their biggest clients,” mused CJ. “I wasn’t a country boy, but I was a beach boy who found himself working at the agency of the year in the greatest city in the world. You want to look and act the part of a seasoned pro, even if you’ve only got minimal resources. It was a time of Ramen noodles and repeat outfits, but looking back, I kind of treasure it. It’s absolutely true that adversity both builds and reveals character.”

For Dylan Meagher, it was about growing thicker skin. “Don’t take criticism personally. Just because your CD hates your script doesn’t mean they hate you as a person. Plus this industry is as subjective as they come. You’ll be in their shoes one day and you’ll be calling the shots. Don’t be an asshole. This industry is small and your reputation is more important than any of your work.”

Go high.

Everyone agreed about setting high standards from the start. “Give yourself a high bar,” recommended David. “Making a spot or print ad is easy, just make something boring and safe and inoffensive and it’ll sail through approvals and onto the air and then everyone will forget it. Thousands of creative do it all over the country all the time. But is it good enough for you? If someone else made it and you saw it, would you like it? Would you ignore it? Then keep going. Honestly, the edges might get rounded off of it along the way, but at least start with something you think is awesome.”

“I would say that 99% of advertising is garbage,” said Dylan. “But when I see that 1% of work that tells a story or connects emotionally or makes a difference in the world, I’m inspired to be that 1% myself. I’m reminded that advertising doesn’t have to suck. It doesn’t have to just sell people stuff. We can use our platform for good.”

Quick tips (particularly when traveling):

CJ: “If you’re ever on a plane with client work in the overhead bin and they let you off the plane while they fix a mechanical problem, don’t go to the bar and leave the work on the plane. It might take off without you.”

Lyle: “My first trip with my CD was a brief overnight to Denver. I checked a bag. I was the only one who checked a bag. We weren’t even going to be there for 24 hours. Don’t do that. Don’t check a bag. Just carry the thing on the plane. Lesson learned.”

David: “Every loss, every unsold but creative idea can be a time to educate our client partners and gradually walk them toward more powerful creative.”

Dylan: “Anything is NOT possible. Some things are off the table — simple as that. It’s a challenge to say the least, but it forces you to use your creativity in a whole new way.”