April 22, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Copy Director: Interview with Daniele Burich

Daniele Burich is copy director and co-founder of 106 Degrees, a creative services and strategy firm. With more than a decade of marketing and advertising experience under her belt, Daniele has worked with some great Midwest agencies specializing in health care, insurance, hospitality and foodservice, paper converting, construction … and a little bit of everything, really. Her responsibilities included concepting and writing copy for consumer and B-to-B print, TV, radio, direct mail, sales collateral, Web sites, banner ads, e-mail campaigns, brochures, sales kits, point-of-sale materials, trade show presentations and newsletters. Before advertising, Daniele spent her time in the marketing and public relations department of a leading performing arts center. While there, she learned the lyrics to many show tunes while also writing advertising and press releases, creating event marketing and discovering the finer points of media buying.

What's your title?

I’m not keen on titles, I must confess. I’ve seen too many agency relationships go bad because of adjective-based promotions. Reluctantly, I’ll say I’m a Copy Director.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

I said to my mom, “Remember those Wacky Packages you used to buy me when I was little? Well, they inspired me to become an advertising copywriter. And you were the catalyst. Great job, Mom.” Mothers always respond well to news that’s delivered with a compliment.

Alas, further description only confuses her, because I write for every medium and market. If I tell her I’m writing a website for a client one week, she tells everyone I’m a web writer. The next week, I’ll be shooting a TV spot on location, and she’ll tell everyone I write commercials.

The other week I was generating names for a soon-to-be-launched packaging product and it took me at least an hour or so to explain to her that everything I do falls under the giant copywriting umbrella. Perhaps I’ll get a designer to work on a fancy flowchart that really spells it out for her. What a lovely Mother’s Day gift idea.

How did you get started?

I started out as an associate working in the public relations and marketing department at a nonprofit performing arts center located in Green Bay. Because of the non-budget nature of nonprofits, the center asked me to create advertising and promotional materials in-house. I still remember one of my first promotional taglines for an upcoming symphony concert: Gentlemen Prefer Brahms. Somehow, I know the Wacky Packages writers would approve.

One day, as I was touting the merits of an upcoming performance on a local radio station, I clicked with one of the station’s other guests. It turns out he knew of an ad agency looking for a copywriter, and he recommended me for the job. I didn’t really have an impressive body of work to show yet, but that recommendation got me a two-day tryout at the agency. After writing a few ads and attending a brainstorming session or two, I guess I passed the grade.

What's your educational background? How did you get experience?

I was a Communication Arts major at UW-Green Bay (that pretty much covers all the advertising/marketing areas of interest).

What was your first job in the profession?

I was a junior copywriter at a full-service ad agency specializing in foodservice and retail displays.

What was your last project?

In this line of business, you pretty much juggle several projects/clients at once. I just wrapped up a website for one client. I wrote a last-minute radio spot for another client. And I revamped a brochure for another client. For those of us with ADD, advertising is the field of dreams.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

Just when I think it’s going to be a slow week, the phone rings and the hot projects (with even hotter deadlines) get dropped on my desk. When things are busy, I’m up all night writing ... it feels like I’m still in college sometimes. Of course, when the jobs are finished and the adrenaline stops flowing, you crash pretty hard for a few days. Then you start all over again. It’s exhausting but always interesting.

How do you sharpen your skills continually?

I look for inspiration by reading a mix of trade pubs and magazines from just about every genre. Keeping track of trends is key, so I like to visit sites like to stay current.

What advice do you give to those who want to join the profession?

Don’t take criticism personally. Also, the client isn’t always right, and it’s up to you to tell him/her when they’re going down the wrong strategic path.

A series of questions:

What motivates you most about your job? What do you hate about your job?

Learning new things about products and clients. It’s great for trivia. I’m not so fond of making copy revisions. Once I’m done writing it the first time, I hate going back to make changes.

Favorite job to date? Nightmare job that still haunts you?

It’s a toss-up between writing for Kotex (really) and writing for the performing arts center. I seriously enjoyed those accounts. My worst job was writing catalog copy for a billion crispy snacks. How do you make each one sound different and delicious? Egad!

