Book Crit Advice – From Checkout Intake 2020/21
Here’s some handy advice from the Checkout intake on how to survive those daunting book inspections/crits.
I go in always expecting the worst, this may seem negative but actually if they say negative things about your work at least you won’t be surprised. If however they come out with positive remarks it’s a really pleasant surprise.
They are necessary to improve but the opinions of the mentors are less important than industry. I didn’t feel I had improved until I had gone on book crits outside of the school.
Take it from someone who’s had top book score and bottom book score, book scores don’t really matter. Sure it’s nice to get an ego boost or a kick up the butt to work harder, but the main thing is making a book that is a distillation of your true creative self. Have campaigns that only you could make in there.
Pete always says he wants to flick through an anonymous portfolio and be able to recognise the creative through the work, so spend time soul searching and find what makes your creative work uniquely yours. Search high and low for the agencies that you want to work for and create a book that makes it a no brainer for them to hire you.
Also, I know it’s scary, but go on external crits. Build those relationships with creatives you admire, get your first book torn to shreds, your work will thank you for it.
Oh and don’t design in google slides.
I agree with Alek ^ The book league table is mostly arbitrary.
One week the only change I made was to add my D&AD work, and I dropped 8 points and was almost bottom. (which maybe does say something about my d&AD work).
I think it’s designed to foster competition amongst the cohort, which it does. And prepare ourselves for competition in industry, which it also does in a mentally unhygienic way, if you take it for more than what it is.
Beyond that, it’s more constructive to seek criticism from mentors and creatives in the industry you respect and admire. It’s mostly subjective, but you know what good and bad work is. The important thing is to make good work. I think to fail hard and fail fast by getting as many crits as possible, and building the confidence to mould a book with your own voice, taking on feedback, being humble. And from a major introvert – external book crits – you just have to Feel The Fear and Do it Anyway.
It’s a tough one because when you go to crits you should seek criticism not praise. You want to always impress the person you’re having a crit with and often come out thinking, ‘I need to change/ action everything’, but when you have a lot of crits it can get way too much. So, I advise you to pick wisely who you have crits with. Junior teams, unless they’re awesome, should be taken with a pinch of salt. Try to get crits with the seniors first, then down a level until you get those crits you need. Also, sometimes people don’t get your campaigns, which is fine. If you like your work, keep going. Back yourself, pick yourself up and grind it out.
Book crits are tough! But no one said they’d be easy. I think everyone has their peaks and troughs with scores. As Matt said they’re made to fuel a bit of competition. But, with that said… pretty much all the alumni I’ve spoken to have said that they managed to get their dream jobs despite being at the bottom of the score sheet most weeks.
Also book external book crits! The first one is scary but it’ll pay off in the end!
Here is my blunt run-down:
- Charm their pants off.
- Make it clear you have researched their work.
- Compliment something they did ages ago that wasn’t huge. Make it genuine.
- Have a pencil in your hand – make notes.
- Ask them candid questions about what life is like at their agency (more junior people will give you more honest answers).
- Eat cannelloni mid-way through to display your impressive appetite. Hunger is a positive trait for an advertising creative to have.
- Nod in agreement and take on board what they say without answering back to defend something, unless they’re just missing the point of something completely.
- Send a follow-up thank you email asking to book in another meeting to follow up on changes you made thanks to their suggestions (even if you are only doing that to show them in the follow-up and have no intention in having those changes in your book, as someone else’s suggestions were better for the work).
- Thank them verbally and in the follow-up email.
*One of these things is something not to do. You decide which.
Go on book crits, go on book crits, go on book crits. This is advice for myself as much as it is for anyone reading this. Going on crits with great people will invariably improve your work. For internal scores—as lots of people are saying here—don’t overthink them too much. They are a helpful metric to spur you on to make your best work, but nothing is gospel.
Your book is more like a continuous record of your work rather than a finished product. And despite what people think, you are not your work. Your book should reflect your character (it would be weird if you were making work you didn’t like) but your work and you are mutually exclusive. Don’t get this twisted. It can be easy to forget this, especially when your work is being torn to shreds.
Make your idea as simple to understand to the viewer as possible, less is more. They probably don’t care much or have a lot of time for your book so make it bitesize and clear, through as few words as possible on an intro slide and annotations on the work.
Re book inspection, I like to avoid the live feedback session.
It’s less pressure to check out the scores and catch up the following day.
