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


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