Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dominik rules!

The reason that I write for this blog is to keep people informed. But Saturday for the first time my own weblog brought me news. From Thursday to Saturday I've been in Amsterdam to visit some friends and to party. Despite my hangover and the bad weather, I even went surfing. So when I came home I was exhausted. I looked at my blog and my fellow student Dominik left this comment:

hey robin,
i am sorry to tell you that you have a flat now! hehe... i got one now and i can't reject it... so you and sal have to take it... it's an order... haha... i will get the keys tomorrow... and it is a good one!! really good!
talk to you soon,
Now that's already great news. But it got even better. When I read my e-mail I found out that the apartment is affordable, big and close to my favorite neighborhood Sankt Pauli, between the beautiful Alsterlake and the party area Reeperbahn. And it's all thanks to Dominik, because he called the landlord, went to the flat to take a look and got the keys. If all students were as helpful as he is, no one in the Miami Ad School would be without housing. If you want to see a really cool commercial that Dominik made or read funny stories about his internships in Amsterdam and Hamburg, take a look at his blog here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lost: 1 week

When you go places, it's not uncommon that you lose things. I lost my camera in the train from Berlin to Hamburg, I lost my phone in a club in Brussels (probably stolen) and in the last week of my internship in New York I lost my memory stick. Losing things is something inevitable and should be calculated in. But I wasn't prepared for losing time; a week to be precise.

Have I lost my mind? I thought I had three weeks vacation in Holland but today I found out I only have two weeks. In other words: I miscalculated the amount of time I'm in Holland. I wanted to visit some agencies and a lot of friends. But I still haven't got a place to live in Hamburg, so I'm spending all my time searching for rooms and apartments on internet and calling landlords in Germany. First things first.

I learned never to panic in these situations. I've seen students who came to a quarter away destination without having any housing and in the end it all worked out some way or the other. Instead of spending precious time on panicking, I made a strict time-planning for this last 1,5 week. One that includes a worst case scenario and the possibility that I have to go to Hamburg sooner to visit apartments or rooms.

According to Einstein time is relative. Today I found out that he's right.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Start spreading the blues...

Manhattan by night

Me standing on my hands at Saatchi

...I'm leaving today. Today at 17:00 my airplane leaves from Newark and I'll arrive at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam at 7:00 in the morning. I had a great time in New York and a lot happened. Some would say 2,5 months in New York is undescribable. But I'm a copywriter, so the least I can do is try.

The highlights and surprises of this quarter in New York: seeing the skyline from New York from the airplane, sitting in the taxi that's driving over Queensborough bridge, living with 11 students in one house and not having one argument in 2,5 months, screaming people on the street, the concert of Cansei de Ser Sexy on my birthday, Brooklyn, the people cruising in cars while playing hip-hop in Brooklyn, PBR (the cheapest beer in New York, ask for it in clubs), going to a party and finding out that in the back there's a group of art students making drawings of half naked women, Saatchi and Saatchi, Icaro Doria who helped us improving our work, Menno, Julia, Leo, Michael, Jan and all the other people who helped us improving our work, my collegues José (a.k.a. the Brazillian Pavarotti) and Rodriquo (a.k.a. the Brazillian Stallion), Manhattan, the skyline by night in Manhattan (see above), subway stations full of people at midnight, playing basketball in the park, the running track around the top of the Saatchi building with the view on Manhattan, the view on Manhattan, the transformer explosion at Grand Central, satiric newspaper The Onion, every day ultimate fight on television, comedy series Flight of the Conchords, the hilarious copy on packages, my good friend Salvatore who did an internship at Duval Guillaume, a meal for 5 dollar including a drink at the Chinese restaurant one street away from my work (you have to order fast there or else the Chinese lady at the counter starts screaming at you), the concert of Stereo Total to which we came way too late so we saw only 20 minutes, Central Park, the ferry to Staten Island, seeing Presenter of America's funniest home video's Bob Saget for the first time being funny in a great stand up comedy show, the beautiful lights at Time Square by night and last but not least working with my art director Julien.