Re book crits, I’d say record everything with a microphone but that’s probably illegal, so scribble down every single piece of feedback.
Book crits (or receiving any criticism on your work) play a vital role in improving every aspect of your creativity. The effect of someone picking out what’s wrong with your work and telling you how to improve on it helps us learn and think more deeply on the way our work impacts people.
Remember, you’re in an industry where you’re trying to sell to lots of people, and even if you’re part of the target market, your opinion of your work does not outweigh the majority.
There are a lot of internal book inspections for you to develop and push your work. Try not to feel too intimidated by them. Take a note of your scores everytime and use that as your benchmark to try and improve upon every time. Everyone works at a different pace and don’t forget to bring your personality to your portfolio.
For external book crits, I was very nervous to send any emails and tried to put it off for a while, saying I wasn’t ready. Sending the first email is the hardest, once you get past that you will feel a bit better about it (hopefully). Try to go on crits with people outside of advertising as well.
Seek criticism. It’s always nice to hear your work praised, but it’s far more important to know what people don’t like, and why. Go on as many external crits as possible, see people of a range of seniorities, keep going back for more.
They are inevitable, in creative industries your work will always be in competition/compared with somebody else’s. So it’s best to learn as quickly as possible how to take them well. Especially as your book usually feels like an extension of yourself, it is hard to not take things personally.
I find it important to know what you like about a mentor’s work when asking for feedback (Is it their tone of voice, strategy, AD ?). And try to stick to mentors whose work really resonates with you. I think it’s great when you feel you can build a relationship, when you can really exchange because you share a vision.
The best advice I can give is to trust yourself. You know what should and shouldn’t go in your book. If you need feedback on it leave it in, if you don’t leave it out. If you are going to show something you have already shown then do it better. Scamped books push you to come up with new ideas but don’t expect to get a good mark for one. I think we are all still getting the hang of what a good book is so perhaps it would be best to give you this advice once the course is done. I think it is important to take them seriously though as they push you to do better work and the tutors’ feedback is invaluable but if you get the odd low mark here and there it isn’t the end of the world…. Well that is what I am telling myself anyway.
Advice I have yet to follow myself, but go to people who will really challenge you. Maybe they don’t align with your personal tone, or they do worthy campaigns and you have a lighter more comedic style. I think the best way to improve is to capitalise on advice from people who can push you on your weaknesses. I’m currently making a spreadsheet (what have I become?) that lists everyone I think will help me push my book as much as possible.
Oh also, nothing is ever finished, so don’t let the fact that you feel like your book isn’t where you want it to be stop you from going on crits, it’s probably more useful if it’s half finished, take guidance from people who know more than you and are probably much better than you at this.
Echoing what others have said, internal crits are a good guide but not gospel, use them to inform your work but if you’re passionate about something mentors don’t get, keep it, doesn’t mean people outside SCA won’t respond to it well.
A spreadsheet! Nothing is worse than promising yourself you’ll remember when your last crit with a certain person was, or who you need to follow up next. A spreadsheet will help to keep you on top of who you’ve seen, whose opinions you value and when you need to follow up with people.
Don’t be offended if people don’t reply. People are busy and that’s nothing personal, however that’s why a friendly nudge can be so important.
Go alone. If you haven’t found a partner, don’t hold off going to show some work alone. I held off for a while whilst I was waiting for a partner but then realised that it’s completely fine to go to crits alone.
Finally, if you don’t agree with someone on a crit, it’s ok and their opinion isn’t necessarily right. I always jot down all the advice and decide once I’m off the call if I agree, or disagree. Sometimes you can disagree with a suggestion however it gives you time to reflect on the idea in a way you haven’t before and potentially improve your work in a different way.
It’s been said, I’ll say it again. Criticism burns, but don’t take it personally. In the words of the great Alex Taylor ‘Seek criticism, not praise.’ You should be actively seeking out people to say the worst things possible about your work – this is how you can make it exponentially better. It will force you to re-evaluate it all, cut the weaker stuff and improve stuff that isn’t quite there yet or not landing in the way you want it to. At the same time you’ll be learning about your own instincts – you’ll find that different people will be criticising different things in different ways, and you’ll need to figure out where you stand on your work. And that may mean ignoring criticism from much wiser and experienced people sometimes. And that’s okay. That said – if everyone’s saying it’s shit… it’s probably shit. Bin it.
Stop telling yourself you’re just going to wait until your work’s a little bit better before you go on your “first” crit. Go on your first crit. Then go on more.