I landed my first full time job as a junior art director in January of 1995 at a small, since-absorbed agency called The Campbell Group in Baltimore. The opportunity came six months after I graduated, roughly around the same time I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get someone to take a chance on me. Ironically, this was one of two offers I got within one week of each other – these coming after several months of nothing but a little freelance.
In retrospect, my first day at The Campbell Group was a rite of passage. I was equally excited and nervous to begin my new life in the world of advertising. The agency was 30 employees at the time and was located on Pratt Street, one block from Baltimore’s renowned Inner Harbor.
The office space had spectacular views of the city’s World Trade Center, clipper ships and the landmark pavilions.
The day I started, my two creative directors gave me a warm welcome. They then led me down the narrow hallway, introduced me to a bunch of people and showed me my new office. Although tucked in the corner, my office included reasonably good views of the harbor, a nondescript desk, and a computer. At the time I was drawn to the idea of having an office, but these days I prefer to be in an open, dynamic space.
After taking in the views I had of the National Aquarium, I turned my attention to settling into work where I realized that my monitor display was black and white. I wondered how that would work being an art director, but I was so excited just to have my first full-time job that I didn’t care. My two creative directors did seem to care, however; and within a day or two I was given a color screen.
One month into my job I had already produced work and was learning how to handle a few assignments at once — some of which were making revisions to existing collateral pieces, some were brand new projects that had me working with a writer.
My CDs seemed to like me okay and pushed me to be better. Along the way, they offered this observation which still resonates with me, “At first you’ll seek validation of your talent from within the agency. At some point though, that won’t be good enough and you’ll seek validation from the industry.”
For a creative starting out in this business, I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
About six months into my job, I appreciated how blessed my situation was. From the get-go, I had the privilege of working with two seasoned copywriters; one had notched twenty years in the biz, the other was at least ten years in at the time.
They taught me how to find my agency sea legs, how to come up with ideas that were relevant to our clients and how to find the opportunity in everything. To that point, a chance to do some cool work came when one of them asked me to work on a poster campaign for a friend of the agency’s owner who was starting a house painting business.
I poured everything into the project, helping come up with ideas and stumbling my way through the art direction — and enjoyed every minute.
Right around the anniversary of my first year, the posters that we produced started receiving industry recognition.
First, they got into the local show. Then, they earned national praise. Eventually, international attention.
Even the client really liked the work.
I was so excited I bought an extra copy of The One Show annual, gave it to my parents and said, “Look, there’s my name!”
The whole experience gave me a taste of what we all feel when we’re doing work that we believe in. The hours disappear. The tiniest details matter.
And your biggest critic? Well, that would be you.
The trick is to find a place that affords as many of those moments as possible.