Geez, I wish someone had told me this while I was still in school.

Hindsight is 20/20, sure. But foresight is even better. 

To that end,  I’ll be blogging each day this week with one dozen pieces of “foresight” that I wish someone had told me when I was in school. A few of these points reference advertising, but most apply to anyone in business. (Most are probably good for us all to keep in mind, especially in this economy.)

The good news is, we’re all students, and it’s never too late to renew your studies. Ready? Let’s go.

The first dozen things I wish someone had told me while I was still in school:

1) There are no right answers. Including these.

2) Simple, brilliant ideas kick ass over fancy execution. 

3) Instead of promoting yourself by talking about YOU, try to get involved in what OTHERS are doing and saying and thinking about. Participate in a way that’s smart and engaging. That says more about you than any slick promo ever could.

4) The difference between A- and A+ is all the difference in the world.

5) Most of us are not in the business of “crowd-pleasing.” Don’t try to make everyone happy. Focus on your target, and getting them excited about your message. As a student, that target is your potential employer. As a marketer, that target is your consumer. As a professional, that target is your co-workers, your boss, your clients, your industry leaders, and, your next employer. 

6) To reach a potential employer, especially an executive, email is more likely to get a response than writing a letter. Contacting them via LinkedIn or Facebook is even more likely to get a response. An exception: if you already met with someone, send a handwritten note.

7) Often, the more concepts you come up, the better they get. At least, that’s usually the case for me. I write a hundred headlines for every one I end up with. Here is a sample list from my blog about Luke Sullivan: http://www.radicalcareering.com/hogblog/?p=31

8)  If you admire someone or want to contact them, get involved in their conversations. Follow them on Twitter and respond to their commentary. Participate on their blog. Request to friend them on Facebook. Sincerely congratulate them on personal successes, such as publishing an article or winning an award.

9) Smart beats clever.

10) When you’re thinking about a certain topic, feed your brain with inspiration– from the mainstream to the highly specific. It will help you get into the mindset and give you data to toy with and expand upon. 

11) Anyone can come up with a great idea. The question is, can you do it consistently. Actually getting those ideas produced is important too.

12) Any revolutionary message feels uncomfortable at first. Some people won’t like it. Some people will hate it. Accept that and stay focused.


These points are culled from a list I wrote years ago, originally published in a book named Pick Me: Breaking Into Advertising and Staying There by two fabulous creative directors named Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin. This was years ago, back in the days of traditional media, pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook. Then, yesterday, J.D. Humphreys posted the list on the VCU Brandcenter student blog. I pulled out the original complete version, and I was surprised at how many of the basic still hold true. 

It got me thinking… oh, how the world has changed since then. Yet how many of the old principles still fit!

So what do you with someone had told YOU while you were still in school? What piece of advice would have made the difference to know at the start of your career, or even today? Do share.

8 Responses to “Geez, I wish someone had told me this while I was still in school.”

  1. Cindi S. Says:

    I wish someone had impressed upon how important it would be to network and keep in touch with contacts made. I have lost some valuable contacts from college and my first job after graduating because I did not put enough effort into keeping in touch with them. Today’s students will have an easier time doing this with tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but I hope they will understand how important it is to use them wisely and regularly.

    @cindilou19

  2. David Esrati Says:

    Glad to see you blogging Sally.
    Can’t agree more with #8 and to add to that- I can’t add praise for people who volunteer to do unpaid internships- just to get experience.
    Real world experience makes the classroom stuff so much more relevant.
    And as to business- never, ever, underestimate the power of cash and the importance of cash flow. They don’t spend near enough time on that in business school.

  3. Jon P Says:

    Sally, here’s one I wish someone had told me early in my career: Take the time to do those things you instinctively know are right. Spend time with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods. Read good books and go experience cultural events. If you do those things rather than spending all your extra time working, your work will be much more interesting in the end. As will your life.

    It sounds simple, but in the communications business it takes tremendous discipline to achieve.

  4. Greg Christensen Says:

    I wish I’d known how important presentation skills were. I assumed great work would sell itself. Sometimes it does. But most times it needs to be sold compellingly.

    But your article in one.a magazine “The Agency With the Best Softball Team Does the Worst Creative” was exactly what I needed to hear when I was a student. I still have my copy.

  5. Sally Hogshead Says:

    Cindi: Yes! It’s so much easier these days to stay in touch via Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. that there’s really no excuse not to. And don’t just poke them to say hi… actually be of value to them.

    David: From experience of doing it the wrong way at first, I can say that you’re absolutely right. It’s also important to balance your family’s need for stable income, per your next point about cash flow. The key word there is “balance.” And thanks for encouraging me to blog more!

    Jon: I always love your commentary. Yeah, funny how most of us are in the communication business yet we’re often terrible about doing it ourselves rather than our clients. (Hence, my blogging more often.) The cobbler’s children go barefoot, right?

    Greg: Hugely important point. Presenting– and selling– your ideas is crucial and can’t be emphasized enough. If you don’t know how to present… then learn.

  6. Nate Davis Says:

    I think #3 is a great point, and I’m trying to do just that on twitter etc., but related to that is another point I’ve heard from a number of sources lately: do something you love, and do it well, and sooner or later it will lead somewhere and people will take notice.

  7. Mark Radcliffe Says:

    Always good to see what you’re thinking, Sally.

    Here’s one I’d add, and I wonder if you’ve encountered it too:

    Every time I’ve had an idea that’s gone on to win awards, it was almost always unilaterally dismissed by my creative directors, AE’s, clients, and even partner. Anything really strong, simple & relevant will often seem boring to people who spend way too much time thinking about the brief or the assigned product. They usually want something much more complicated, but what’s interesting to the initiated will almost always be too complex & confusing to Joe I’m-Tryin-To-Live-My-Life-Over-Here. The tough part is knowing that really good ideas are resisted almost as much as really bad ones.

  8. Balance your brain balance your life Says:

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