The digital media industry and the advertising industry in particular are not always a very self-reflective or self-aware lot. Longtime creative Mat Zucker wants to change that for the benefit of newbies to the industry with his new project Hindsight.
Hindsight is a site that features videos with industry vets like Matt Eastwood of DDB, John Dunleavy of Saatchi & Saatch, Sarah Barclay of JWT and others telling their personal stories of how they got to where they are in the industry and sharing advice. Zucker was a former executive creative director at R/GA and chief creative officer at OgilvyOne. He took time to talk about the recently launched site, why mentorship is hard to come by in the industry, and he offers his advice for those just getting their start. Also, watch the highlight reel at the bottom.
How did you come up with the idea for Hindsight?
I’ve always spent a lot of time with both younger and mid-level talent. My partners in the project Andrea Leminske and director David Gaddie of The Colony have, too. All are hungry for a good story, practical advice and want it for different circumstances. About a year ago, I did a piece for The Ad Buzz blog about “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me.” Got great feedback on it, and I didn’t want to stop. I also love hearing people’s stories, and this long in the industry, I know quite a lot of people. At first, I thought it would be a book, but then, thinking video was more impactful, I talked to Andrea Leminske who has produced video with me in the past, and she introduced me to David.
How did you get other people in the industry involved in your project?
Nearly everyone we told about it immediately liked the idea and wanted to get involved. We have quite a list of people who want to participate in our next batch. The trickiest thing is finding not just successful people (though that’s helpful to someone learning), but also good lessons rooted in a personal story.
Why do you think it is that there isn’t much mentoring that goes on in the industry? Why doesn’t it happen naturally?
There are unique apprentice-like relationships, and occasionally an agency will have a limited mentoring program of some sort, but in an era of more self-reliance and more mobility across fields (creative, production, technology, media, strategy, PR), the industry may not be set up to do it. Another reason could be that we’re not a very reflective industry; we focus on the right now, and what we want to create or do next year. We don’t think further ahead, and most people certainly don’t look back to see how they got to where they are. But in doing these interviews of the first batch of participants, we saw real joy in remembering, drawing conclusions, honing in on a lesson and then sharing it.
How and why did you get into the industry?
I won’t answer for Andrea and David (you can watch their clips when they are posted), but I’ve always loved making stuff and I also loved business. In high school, I was an editor of the school paper, a “Dynasty” addict, and to raise money for the French Club, I sold croissants and orange juice before class. Writing. Drama. Sales. At Cornell, I studied English but also ran the student-run advertising agency on the side. I really didn’t have much of a book upon graduation, so the first job I got was as a secretary in the creative department at FCB in New York. In my clip, you’ll hear how a boss gave me a chance to be a copywriter.
What advice do you wish you got?
Learn typography. Learn grid. Learn photography. Learn design. The old way (for me) was to simply be the best copywriter I could be, but now to be a truly great creative director you have to be much more diverse and hybrid. I was always interested in media, sales and public relations so that wasn’t my weakness. Design was my big gap. That, and height.
Digiday recently covered the difficulty for young people seeking ad industry jobs and unpaid ad internships. What advice do you have for these young people facing such a tough job market?
Working is better than not working, so do something. Making stuff is better than talking about it, so create something with passion. Young people now are lucky because there’s vastly more mobility among industries than there was when I started out 20 years ago. The areas of the industry (advertising, digital, promotion, direct, PR, publishing, media) were very siloed. You had to make an uninformed choice in a corner of the industry; each of which was limiting in its own way. Now that disciplines are blurring, you can take any job that lets you make stuff and transition if you change your mind or don’t get your first choice. That said, there’s a rub: Where you work and who you work for in your first years indelibly shape you. Company reputations change with the work that gets produced, so my advice would be to prioritize for whom you work. Also, don’t use ellipses (…) in your work. It’s amateur and drives me crazy.
What plans do you have for Hindsight in the future? Anything beyond the videos?
We want Hindsight to keep going, and are looking at models to sustain it. We want to be able to add more types of people (strategy, media, technology, editor) than we were able to do in our first batch. Videos will be the central vehicle, but it’s about passing on knowledge which can take the many forms whether it’s audio, written, our Pinterest quote boards, or events.