My DIY Ad School Journey Through Covid-19
With increased calls for new ad industry talent, three questions need answering first:
- Where to find them?
- Who will train them?
- How will they access good training?
If you can't attend a full-time program like Miami Ad School or VCU, or aren't selected by nonprofit or agency-sponsored incubators, what are your remaining options?
I faced these questions in trying to pivot into advertising and decided that if I couldn't snatch a golden ticket to break in, I'd say fuck it and create my own.
Making things harder, I made this decision in February 2020, right before the pandemic began. However, in the thick of lockdown, I discovered opportunities to create my own ad-school curriculum through various part-time programs.
Being an ambitious idiot, I took this chance, and this is how it went.
My training began with The Book Shop School for Ads. Well-known in Los Angeles for breaking in new talent, their evening courses provide a no-nonsense path to making that first portfolio. For proof, Book Shop teams regularly hold their own against larger ad programs at The One Show, including their first Gold Pencil win in 2022.
Over two years, I went from beginner concept classes to a team developing 360 campaign work. My current portfolio began as class assignments. For anyone in L.A., or anywhere through Zoom, The Book Shop is a great place to learn via their focused, practical curriculum taught by working CDs/CWs/ADs, all former alumni. You'll end up with a portfolio, and at $600 per 10-week course, the cost and schedule are manageable for anyone working a day job.
However, in fall 2020, due to Covid-related enrollment issues, my Book Shop cohort was placed on hold until the following spring. With budget already set aside, and not wanting to pause, I contacted Book Shop's New York counterpart, Adhouse.
Owned and led by New York industry stalwarts Paul Fix and Tom Christmann, Adhouse curates a mix of working professionals as instructors. Unlike Book Shop, the rotation is always changing. I contacted Paul, and took courses on advanced concepting techniques with BBH GCD Ryan Paulson, effective selling tips with CD/presentation coach Ben Levy, as well as classes with both Paul and Tom.
Where Book Shop provided a framework to understand how campaigns work, Adhouse courses were deep dives that fleshed out my thinking. With Zoom and class pricing comparable to Book Shop's model (10-week courses at $699), you can drop into an Adhouse course and get practical, New York industry-informed training.
While grinding through Book Shop and Adhouse classes simultaneously, I kept trying to justify the "why" when working out campaign concepts for brand assignments. It probably comes from my past life as a film critic, where subtext comes into play.
I realized my struggle boiled down to not having the strategic insight necessary to make a campaign work. I looked for training that I felt would help, and enrolled in Berghs School of Communication's brand strategy course, taught by strategist Michael Aneto.
Michael provided an invaluable strategic storytelling worldview. Rather than stress over frameworks, I learned to engage brand strategy as a process that embraces change while staying anchored in a company's values. While the tuition was expensive, as an executive-level educational investment it was worth it.
By this point, I'd spent 18 months in ad school training, from L.A. to New York to Europe. However, my final stop would be courtesy of Portland, Oregon. In November 2021, former Wieden+Kennedy ECD Jason Bagley announced his coaching program, the Audacious School of Astonishing Pursuits.
I was intrigued. The chance to learn from a Wieden veteran? A person who contributed to W+K's Old Spice, KFC and countless other clients' work? I took the chance and applied. Later that month, I became one of the first students in ASAP's Creative Megamachine program.
First things first, this isn't a portfolio program. It's a masterclass in craft and mindset for industry professionals. ASAP's value is two-fold: receiving practical tips on how to craft Wieden-level work, and the value of your classmates' stories and questions.
Hearing mid-level copywriters to GCDs share day-to-day issues and questions they face was as valuable as the tools Jason provided. I also benefited from other W+K guest speakers breaking down their process towards craft. Overcoming imposter syndrome is easier when you learn how these people work and discover it's not simply magic.
In summation, while most competitive portfolio programs offer two-year full immersion at $30,000 plus, I gained an equivalent level of training in the same time at half the price.
The last thing to do was build my portfolio website, ToddKonrad.com, and go out there to finally break into the industry, despite the odds, because Covid-19 didn't slow me down and I'm not stopping now.