If you could go back in time and meet your pre-professional self, what would you tell her?

Don’t edit yourself when you write. No idea is as ludicrous as you think it is, so give it a shot.

What's your motto?

If I told you, I’d have to bill you.

April 18, 2008

Cool Tools: MyFonts

You work hard to get the right colors for your design, the right words to convey your message, and the right material and media to send that message – so why skimp on how that message is going to be viewed? Fonts complete the picture! Using the right font can strengthen and bolster your message while the wrong font can make it bland, boring or otherwise uninspiring.

Picking the right font is a key attribute that can make your project typical – or transcendent. Take a look at

Most basic word processing and design programs come with built-in font libraries featuring standard serif and sans serif fonts. But MyFonts gives you access to an additional 59,532 fonts. The fonts are available for preview and purchase on the site and prices range from free to $60.

One of the site’s cool features is the font finder, which allows you to upload a font you like to the site for identification and purchase. Another useful tool is the font preview which allows you to see how your words will appear in that font.

MyFonts was one of the first font sites to emerge on the web when it appeared in 1999. Though there are plenty of sites on the internet offering fonts, MyFonts stands above the rest because of its ease of use and intuitive site design. Check it out next time you’re looking for a font.

April 15, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Writer: Interview with Tom Breuer

Tom Breuer is the coauthor, with Joseph Minton Amann, of Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly, Fair and Balanced, My Ass: An Unbridled Look at the Bizarre Reality of Fox News and The Brotherhood of the Disappearing Pants: A Field Guide to Conservative Sex Scandals. He is an experienced writer and editor and lives in Neenah, Wisconsin.

What's your title?

I am an author, freelance copy editor and freelance writer.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

I tell my mother that I’ve written a new book and somehow she finds a copy. I don’t have to explain much. If she realized word processing software had spell check she’d probably wonder why anyone needs a copy editor. Plus she might think witchcraft is involved so it’s a perfect “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation.

How did you get started?

A friend and former colleague started the website,, which received a fair amount of attention, and he asked if I wanted to help him on a book. We wrote “Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly” and followed that up with two more political satire books. Before that I wrote a humor column for about 10 years for a local alternative paper. I was also the editor and lead writer for that publication. Before that I wrote a humor column for my college newspaper.

What was your educational background? How did you get experience?

Eleven years of Catholic school instilled the required cynicism and bitterness. After that I took philosophy and journalism at various secular humanist state schools. It turned out to be way more education than was required for making fun of people’s physical appearance. Working on a college paper was great practical experience, even though I’d be afraid to look at anything I wrote beyond, say, five years ago.

What was your first job in the profession?

I was an editorial assistant at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin for a few years in the early ‘90s. I wrote business news briefs, did on-the-street interviews and took obituaries on Saturday nights which sadly was actually more of a social life than I have now.

What was your last project?

The last book I worked on was “The Brotherhood of the Disappearing Pants: A Field Guide to Conservative Sex Scandals.” It basically required culling a lot of information from various newspapers and then adding jokes where appropriate. We actually found more than 70 right-wing scandals that were salacious enough to be included. So conservatives excel not only in quality of perversion but also in quantity.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

Stare at screen, make coffee, get up and walk around, curse self, check my e-mail, check website friend forwarded to me, look at website, look at other website the first website reminded me of, check e-mail again, get another cup of coffee, write something, repeat.

How do you sharpen your skills continually?

I read a lot and try to take as much work as I can. Editing is relaxing to me. Writing can be agonizing.

What advice do you give to those who want to join the profession?

Have your friend start a website making fun of an idiot. Hope Al Franken’s son finds it and tells his father. Be the only professional writer your friend knows.

A series of questions:

What motivates you most about your job? What do you hate about your job?

There really is a natural high that comes with getting into a creative flow that’s unlike anything else. It can be a singular joy — that is, if things really are flowing. If they’re not, that natural high can seem more like a horrible hangover.

Favorite job to date? Nightmare job that still haunts you?

