An Actual Advertising Book That Doesn’t Pretend to Have It All Figured Out
WORKING NOT WORKING
Who are you and why are you talking to me?
Our appointment isn’t for another 30 minutes, is it possible to...
Where am I from? Well, I was born in Budapest, Hungary at the age of zero. I moved to the US when I was two and learned both Hungarian and English at the same time. I fell in love with writing in the flexible and wonderful English language, and my Hungarian I not speak as good no more. I’ve lived all around the U.S.: Madison, Chicago, Miami, SF, and now Brooklyn.
Ok, I guess we’re doing this. So tell me about your book.
My book? In hindsight, I probably should’ve prepared for this question. Well, this is the book I wish I had starting out as a copywriter, written in a way I’d want to read. It talks about how to write for the actual job, as well as navigating hallways, not blowing presentations, avoiding ideas that seem clever in the moment but fall flat in real life, and the virtue of pushing in your chair after meetings.
Why should people listen to you?
I wrote a book so they wouldn’t have to listen to me. Oh, you mean like credentials? I’ve worked at three of the most creative agencies in America: Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Mother New York. I’ve freelanced at a bunch of others. I’ve worked on accounts ranging from Sir Kensington's Ketchup to Fortune 500 companies like Target, AB-InBev and Activision. My work has been discussed in The New York Times, NPR and was once material for a joke in a Late Show monologue. I’ve won industry awards in The One Show, Cannes Lions, and Clio Awards. My personal story has been written about in the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune. In 2013 AdAge/Creativity named me one of their “Creatives You Should Know.” I have an equally impressive list of failures.
Ok, but really the only reason I’m even interviewing you is because Jeff Goodby wrote the foreword to the book. How did you get him to do it?
I wrote him a really nice letter.
Right. Ok. You’re not giving me a lot to work with. Maybe let’s talk about the design?
Great! I worked with an amazing designer named Anna Kasnyik. It’s the only copywriting book that looks like a design book. So even if it’s not the best book on writing, it’s at least the best looking.
It’s a very standout blue. Do you think the writing can live up to that bold color?
Why yes, it is Pantone 300 U. Good eye. Anna saw a bag of Italian cookies once and decided she liked the color, memorized it, and when it came time to design the book she said,“Thomas, I know exactly the color your book is going to be.” She then tracked down the Pantone color and that was that. Well, actually she decided she wanted it one shade different. Ruining the perfect answer to this question just to make sure the book looked as good as possible.
Is there an audience for this book or is this all so you can tell everyone how smart you are?
When I was a junior creative I would’ve read a shampoo bottle if it would’ve helped me out. Freelancing now at different agencies, I see a common theme: starting creatives are eager to learn, creative directors want to help but don’t have the time. So creatives turn to books. But most advertising books are written by marketing consultants, people running companies at the highest levels who are far from the day-to-day grind, or David Ogilvy. Junior creatives in the fledgling stages of their careers are reading about the economic impact of the industry, overseeing global campaigns, changing the world through 360 campaigns, but not how to write the ad for the brief in front of them. This book is written by somebody who is definitely still in it and still figuring it out. This is about how I’ve succeeded, despite not being David Ogilvy.
What made you call the book Junior?
In an ageist industry, I’ve given myself eternal youth. I will be forever young and reporting to someone else. I should add that while it was written for people in their first few years of advertising, it’s also applicable to anyone else who is willing to buy it.
Is this your retirement plan?
I don’t expect to get rich off this book. I did the math on an hourly rate times how many hours I’ve put into it. It’s probably the single worst financial investment I’ve ever made. But I’m a creative, and if I’m not creating then what the hell am I doing?
What are you up to now?
Right now? Trying desperately to be clever. But in the bigger picture? Actually, pretty much the same.