To celebrate my 58th anniversary of being in advertising this month, I thought I’d share an article I wrote that was published in Advertising Age, January 29, 1973—4 and a half years before I landed my first job in NYC! They included a cartoon of a guy sitting outside a personnel office with a giant portfolio and gave it the glaring headline: “Gruswitz is looking” with the lead-in “Story of an unemployed art director.”
They introduced the article like this: “Here’s a report from the job front from a job hunting ad artist. If he babbles a little, it’s from talking to agency personnel directors.”
By Albert F. Gruswitz
I’m a professional job hunter. I tell everyone I’m an art director, but most of my time I spend job hunting, so I really only art direct part-time.
I actually got into this business by accident. At least I think it was an accident, because no one in his right mind would have taken seriously the form I had to fill out one time for the personnel department of a large agency. I won’t mention any names, but the initials were JWT.
I called up the Detroit branch office (Detroit is my home town), and asked for the personnel department. My first mistake. I’ve since learned that you never ask for anyone but the creative director—personnel will get you nowhere. And beware of the suspicious operator who says slyly, “This isn’t in reference to employment by any chance is it?”—you’ll end up talking to personnel no matter who you ask for. The people in personnel will say something like, “Well, the proper procedure would be for us to send you an application form and, upon us reviewing your qualifications, and, if an opening is available for someone of your background, we would then contact you to send your samples, if you have any.”
Two days later a four-page form comes. “What foreign languages do you speak that would be of assistance to our worldwide organization?” “None.” “What do you feel was the most significant contribution you made in your place of last employment?” “I made excellent tissues and flaps.” (I had only been an apprentice one summer at the time.) “In the space provided describe your self in terms of personal characteristics: Are you punctual?” “I brush my teeth at exactly 7:14 every morning.” “ Do you have poise?” “Like an ox with baby booties on.” “Are you patient?” “ I filled out this form, didn’t I?” “Are you optimistic?” “You may still hire me.”
That was my second mistake. After all those smart answers I never heard from them.
- This sort of thing should not stop the determined young art-director-to-be. Nor should you take seriously the people like the goateed, skin-headed studio owner who told me to get out of the business because I’d never make it. “Try and get a job in a big studio that can afford to take you on, and see if this is really what you want.” When I got my first job as an art director at Campbell-Ewald, I never bought art from that man.
Now I’ve been establishing contacts in New York. That’s a nice way of putting it’s been hell trying to find work in that town the last couple of years.
Job for a Guy Wit’ a Heavy Real
So if a guy who hasn’t quite made it yet can be a forecaster of things to come, here’s how I read the city. Things are happening. I’m not sure yet if its from account shifts or that we’re finally pulling out of the recession, but there’s work available for the select few. A job hunter friend of mine said yesterday he’s never seen such emphasis put on the book before (and the reel). I called one of the hot shops the other day (didn’t get past the secretary) and the girl said with the Bronx sticking out of her mouth, “Ya, he’s looking all right. Ya got a heavy reel? He’s gotta find a guy wit’ a heavy reel.”
Another shop, one where everyone who’s anyone came from, was disappointed in my book. The CD told me what he liked and what he was looking for, and was really quite helpful. But, his comments had to be read that they were scared (they’ve lost a lot of business this year) and they were looking for a Savior to come forth to bring them back to “the shop they used to be.” I can’t walk on water yet.
Creative man Ron Travisano, interviewed by CA Magazine, referred to the old line art director who “waited for the copy to appear under the door on a yellow piece of paper. On a tv commercial they would lay out the storyboard and that would be it. They weren’t even allowed to go to the shooting.” He said things weren’t like that any more—at least in quite a few shops.
Catch 22: Initiation Never Stops
I know that sort of thing has been talked about ever since I started knocking on doors. But, maybe it’s really happened. If an art director is going to stay around now he has to be more than a good designer. He has to be a brain. He has to have lots of ideas, lots of headlines, and if the copywriter is tied up with something else, he has to write the copy. The ‘70s could be the age of the art director.
Now what does all that mean to me and the other bag carriers on the block? What you have to do is take it all in, change your thinking about being an artist and become an adman. You better come up with a bunch of ideas, put them on paper in some rough way, do a lot of storyboards from your head (if you can’t afford to make a pilot reel, like I can’t), and maybe even a couple of radio spots. Then throw away all the bad ones until just those select few are left. If you look like you can walk on water, show it. If you don’t, keep working or be satisfied with some old line art director’s job in Indianapolis.
- Through the years I’ve developed a theory on job hunting. The ad business is a big fraternity with an initiation test. Catch 22 is that the initiation test never stops. I know as soon as I start sending out resumes and making phone calls, they all get a hold of each other and say, “Hey, here comes that Gruswitz guy again. What do you think? Should we give him the business again, or—just this once—a job?”
Will I make it this time? Can a boy from a small midwestern town find happiness and a job in the big city? #