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How to be a Mad Man

1. Become a Mad Man.

Talk to an alumna, a neighbor, anyone who can slip you past an agency door. Latch on to someone in the creative department, who’ll either help guide your portfolio of “spec ads”—fake ads for real clients you’ve obviously never worked for—or direct you to specialized advertising classes, nearly a requirement these days. You’ll be paired with a writer or an art director to create a killer set of concepts, to earn the privilege of … well … working for close to free.

2. Sell Some Widgets.

Push past the first ideas to find a unique benefit inherent to your product. Nike’s “Just Do It” sold self-respect. “Got Milk” sold the cookie’s best friend. First make it relevant to your target. Then make it resonant. Remember, personal truths are often universal. If an insight rings true to you, it may well ring true to millions.

3. Practice Detachment.

For every ad you see on television, roughly 313,498 have been slaughtered by a gauntlet of account people, creative directors, clients and clients’ spouses who don’t share the same glorious vision of how to sell toothpaste using a singing troupe of aardvarks. There’s a slim chance they might have a point, but know that the mysterious well from which ideas are born is bottomless with enough time and coffee.

4. Don’t Go Mad.

As your award shelf and bank account swell from utilizing the same enigmatic processes as da Vinci and Einstein, there’s the possibility your head will too. Remember you’re a salesman, not an artist. To avoid an ego blowout, keep in mind that while you avoided a job reconciling balance sheets, you’re not curing cancer either. But if you’re any good, it’s probably at least half as fun.

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Scott Cooney (Com ’94) is an advertising Creative Director on Microsoft whose work is archived in New York’s MoMA. He is also the author of Extinct for a Reason from Gallery Books.