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything more, from a professional standpoint at least, than working on our first book, “Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly.” The remarkable thing is we did it more or less on faith. We didn’t have an agent or book deal until very late in the game. Every part of the process, from the initial concept stage to promotion (we appeared on Al Franken’s radio show and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” among other shows) was a thrill. Various jobs haunt me, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. Actually, I love embarrassing people. I just don’t want to burn any bridges.

If you could go back in time and meet your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

Tuck in your shirt.

What's your motto?

I don’t know. Probably something Latin-sounding. Maybe “sic semper tyrannis.” I just always liked the way it sounds. It also sort of fits Bill O’Reilly.

April 11, 2008

Cool Tools: CafePress

You already create – so why not put your work out where people can see it? CafePress allows you to set up an online shop and produce everything from coffee mugs to t-shirts imprinted with your images.

Established in 1999, the company allows users to set up an online shop selling a wide variety of customized merchandise. The network includes over 6.5 million members who have created over 150 million products.

There are two kinds of shops you can open: basic and premium. Basic is free and gives you a minimal number of features. The premium membership costs as low as $4.99 a month and puts your listings ahead of other shops, gives you access to more items to sell, and lets you customize the layout of your shop. products are created as they are ordered, so there is no backlog of unused goods or inventory to worry about.

You can create a variety of products to sell at your shop. The most popular products are t-shirts, hats, and coffee mugs but there are also less obvious products like messenger bags, baby bibs, mousepads, pillows, bbq aprons, calendars, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and teddy bears.

The quality of the products varies depending on what is ordered. The most popular item, the t-shirt, has two options for printing methods: direct press or heat press. The t-shirt direct press method has received more favorable reviews than the heat press method with the quality supposedly being a great deal better. The main gripe with other products sold on the site is that logos that arrive more faded and less vibrant than expected.

If you’re looking for something to do with your designs and the thought of starting an online shop sounds appealing to you, take a look at

April 8, 2008

VCU Brandcenter from a Student's Perspective, Guest Post by Luis Carranza

If you’re thinking about attending VCU Brandcenter, there are some things you should know. First, there are other ways to get into advertising or branding. You can create a great book at other portfolio schools or get a master’s degree from Miami Ad School. I opted for VCU.

The advertising industry is not what it seems. We are in a period of realignment. I registered for VCU Adcenter, but I am graduating from VCU Brandcenter. The name change illustrates a trend. Creative people are understanding business better and business people are gaining a deeper appreciation for creative problem solving. Technology is another major changing force. Google generates more revenue from advertisers than all the big advertising conglomerates combined. Traditional agencies are becoming more digital and digital agencies are becoming more traditional. Advertising is part of a bigger picture.

A lot of the same things that have worked in the past will still work today, but you are not bound by anything. Actually, there are some mandatory restrictions, like staying on brand and making a profit, but big ideas can live on any platform. We are in the idea industry! We create products, entice action, and start conversations on all types of media. Creating a television show can be more cost effective than advertising during commercial breaks. Although that’s not really the kind of thing you can showcase in a portfolio. Your curiosity about media and how well you document it will make you a better applicant (hint, blogs, social media, video, photos.)

If you are accepted into the VCU program for any track, you are going to be making a lot of work and telling a lot of stories. You will improve your public speaking by up to 1000%. Seriously, being able to present and sell your ideas is one of the best business lessons you’re going to learn here. I’m not saying you’re going to enjoy giving dozens of presentations, but you’ll be far more successful for doing it.

You will also be dealing with a wide spectrum of personalities and egos. This can work in your favor or against you, just like in the real world. You will learn to work with thinkers who all have something unique to offer. You’re not always going to like everyone you work with and everyone is not always going to like you. Unless you manage to be really likable while always completing great work and not being too arrogant or stepping on any toes. After a few semesters everyone adjusts to this new environment and it magically becomes better. Or maybe everyone just learns to work together; another valuable industry lesson thanks to VCU.

