Real Talk: Vince Engel


“Ideas can come from anywhere. The more you read and observe, the more likely you will come up with a good idea.”

Young college students and high school students often underestimate how valuable reading and writing skills are in the real world, and why they matter so much in jobs that aren’t commonly associated with those skills. I’ve started this series, Real Talk, to give professionals in a variety of industries a chance to share why reading and writing are so critical to what they do.

Today we’re profiling Vince Engel, who has had a prolific and celebrated career as an advertising Creative Director and Director. He not only has worked at some of the most premier agencies in the business, he also founded his own. If there’s something he doesn’t know about advertising, it’s probably not worth knowing.

Describe your career.

My name is Vincent Engel. I am a Creative Director/Director in Advertising.

I was born and had a childhood. After graduating from college with a degree in Fine Arts I spent almost 4 years traveling the world in search of a career. After a short stint at UCLA School of Design I got his first job. And the rest is history, especially the nine years at Wieden + Kennedy, Portland and 15 years as a partner in my own agency. After 30 years in advertising, working on brands like American Express, Qantas, Nike, ESPN, Subaru, Disney Pictures, Miller Brewing Co, Virgin Mobile, The SF 49er’s, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Dr. Martens. I’ve been able to work with the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bret Favre, and Academy Award winning director Michael Bay. I’ve managed to fool enough people in this business to make a lot of money and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

Throughout my career I’ve been lucky enough to win every major advertising award (yes they do give awards for advertising, if it’s good enough) with a few minor ones thrown in as well. My work for ESPN’s NCAA Basketball received two Television Emmys and Sportcenter was recognized as “Campaign of the Decade’ by AdWeek magazine. ‘Around the World’ was recently voted as the best Sportcenter spot of all time.

See, fooled them again.

What kind of reading and writing do you do on an everyday basis?

Advertising is all about creating a conversation with an audience, no matter the medium used. It’s story telling. So you need to know what interests your audience. This means devouring newspapers, magazines, internet sites, music, movies to gain insights into what’s current and popular and of interest to them. You also need to read up on the brand or product you are working with. How are they perceived in the market? What problems do they need to overcome? What is their competition doing?

What kinds of reading and writing skills do you consider key to this kind of work?

Being able to communicate an idea, a clear message that resonates with your audience is essential. In today’s world of social media advertising interesting and well-written communications, whether humorous, emotional or fact based all need to be clear and connect with the audience. You have to know what the hell you are talking about and the only way to know your audience is to read, study, and watch what they consume. I don’t care if it’s comic books or gossip columns, get to know the people you are trying to talk to.

Why are these skills important to being successful in your work?

Advertising is the most fun you can have legally. You get to work with interesting people, travel and spend large sums of your client’s money.

Mind you, they expect a big return for your creative efforts, so you fail and you get fired.

Ideas can come from anywhere. The more you read and observe the more likely you will come up with a good idea. By chance I was reading a book by Bart Giamatti, former English professor and then later President of Yale and MLB Commissioner. The book was “Green Fields of The Mind.” In it I found a beautiful quote on the love of sports; coincidentally we were having a very hard time cracking a new ad for Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. The quote I found fit perfectly and with the right images it was a big success. As soon as I read the quote to the client they knew we had hit pay dirt. The rest is history.

I’ve witnessed people look foolish and have had to let people go who did not realize the need to read and write to stay informed and current. The ability to express your ideas is vital.

What advice do you have for students, particularly college students in first- and second-year writing courses?

Read, watch movies, write your thoughts, and express yourself every day. Make it a daily habit so it becomes second nature. Not only will you be a more interesting person, your career opportunities may increase. Who knows, you may end up in advertising.


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