I probably forgot even half of it, but that's because I don't have a lot of time. Which is a lame excuse for a copywriter, I know. But I'm going to pack my suitcase right now and leave the "city of dreams". They say it's the city that never sleeps. But that's not true. New York is the city you never wake up from.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spare time in New York

It's Wednesday and I planned to put some work that I've made at Saatchi on my blog. The problem is that Julien and I are in Saatchi right now and the files are at home. There might be a chance that we can show our work to the main creative director Tony Granger before 16:30 so we're stuck in the agency until that time. There's a DVD with the files in the agency, but we'd sooner find oil in Central Park than we'd find the DVD back between all the people in the organisation.

So I'll just tell about how my week has been. You might think that a week off will give me some rest, but then you forget that I'm in New York. I haven't even done half of the things I wanted to do here and I think I'm not going to. It seems that whenever I have spare time, I can never plan anything. I try to make appointments that I don't have time for. I look up how I can get to the Statue of Liberty, only to find out that you have to get tickets 48 hours in advance. In the meantime I'm looking for apartments in Hamburg, because I don't want to sleep between the punks on the Reeperbahn when my next quarter starts.

Well, I was never good at being a tourist anyway. I just like to enjoy the city. Having dinner in a nice restaurant, drinking a cappuccino somewhere, and just walking around in the huge streets; all these small impressions are everlasting for me. On Friday afternoon I take the plane back to Holland. But wherever I go, a piece of New York will always stay with me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saatchi & Saatchi NY

Julien and I holding the Print Grand Prix and the Agency of the year-award

If you walk in an agency, you can tell something about the level by just looking at the awards that they have. If you can spot one or two awards, they are probably the only awards they've ever won. If they have numerous awards piled up on shelves, you're in a good agency. At Saatchi New York there are just lions at the entrance: the Print Grand Prix and the Cannes lion for the agency of the year.

This is indicative for Saatchi NY. They're don't want to show off what they've won, but display only the two most prestigious awards in the world. The rest of their awards are scattered all over the agency. I once saw about 25 Clio's in an office. I asked the woman who was working there if the Clio's were all from this year. "Yes", she responded, "but these are only the bronze ones".

Yesterday was my last day and I can look back on a the most inspiring internship ever. No offence to other agencies I've worked, but Saatchi New York is by far the best agency I've ever been. It's hard to believe that this agency was used to be considered not very creative. What makes an agency like Saatchi so good? What is the secret behind Saatchi New York? I cannot give a clear answer to that, but there are some factors that might have contributed to the high creative level here. I think they can be helpful for every agency that wants to become famous.

First of all the benchmark of creative work is higher than any agency in the world. Jan and Leo are two outstanding creative directors who kill every idea that's not excellent. When they say something is good, it probably is. It was also difficult for me, because at Saatchi it's hard to impress. If you show 20 campaigns, it's not considered outstanding, it's normal here.

And if you think every creative team is outstanding, that's not true. All creative teams are very very good, but I think only five creatives here win all the awards. Nevertheless, the creative directors take everybody on the creative floor seriously. No matter what age, level or amount of awards you've already won. And extra attention goes out to the interns. Julien and I got more coaching than in any other agency and copywriter Icaro Doria looked at our work at least twice a week to see if there's something in it that can win awards.

Talking about the creative work: the keyword here is 'insights'. If you make an ad for a coffee brand, every idea that just says "coffee keeps you awake" goes into the garbage can. The creative directors want to see an original insight. So rather than starting with an idea, you first have to think about a new and interesting message about the product. If it's not new, then the idea stands no chance. Just as a joke, we once showed an idea in which somebody cuts a tomato with a television because it's so thin to creative director Leo Premutico. He couldn't laugh about it.

Even after the idea is sold, the struggle goes on. The execution must be perfect. Nobody is in a hurry to produce a campaign. A good campaign needs time for execution and at Saatchi they understand that. When we worked for a pitch, Leo made us change every single piece of work about ten times. It took us two days just to make all the changes. And in the end even a spelling corrector came to see if all the comma's were in the right place. Producing an ad takes even more time. If it takes a year to make it perfect, it takes a year. It's as simple as that.

Something I didn't expect when I first came to this agency: people aren't working their asses off. Although the Saatchi building is open 24/7, there's rarely somebody in the agency after seven. "But of course people work at home after work", I asked my one of my former schoolmates Michael, who works there. "No, they rarely do that", he answered. Creatives have a life here and it's not only about advertising. I saw the same in Stockholm and at Duval Guillaume and they make good work anyway. I think working all the time isn't good for anybody. You have to go out and get inspiration. Finishing your work in time also forces everybody to work more efficient.

