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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in portfolio (3)


    something I wish weren't true really is

    I've never been one to celebrate the alleged mysteries of the discipline of Advertising. Because, really, what we do is not difficult.

    But that doesn't mean that just anyone can string a couple of words together and get hired as a copywriter. There is real precision in what we do, both in terms of the craft of executing an ad, and in terms of selling it. And most people who think that they could be writers or art designers, while they may be very good at messing around with colours, words or shapes, just don't get the precision that's required.

    Which means that it's really hard to walk in off the street and nail a job at an ad agency.

    I wish this weren't true. I didn't go to copywriting or design school; I did an English Lit degree, and fell into this marketing pit. Many of the people I like working with have other backgrounds and interests that make them not just interesting creatives, but interesting people. It's tough to get that breadth if you graduate from high school and go straight into a program at Humber or Seneca.

    But that program is also how you know what ad agencies really need. It's where you learn how they think, how you need to think, and you get a sense of how to work with a brief, and present your work. And these days, there are so many promising newcomers who have taken college ad programs that, no matter how much raw talent you have, it's virtually impossible to come into an agency cold – without college training – and be as good as those who have.

    That's not to say that, if you don't have college ad training, it's a waste of time to approach a CD and have her or him look at your book. It isn't. But I've learned that you can't expect that CD to hire you, or say much of anything beyond get yourself into a college program.

    An advertising program isn't technically a prerequisite to getting a job. But it may as well be.


    hey, aren't I better than this?

    A follow-up to my recent post about those who want to break into the business and what they need in their books...

    Assume that you've put together a kickass book. Assume that you impress a creative director. Assume that the creative director has enough budget left to hire a new junior. Assume that he/she chooses you.

    You're sitting at your desk at about 11:15 on your first morning. You've had the HR info session, you've got your passcard, you've had a tour about which you remember nothing. And...

    You realize that you're sitting across from the washrooms. You realize that your new computer is actually someone else's very old computer, which is nowhere near as fast or useful as the shiny MacBook you've got sitting at home. You realize that you're sitting under some pretty horrendous flourescent lights. And you remember that you're about to get paid not very much.

    At this moment, it's tempting to begin to feel a little... undervalued.

    Haven't you slaved over a great book? Haven't you impressed the shit out of this CD? And this is how he/she rewards you? With a view of the washroom?

    Yup. Get used to it. All of the great work you've put in is only spec; for phony clients with you playing the client, account director and creative director. Through this spec work, you and your book have merely demonstrated that you are ready to learn. Nothing more.

    That may sound harsh. You may be brilliant. But being able to come up with concepts and knowing how to design or write is just the first step in coming up with actual ads. There are briefs, clients, account people, production, creative partners, creative directors and more to deal with, all of whom are trying, you'll feel at some point, to destroy your work.

    Your lovely view of the washroom means it's time to learn.


    insert lame joke about being able to read a book by its cover here

    Over the past couple of weeks I've talked to a lot of students and those keen to elbow or dropkick their way into the business. Invariably the conversation has come down to the same basic topic.

    "Do I need a book? How do I put a book together? Who do I talk to about my book?"

    To which I can only say, yup, and I dunno.

    You can chat with creative directors all you want (assuming you can get their attention long enough to actually converse with them), goad them into pontificating, pump them for insights into the kind of eager AD or writer they're looking for, but no one's going to hire you unless they like your portolio. Which means you have to have one, a really good one.

    Meaning that the really pertinent issue is putting your book together. And for that I have no easy answers.

    Because putting your book together is hard. It takes time and incurs lots of self doubt. And it's never perfect.

    Each piece you put in your book is a calling card. It says something very basic about you, because it's telling the CD you're talking to what you're capable of. You can Gregory Hines around it all you want – and you actually do need to talk about the work in a strong and thoughtful way – but the work is either good and interesting, or it's not. No one is looking to hire a junior art director or writer who's average.

    Each piece has to be conceptual, but also brilliantly designed (if you're an AD) or written (a writer). If you think a pun is a concept, good luck flipping burgers. If you think a cool design is a concept, good luck at Kinko's. So, sweat everything you're considering putting in your book, then wait a week, and sweat everything again.

    And after you take a deep breath and start calling CDs, and after you've heard each CD say something different about each piece in your book, remember this: as much as I've said that you are your book, your book is only the first step. Every CD has seen a lot of good books.

    What they really remember is you – if you're really well spoken about your work. If you can speak strategically as to why you've made the choices you have. If you can be engaged in the conversation. If you can seem at least a little funny or natural, in spite of being incredibly nervous. If you can be someone they want to brainstorm with, go to client meetings with, and work with every day.