Q: I got in touch because I was interested to find out what your thoughts might be on self-promotion. I am a graphic design student and I have heard mixed responses from people about sending promotional pieces to advertising and design agencies as a way of getting an intern or a job. Would you have any advice to offer me if I were to attempt a self-promotional project aimed at London design agencies? Do you think advertising theory is relevant in the matter? Or do you know of any examples which have been successful, like the guys who set up a desk in the reception foyer?
A: The reason you've been given very different opinions is because self-promotional material ranges from the almost irresistible to the positively repellent. Entirely depending on the content, a self-promotional piece can put you at the top of the list for an interview or consign you to oblivion. Most, of course, fall somewhere in between.
Advertising theory is relevant only because you should follow sensible advertising planning procedures when thinking what to send.
Start by thinking hard about your audience. Research your target companies one by one and study their client lists. Work out very carefully, not what you want to say but how you would like your audience to respond. If you do this imaginatively, you'll find that extravagant and repetitive self-praise doesn't seem at all a good idea. It isn't. It will almost certainly elicit the response: 'This young person is not only extremely conceited but also has absolutely no understanding of the nature of persuasion.'
Try to answer that most basic of all advertising questions: what's in it for them? You know what's in it for you: an internship or a job. Your audience knows that, too. What they'll be more interested in is what they stand to gain.
So you might do some speculative design work for one of their clients; at the very least, it shows evidence of diligent research. But be sure to make it clear that, since you obviously have no idea of the agreed strategy, it may well be off-beam.
If you genuinely admire the work they've done for existing clients, say so. But don't gush.
Resist the temptation to send lots and lots of stuff on the grounds that the more they see, the greater the chances that they'll at least like something. These are busy people. Have the confidence to be very selective indeed - with the offer of more if they'd like to see it. Don't overface them: whet their appetites.
Making a bloody nuisance of yourself is a high-risk strategy. It has been known to work, but the odds are against you.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.