You will work hard at VCU Brandcenter and you will get a job in the industry if you want it. The hard part is deciding what the job will be. You’ll have to decide what cities you want to work in, negotiate a salary and choose an agency or brand culture where they like you and you like them. But you’ll have to do most of this while you’re busy working on projects and preparing your book during your final semester. Still interested?

If you are there’s one more thing you’ll get that no other school has, you’ll gain access to a network of professionals in the industry. Some are alumni, some are board members, and some are both. I have six weeks left and I’ve made the most of it. I am prepared to work in the industry today, but more importantly I’m confident in determining my future. If you want to break into the business you’ve come to the right place. But if you still want to know what industry leaders are looking for I’ll tell you. Better yet, I’ll let them tell you with these Youtube videos. Good luck with your application.

VCU video 1
VCU video 2
VCU video 3
VCU video 4

April 7, 2008

Ilona and John Merritt Win Big in Portfolio Competition

The portfolio review challenge ended up being a challenge for judges. Our judges had a difficult time determining the winners for the competition due to a large number of outstanding portfolios.

In the end it was Ilona, a graphic designer from Lithuania, who demonstrated both excellence and versatility in her portfolio, who will be walking away with the $1,000 first prize. John Merritt was awarded second prize and will be receiving $500 for his technically skilled and creatively ambitious portfolio.

In addition to our winners we would also like to recognize our finalists who all came very close to capturing the prizes themselves. Both the winners and the finalists were voted on by an expert panel of judges that consisted of award-winning advertisers, published authors, and distinguished professors.

Congratulations again to our winners and finalists! Keep your eyes open for future contest announcements and keep perfecting your creative skills!

You can check out the full list of winners Here

Cool Tools: Xdrive

Creatives need a few things to survive: some money, lots of energy (thank you Red Bull and Reese’s Pieces!) and hard drive space – as much of it as we can get our hands on!

Xdrive gives you 5GB of storage space for free, so instead of carrying around an extra zip drive or hard drive, you can save files to the site access them wherever you have access to the Internet.

A great feature with XDrive is the ability to share access with your friends, family, and colleagues. Say you’re working on a print advertisement with a colleague who is traveling – instead of sending files and revisions back and forth via email, your colleague can directly access, revise and update the files via Xdrive.

If 5 GB of space isn’t enough and you’re willing to put down some money, Xdrive offers 50 GB of space for a monthly fee of $9.99 or an annual fee of $99.50. Unfortunately there are no other storage plans for 10 GB or 25 GB: it’s either regular or Super-size.

Xdrive is a great collaborative tool – and a great resource to backup your most important documents. And it’s hard to argue with 5 GB of free space.

April 1, 2008

A Day in the Life of Film: Interview with Michael Fix

Michael Fix has a long history in filmmaking, both as a freelancer and more recently as the head of Managed Chaos, a production company based out of New York. He began as a best boy on a movie set and has taken on different roles in his career, settling most happily into his current position as producer. His current project is the independent comedy,THE MARCONI BROS, which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Interactive, Film, and Music Festival.

What's your title?

I’m a producer now although I still do freelance work; so I wear many hats depending on the client.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

Well, I have a colorful past. I’ve done all sorts of other things and based on that history, she gave up on understanding what I do a long time ago. I have a passion for learning and teaching. I guess the best way to describe what I do is that I help individuals or entities get their message out there. In film my strength is interpersonal skills. I help make sure that creative types can focus on their job and I translate their goals to the number types and make sure they understand so that they get what they need and there’s some semblance of balance.

How did you get started?

Through my sister’s boyfriend, (now my brother-in-law). He was a gaffer on a film set and he brought me in as his best boy. I had no experience. I mean, sure, as a kid I ran about with an 8mm camera and shot my own version of The Six Million Dollar Man but I was completely inexperienced. He knew I had an interest in movie making and brought me on and gradually I learned – I didn’t stay in my own place, I’d ask questions – “Hey I want to learn how to do that, can you tell me how I should do this?”

What was your last project?

