Some of the best advice this summer came not from editors or orientation speakers — though they were all great, as any other ASME intern will attest — but from a story subject. While interviewing a finalist for Ad Age’s annual Small Agency Awards, one founder told me, “Honestly, we just want to make cool shit.” The work could be bland or tedious. It didn’t matter — his job was to make it exciting. That wasn’t advice for a 21-year-old with career anxiety (we all have that, right?), but I took it as such.
I had been at Ad Age for a few weeks, and I liked it, but…I just didn’t get it. I was new to the intricacies of the advertising and marketing world. To use a sports cliché — one often heard in the Ad Age office — it all felt very inside baseball. The “make cool shit” pep talk/interview (OK, 100 percent interview) kicked me in the butt. Keeping in mind the Ad Age audience, I decided to write what I wanted to read, and I was lucky to have editors who valued my input and allowed me to write stories I pitched.
My background is in sports reporting, so I wrote about the NBA, which next season is allowing teams to sell on-jersey ads — a first for major American sports. I also tried to be the guy who was up for anything.
When a New York art director pitched Ad Age a feature about her side hustle — she was willing to pay a friend $1,000 if they set her up with a guy she went on 10 dates with — my editor, thinking it’d be hilarious, sent me, the college intern with a girlfriend, on a faux date/interview with her. It was awkward — very weird. But the next day, reporters I had little interaction with wanted to talk about it. The story, a 13-question Q&A, was on the website’s most-read list for a few days, and my editor found it hilarious. One of our devout commenters, whose user profile photo shows a man with graying hair and transition lenses, had other thoughts: “So Rance Crain is now ‘out’ as president and editor of Ad Age, and now we have this kind of ‘business’ content?” You can’t please everyone.
I definitely fell flat at times (see: “Donald Trump, Kendall Jenner and the Long Road to 'Sorry'”), but I’m grateful for my editors’ willingness to let me try pieces that broke from the usual Ad Age mold. If “cool shit” turns out to be just shit, my Small Agency subject told me, at least it was in the pursuit of something. I can relate. Throughout these 10 weeks, I’ve tried to embrace that mindset: Make something people want to watch, write something people want to read, do something people want to know more about. And keep an open mind — it could even land you a date.