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Today's Agencies Want Sharp Pencils, Not a Box of Crayons

4 min read

I'm Jeremy Carson, and this is everything I wish I knew about the advertising and creative industry when I got started. And everything I'm discovering as a Creative Director today.
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One of the questions I hear most is, "How do I stand out to agencies?"

I've looked at countless portfolios. Talked to hundreds of creatives. Worked with amazing talent.

And the ones that stick out to me aren't the ones that say they work really, really hard. They're not the ones who seem so much more creative than everyone else. They're the ones with something memorable, literally something special about them.

Agencies aren't looking for Swiss Army Knives. They're looking for screwdrivers, toothpicks, scissors, and knives.

I heard one creative director put it this way: "I'm not looking for a box of crayons. I want sharp, pointy pencils." Well-said.

Specialists. Experts.

But, how do you become that pointy pencil? How do you find your specialty?

Why Do You Need a Specialty

First thing's first, you need to figure out what makes you a different creative, a better creative than the next person. Because when you're looking for a gig, you'll be lining up next to dozens of other applicants.

Without a specialty, you're just another creative.

Ideation, creative talent, and work ethic, they're the price of admission. But to really get their attention, you need something special.

Just imagine your resume, your work, alongside everyone else's. If you've got a specialization in, let's say in creative data, then it'll be perfectly clear to an agency looking for a creative data specialist that you're the one to hire. No questions.

An agency may not be into your specialty, which is a risk you take. You'll polarize your options. But if you're focusing on something you care about, then the places sharing the same value will gravitate towards you.

It's all about figuring out what you enjoy doing, and focusing on it.

How to Find Your Specialty

One thing won't define your talent, but it'll help show you have an expertise.

What matters to you? It may sound cliché, but if you weren't working in advertising, what would you be doing? Not necessarily as a job, but as something you care about.

  • Start with Passion - What are you passionate about? It might be cycling, painting, music. Anything can be a launching point. Clients that share your passion will be drawn to you. Have a passion for guitars? Gibson's AOR may be looking.
  • Get Deep - Deeper passions, like social activism, technological innovation, or humanity's advancement make much more interesting specialties, though. You can be the one who works that into the projects that need it.
  • Go with Function - Or maybe it's purely functional. You love Instagram. You're a master Snapper. Facebook is your homie. Those are easy to focus on when it comes to your work, and are super useful as specialties today. You'd be the one people turn to, to explain the latest shifts in social platforms. But, remember that these platforms evolve, and while Snapchat could be the belle of the ball one day, Instagram could become Cinderella.

Me? I've always had a thing for technology. Started out with new media, like creating animations or coding websites. Then, once social media caught on, it intrigued me, and I dove in head first. Now creative data is the latest innovation of tech and I can see where the ad world is going once again. Sometimes, passions and the industry line up.

Showing Off Your Specialty

Okay, you've figured out your specialty. Now it's time to make sure everyone knows how valuable your are. These are a few places that you could focus your specialty:

  • Your Work - The more you focus on your specialty in your work, the easier it will be for everyone to see it. Of course you'll be limited in this, based on what projects you've been assigned or executed. However, if you want to emphasize it even more, try executing a side project.
  • Your Portfolio - Beyond your work is how you present it. No matter what it is that you worked on, you can focus on any aspect of it in your portfolio. Whether it's in your descriptions, your bio, or your work itself, you can show off your passion through your book.
  • Blogs, Social Posts, Podcasts, etc. - If you're reading this post, you're already aware of how I'm putting my specialty out there. The truth is, creatives like to let their work speak for itself, and don't talk otherwise. But we have a lot of knowledge to share, and with social media, blogs, podcasts, etc., there are so many ways to put your specialty knowledge out there.

The key is to make it clear to anyone looking that you're an expert in...something.

Don't Have a Specialty?

Everyone's an expert in something. The key is figuring out how to blend it into your career. That's actually also the hard part.

The great part is when you realize that you can have a career that has your passion built into it.

But maybe you're hitting a wall. No problem, you'll figure it out at some point. In the meantime, be the best possible creative you can be. (Yeah...cheesy.) But seriously, your only hope is to be harder working, quicker, and more insightful and talented than anyone else out there.

It's where we all start, and eventually we find ourselves.

Specialties Make You Happier

It's not just about getting a job. It's about getting the right job. The job that you'll actually be happy about going to every day. The one that will fill your time and your portfolio with the kind of work you care about.

But it's also about getting a job. And if you have a specialty, if you're an expert in something, people looking for that expert will find you.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, say hello @thejeremycarson. LinkedIn Instagram TikTok