It's clear that there's an excellent creative floor here. I cannot say anything about the accounts or the planners, because strange enough I never had to do anything with them. They seem to keep the creatives away from account or planners. The creative directors are the only ones who judge the work. After they've chosen the work, they're going to talk to the account group. But the creative team that's responsible is asked to leave. Personally I think it's really good. Creatives aren't telling accounts how to do their job and neither do accounts. I think 50% of the time in an agency is wasted on politics; useless fights between account and creatives. As if there's some sort of battlezone where two parties fight each other. No, creatives only have to be creative and account managers have to sell the ideas to the client. Everybody is doing what they're supposed to do.

And now to come back to the awards. Tony Granger told Saatchi at the beginning of a video presentation that there wasn't a great party when Saatchi became agency of the year in Cannes. He told us he saw many agencies going from being at the top of the world to no awards in Cannes the next year. You always have to push your creativity further. Feeling like you're already the best can make an agency overconfident and when you stop being insecure, you stop making good work.

You can see that mentality on the creative floor at Saatchi. Nobody's behaving like they're some sort of advertising guru, even if they have all the awards to behave like one. They're not gods, they're normal people like you and me. They just happen to do their job really good.

Winning so many awards in a year that you don't even have a place to put it and you end up showing just two of them. That's Saatchi in a nutshell. I had a great time here and I'm going back next week to thank people for helping me pushing my creative capabilities to the maximum.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The final countdown

Last week of our internship at Saatchi! Friday is our last day so Julien and I are working hard to execute a campaign for Folgers (soon to be seen on this blog) and to gather all the files and scribbles that we've made this last few months.

I noticed that 2,5 months is not enough time to prove what you can do in an agency like this. The level is so high that you need at least a month to get into the workflow. After that things go easier. We've noticed that we've began to think less in quantity and more in quality. Every ad we make has to be original as hell and after a while you can see right away if an idea stands a chance or not.

I thing we managed really well to blend in with the agency, and that's already really good. But we didn't even come close to the level of the top creatives that work here. Which is not so strange, because the top creatives here can't even count the amount of Cannes Lions that they've won. It reminds me that I still have a long way to go. Which is good, because I want to reach their creative level and I've got something to fight for.

Next week I finally have the time to see more of New York and I'm looking forward to it. We decided that we're not going to work during our short vacation. There's a time for working and after that you have to be able to let it go. The 21st of september I'm coming back to Holland again.

And now attention to something else. One of the Miami Ad School students that lives in our house, Rhea has just graduated. She has a portfolio with a lot of fresh, progressive and campaignable work. As far as I know she's still looking for a job so if any of you need a good art-director, be fast. Check out her website here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Safe city

One of the opportunities to get rich in the Big Apple

New York is the first city where so much happens, that I cannot possibly write everything on my blog. There would be so many storylines that the posts will be totally unstructured. And that's why every time I have to write in themes. And the theme of this post is: criminality.

I expected the worst when I went to New York. You hear a lot of stories about murder, pickpockets and robbery. But my experience is that the big apple is actually one of the safest places to live. You can safely walk on the streets at night because there are always people around, there's a lot of security and police walking around with flashlights at night and the government has a very strict criminality policy.

One of the anti-crime measures is to put stickers with the maximum fine you can get when you do something. So now I know that maltreating a subway employee can lead to seven years of jail. Putting household trash in a trashcan on the streets: $100 dollar. What's next: stickers that warn you about returning library books too late? (hm...they probably do that already).

Another way of preventing crime is to offer rewards for information that can lead to arrest. You can get $1000 dollar if you turn in somebody who carries a weapon. And as you can see on the poster above, seeing somebody shooting a cop is like winning a lottery.

This is actually quite tricky. What if they go to far with this reward policy? There's a risk that you create a gestapo-environment, where nobody can be trusted. So you even have to look around you if you throw your chewing gum on the streets. Luckily, they only offer rewards for major crimes. And I think it's necessary in a city with more people than the entire population of Holland. And whatever the government does, it seems to work and that's a great achievement.

