By Lou Lesko – Founder, Blinkbid Software
About seven years into my editorial fashion career, I started wanting a position in the advertising game. I wanted to sit in a pre-pro meeting sipping a cappuccino brought to me by a gorgeous college intern working for the ad agency who thought I was important because I was sitting in the “maple” conference room. I craved the sets with superb craft service and a PA specifically assigned to peel my 100 calorie granola bars. So I went on a brown nosing bender to try and win the favor of anyone who could A-list me and came up with the following tactics:
Smile like you mean it over expensive drinks with career advancers. If during a random conversation about Russia they act like they really get the Russian people because of their unique experience on a Holland America tour bus that drove through Red Square, save the fact that you were a Moscow based journalist for someone that you want to sleep with, and buy another round. Sacrificing your personal ego is a brilliant way to get in with the in crowd of advertising.
At a fancy lunch, after the server pours a second glass of wine, start offhandedly asking about the new work at the agency. Be sure to say that you don’t have much on for the afternoon and you could probably get them a ballpark price for the ten day, three country shoot by the close of business which is two and half hours away. Then obviously pick up the check to break the silence caused by your previous statement.
Ingratiate yourself by sharing personal, emotional events of your life. Dating drama is always a clever opener. Especially if it involves odd sexual behavior. Extra points if the person whose fanny you’re smooching is a devout christian.
Not original, but always effective, call like a stalker. Leave a voicemail message every single time with some extraordinarily retarded attempt at humor as a method to inspire a return call. Make sure your voice is at least an octave above normal so you sound like a medicated git instead of a plain vanilla git.
Each one of the previous four paragraphs is a true event dutifully acted out by yours truly. For these embarrassing acts of obsequious behavior, I got nothing but a high credit card bill. Which led me to a whole new way of thinking about schmoozing.
When you travel from your Starbucks office to the fabulous waiting rooms of ad agencies that use 50 inch LCD TVs as wallpaper, it’s easy to feel intimidated, like you don’t belong. Which, I have to emphasize, is a totally normal response. To pull yourself together and avoid acting a like an idiot do the opposite of what I did above;
• It’s okay to mention a personal experience that trumps the one of the person your trying to schmooze. Don’t be a obnoxious blowhard about it, but don’t be shy about what you’ve done. There is indeed and expectation that photographers are adventuresome individuals. It adds value to your brand. Which is another way of saying, do not abandon your personality.
• If you are just starting to break into advertising, don’t pretend to know more than you do. Bids are complicated things. Throwing out numbers off the top of your head or words like “ballpark” are just an indication of ignorance. I have yet to meet an art buyer that doesn’t respond positively to rookie questions. This is where you get the best schooling and art buyers benefit from helping you out because it’s one less call back to you if potential discrepancies are dealt with preemptively.
• Never, ever, ever talk about your private life. As photographers we are already thought of as whack jobs. There is no need to yammer on and remove all doubt. The potential for judgement is too great. The oldest rule in Hollywood, and everywhere else, never talk about religion, politics, gay rights or abortion. Safe topics include, sports, the general state of the economy and Michael Jackson.
• It is a nightmare to wait for a return call or email when your broke especially when you have a lot of time on your hands. Avoid the impulse to reach out over and over again. One nice, normal message per three days is fine. Keep the messages short and to the point. The person on the receiving end is listening to or reading a lot of communications. Complicating their life with an overly loquacious message runs the risk of not getting it deleted before it concludes.
Appropriate scmoozing is a measured thing. The act should match the reason for the gratitude. If someone gets you a gig that nets you a nice profit. Throw down for the good bottle of wine or Lakers tickets. If someone introduces you to someone that can get you work, a post work cocktail with the understanding that you have somewhere else to be that night is fabulous. If what your about to do feels like blatant, gross ass kissing, it is. Don’t do it. Because it will be perceived as such on the other side.
Last I want to talk about the passive aggressive bastards. This industry is full of them, usually on the account side. These people live to make you feel small. There is no rational explanation for their behavior, it just happens. But since they occupy a position that can affect your career there is always a bizarre need to win them over. I have tried this a lot, it never works. Hard as it may be, hold your ground. There is no need to get confrontational, just don’t get sucked into the game. The other people around you will think better of you for it.
The politics of this business are mind wrenching, but unavoidable. The best advice is also the most cliché advice that is repeated over and over in summer comedies and School House Rock. Be yourself.