Burn Your Diploma

“Burn your diplomas.”

That’s how Tim Rodgers addressed students at the Rodgers Townsend Fall Forum. Pretty much the last thing a group of college students want to hear from a local industry icon. St. Louis-based Rodgers Townsend, RT, now part of DDB, Omnicom, is one of the premier ad agencies in St. Louis. They play to win. RT takes home everything from ADDYs, CLIOs and Emmys, to local agency pinewood derby titles. Once a year, RT opens their doors to welcome the next generation of ad men. Outline the process behind a recent campaign, review resumés and portfolios, and share insight.

So about those diplomas. 

A diploma tells everyone what you should know. But what can you do? A college diploma is the cover charge for the industry. All of your peers have one, it’s not going to set you apart. So, don’t rely on it.

Well, now what?

Now, find the 1/4″ holes. As Theodore Levitt put it, “Nobody wants a 1/4″ drill. They want a 1/4″ hole.”

Awesome, a hole. 

You’re a hole. You’re a brand. You’re a niche. You have to understand your personal brand. Seriously, this is the business that sells and brands. People are no different. Everything from the style of your work to your shoes is part of your brand. Be genuinely you. Be your brand.

So what’s a brand?

A brand is merely an expectation. There’s a certain underlying essence beneath the brands that love, right? When you buy a product from Apple, what do you expect? Classic Apple. Elegant and simple design, user-friendliness, security, quality, reliability and something else that you can’t really put your finger on. That’s the Apple everyone expects to see inside every new product. When something falls short, you’ll know. iOS 6. Maps. Create standards for yourself–your brand–and never waiver.

Life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself. – George Bernard Shaw

What do you do?

While it may appear that advertising is the business of selling, it isn’t. That’s how the bills are paid and the sausage’s made. This is the idea business. Don’t forget that. Advertising is using creative ideas to change the ideas of the audience about other ideas. What an idea.

At the end of the day, we’re all people. Don’t set your sights for perfection. It doesn’t exist, you’ll never know when you reach it. Shoot for best, not perfect.

If you wait for something to be perfect, you’ll wait around until you’re dead.– Tim Rodgers

So, what’s the best career advice that I can give you, that was given to me, that was borrowed from another, though he certainly learned it somewhere, or thought of it himself?

Believe that merit will prevail. – Tim Rodgers and Leo Burnett


Why Advertising?

Mad Men Betty Meme

Mad Men didn’t get me here.

Figuring it out.

There’s a point, hopefully, when things start to click. When I started college, I had it all figured out. Pre-med. Biology. Anesthesiologist. Needless to say, I changed my mind. At 18, we haven’t experienced enough to make a grounded decision for the rest of our lives. I’m happy to say that I’ve found my 1/4″ hole, my niche.

People don’t want quarter-inch drills–they want quarter-inch holes.

– Theodore Levitt

This business is a fickle mistress, loving and affectionate, yet moody and patronizing. But I love her just the same.

Do what you love

We’ve all heard it, but at a certain point, the cliches start making sense. If you’re serious about this business, make sure you love it.

And yet, there’s probably a lot of pressure at school and at home to do something because you’re good at it. Yeah, you’re good at that, but your eyes light up when you talk about this.

– Alex Bogusky

That’s the best advice that I can give, learned from Tim Rodgers, learned from Bogusky. People in advertising will often tell you the bad things about this business. But why? Because this industry is intellectually challenging. We wish award-winning ideas just flew out of our heads daily, that there was some way to capture the magic. There isn’t. Sometimes you’ll research, sometimes you’ll have a good idea, and sometimes you’ll get out of the way and let ideas come naturally. At the end of the day, just do what you love. If this is it, let’s grab a beer and talk.

What do we do?

We’re not in the business of just selling. If we were, our industry would change with every client. We’re in the idea business. The medium will change, but ideas are the focus.

Don’t believe me? Check out Project Re:Brief

Thomas Industrial Coatings

Thomas Industrial Coatings is a St. Louis-based industrial painting contractor – experts at painting bridges, pipelines and dams.

Thomas has decades of experience and they’re proud of that. My work helps position the brand as a thought-leader in the industrial coating and blasting markets.

Thomas Industrial Coatings Print Ad

Print Ad for Thomas Industrial Coatings as sponsor of Cardinal Ritter Senior Services

Elements of their B2B site that highlights their pursuit to be the best and the safest industrial painter.

Lessons from Atomicdust

Things I’ve Learned So Far, from Atomicdust.

Originally written for Ad Buzz.


What I learned from what Atomicdust has learned. Inspired by Stolen from Stefan Sagmeister’s bestseller. Atomicdust is an awesome design and digital marketing shop in Midtown Alley, one of St. Louis’ creative hubs. They graciously opened their doors to the creative community to share their knowledge, sandwiches and beer.

Love what you do.

It’s become an immortal cliché. Still, it’s sound advice. The advertising industry consists of ongoing frustration that leads to success, a breakthrough that ends the frustration–hopefully. If you don’t actually enjoy what you do it will become more and more difficult to endure and enjoy the daily grind. Don’t really love it? Do something else, something you love.

They don’t teach you everything in school.

It’s all an evolutionary process.

You can’t stop the learning process once you snag your diploma. It’s a process of daily refinement and learning. What successful social media campaigns were led by someone with a BS in Social Media? Learn as the industry continues to evolve.

Most Creatives Hate Each Other… Until They Don’t.

Support your (creative) community.

The competitive nature of the advertising can easily create an inherited hatred for other creatives and other agencies. Atomicdust often plays host to advertising, marketing or design events. In reality, creatives have a lot in common. Don’t be afraid to polish off a few beers and bond with others in the industry. Share your knowledge and take hold of others’.


Take a deep breath. Think like a client. They all have the same problem. They’re hiring a team of free spirits to do work that they can’t do themselves. Helping clients understand how you work helps them trust those free spirits. Talk about money early and often; you should choose what work is done pro bono. Lead your clients; they’re paying you for your expertise, not to be a yes man.

Remember your heroes.

Someone’s bound to inspire you at some point, remember them. If someone or something inspires you once, lightning will eventually strike again. Eames side chairs sit near the entrance of Atmoicdust, a comfortable source of inspiration. Don’t forget, you’ll never remember to be inspired.

Find additional creative outlets.

Being creative isn’t a job. You won’t be working on the most exciting brands and projects every day, find something that’s exciting. Pick up a camera, design something, write a poem, cook or whatever comes to mind. Your creativity isn’t finite. Do whatever excites you.

Designers should be able to write.

At least a little. Writers should be able to design… at least a little.

Bet the company.

As W+K would say it, “Fail Harder.”  You’re strengths and expertise shouldn’t limit what work you can do. Someone had to do the first print piece, first TV ad and first banner.

Perspective is everything.

Travel. See the world from a different perspective, a different place. Street. City. State. Country. Continent. Our knowledge is a collection of our experiences.

Put yourself out there.

Use your real name and be an open book. Take ownership, for better or for worse, we’re all people. Don’t let your legacy end with “–Anonymous.” Unless you’re a hacker.

Be nice.

Work hard.

Do your best.

Really pay attention.

Roll with the punches. 

Don’t take advice from strangers.