You still have to avoid certain neighborhoods here, but that's okay. It's not very sensible to walk alone in a dark, industrial district of Brooklyn or in the slums of the Bronx. But in the places where I go I feel safe. A lot of things happens in New York, but I'm glad crime isn't one of those things.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

About crazy stuff

My Brazilian colleague José at the baseball match

I like craziness. Things that amaze me, puzzle me, disturb me, intrigue me...I'm always hungry for it. Especially if it's about music. Or about movies. I thought that after Killer Klowns from Outer Space I've seen it all. But last week I saw a movie that makes every other movie seem pretty normal: Forbidden Zone. It's a movie made by a famous movie music composer named Danny Elfman and his brother Richard Elfman. This movie is so cult, that even cult-videostores have it in the cult-corner. There's no movie like it. Click here for a small clip from Forbidden Zone.

If you think the madness in this clip is an exception because it's music, you're wrong. The entire movie is like this and it gets even crazier.

Another thing that puzzles me: baseball. Last month I've been to a game of the Mets and this week I went to a match of the New York Yankees. We got tickets from our colleagues and I enjoyed it because it's all new for me, but I can't believe millions of Americans watch this game every week. I mean, I can understand basketball or American football, but baseball...

I mean, I understand the rules: guy with a bat waits for a guy with a glove to throw the ball. If he hits the ball really hard over the fence he can make a quiet stroll around the field while making faces at his opponents. One of the special strategies of this game is to bore your opponent to death, something which the pro's on the field are very good at.

I understand that there's a lot of history and culture behind this game, but for a European like me, this game feels like a three and a half hour game of golf. Although it looks like the American baseball fans seem to agree with me, because nobody seems to be able to sit through the entire match. The last hour half of the audience even walked out. And I can tell you that the tickets aren't even cheap. Nevertheless, I did have a good time.

Another thing that totally puzzled me. There's a new commercial made by Juan Cabral, the copywriter and art director (!) that made the Sony commercial with the balls (color like no other). This commercial for Cadbury chocolate makes no sense at all, but it's damn funny. There's just a gorilla in it that plays drum on Genesis-music. Now putting an ape in a commercial is already a guarantee for me that I like it. But this commercial is one great production. You can see it here.

The work puzzled me for a while. What does it mean? And how does somebody gets an idea like this sold? The website explains that there's no rocket science behind this commercial. It's just made to entertain. And that's what it certainly does. Sometimes advertising can be so simple.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New pictures

Interesting guerilla stunt on a traffic sign

As I said in my previous post, a lot of my New York photographs have died in the computer crash. Luckily, Julien had some of my pictures on his laptop. So he burned a CD for me with everything that could interest me. One of the pictures was the one above. At the first glance, it looked like a normal traffic sign. But the letters 'HIV' under the word 'STOP' makes this a really interesting picture. An good example of spontaneous guerilla marketing for AIDS-prevention.

We're spending too much time between four walls in the agency (this is meant as a figure of speech, because we actually sit in the corridor). So we decided to go out more to show our work to agencies in New York.

So this week we put our favorite work together and went to two agencies: MMB and Duval Guillaume New York. At MMB a former Miami Ad School student named Jeremy Kinder gave us detailed advice on our portfolio. Something which we can use very well because next quarter we have to put our final portfolio's together in Hamburg.

I already knew Duval Guillaume from my internship in Brussels, but I've never been to the agency in New York. We spoke to Tom van Dale. This 26-year young creative director already knew a lot of our work, but we just had a good conversation. Duval New York is, in contrary to the mother agency in Brussels, still very small. He told us that he has big ambitions to make the New York agency a really creative shop with a lot of employees. And that, with all its intensity and creativity, New York is the place where that's possible.

Talking about intensity, Jeremy Kinder told us that after working for a couple of years in New York, he really had to take a long rest, because he didn't have one day of rest. I can imagine that. Monday we have a vacation day. Both Julien and I are really enthousiastic workers, but we were somehow glad to have a day off for a change. New York is really intense. The noise in Manhattan sometimes drives me crazy. The subway trains for example, are so loud that I can't hear the music on my iPod when they drive by. But in the end an awesome city like this can get away with being too loud and being too fast. Because you know it's going to be crazy time when you go here. If you join a marathon, you know you have to run.