My last and latest project is a feature film called The Marconi Bros. It came to me through acquaintances who knew two writer/directors that were starting a project and they were looking for a producer. That was four years or so ago and we met and had great discussions and I came on as a producer, not in title, but in all other functions: supervising the crew, interacting with investors, etc. The project was already running when I came on board. John Turturro had signed on but then his schedule got moved around and we lost him at which point my schedule got conflicted so I became a production coordinator instead. Over the next few years the project moved forward. I’d come back in from time to time to do various things while they raised funds, did editing, did re-shoots. I’d help in the office and we would reconnect. The movie was accepted to the South by Southwest Film Festival as a world premiere, which is a great honor, and the team asked me to come back in and continue my role as production coordinator.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

When I was freelancing more – it can drive you crazy, you love and hate it, you have no work, you have no calls, and then you’re booked for 3 weeks locally or perhaps for a convention in Las Vegas. It’s busy and working with 40-50 people is intense. Your hours shift and the days are generally long and you’re sleeping in foreign places and then you crash. Then you’re back in that, “What do I do next?” Freelancing is not for everyone. If you like the stability of a full time job, something Monday to Friday, freelancing is not for you. As a freelancer, every day’s activities is dependent on the job; you may work in the office for pre-production, then go out to shoot in the field, build a city in Bryant Park and then people disappear when the job’s done. Now I’m in a place where I have to create the project for myself – finding the funds, getting a budget to the investors and to the production group. The pressure is on me to move the project forward. Then we get into the production world and I may deal with 50 to 60 people who are all over the place. It’s managed chaos (hence the production company’s name).

How do you sharpen your skills continually?

I try to be open to new experiences and opportunities in working with folks. Even if I’ve done it before there’s often the challenge of doing it better. Who can I meet? How do they work? Who has more experience? I listen to people. I read a tremendous amount – everything from blogs related to the economy to books about screenwriting, editing, and directing. I read the NY Times, The Guardian and other newspapers. Last year I took an intensive editing course at The Edit Center as I felt I needed to better understand the process of cutting a film.

How do you build your network?

The law of six degrees of separation; if I know someone then they may know someone, etc. I’m a firm believer in staying in touch with friends and past co-workers. Additionally, I attend screenings, shows, theater productions, and film maker events. Websites like the IFP,, are great especially if you don’t live in a metropolitan area.

What advice do you give to those who want to join the profession?

Any profession, not just this one, is like a book: you have to stick it out for at least 20 to 30 pages before you can determine whether or not you really like it. If you don’t after reading at least the first few chapters then find something else. Always do your best until you’re done with the job and THEN go complain when you’re not on the set or in the office, but always be a professional. It’s a small business. People know each other and they talk. Don’t be unproductive on the set. Walk away or quit, or finish it as best as you can and if you have a grievance then take it to the correct individual so it can be resolved.

How did you get into the business?

Well, you may have to work for free sometimes. Even if you have a four year degree from a Film School some jobs you might initially have to do for free because the business is so competitive. However, I don’t recommend that you do that for more than a year! The hard part is knowing when to say no to the requests to work for free and the requests to work for low money. Be open to all sorts of roles and opportunities: learn as much as you can from people who are willing to teach, and build your network.

A series of questions:

What motivates you most about your job? What do you hate about your job?

The satisfaction of knowing that I’m helping to get someone’s vision out there. On the perfect job, I share that vision and get it out to a larger audience; there’s nothing like the feeling of seeing something you’ve been so intimately involved in on the screen and seeing how it affects other people. On the bad days, I try to remember that. What I dislike are haters! They seem to pop up everywhere and can make the job so unpleasant when it doesn’t have to be.

Favorite job to date? Nightmare job that still haunts you?

Well, the answer to both questions would be being a producer on a movie called The Sound. It was an incredibly difficult job and did not end well, yet, I really learned during that job and knew I wanted to make more films and am willing to make any sacrifice, okay, almost any sacrifice. I would love to work with that creative a person again in a healthy environment.

If you could go back in time and meet your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

Follow that little voice that tells you what’s right and wrong. Lead with your heart – oh my God, I hear the orchestra, sorry it’s a cliché– but it’s the truth.

What's your motto?

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.