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Articles - Content Marketing - March 8, 2019

Best Advice from Terry O’Reilly

“Best Advice” is a recurring column on The Message, in which industry veterans Jack Neary and Kevin Spreekmeester—and some of their colleagues—dispense practical advice for people who are just entering the industry. This week Best Advice talks with broadcast producer and personality Terry O’Reilly, best known as host of the CBC Radio One series Under the Influence—which has garnered nearly 30 million podcast downloads. O’Reilly was also the co-founder of the award-winning radio and television advertising production company Pirate. (Photo: Jeremy Fokkens)—

On his early challenges:

“Right from the start I knew I wanted to be a copywriter. Fresh out of Ryerson, I sent resumes to agencies from coast to coast, and no one would hire me. It was 1981 and there was the recession. It was a tough time to find a job. I ended up landing at a small radio station called FM108 in Burlington, Ont. I was the only copywriter on staff. I had to write and produce all the ads, sometimes 25 a day. I found that I had an ability to write radio—it came easily and it was fun.

The biggest challenge was presenting my ideas. In a small radio station, you’re always doing that over the phone to clients, and the pace is pretty quick. My biggest fear was could I convince a client to buy them? I always feared presentations. When it came time to dial the phone number, [I experienced] big-time anxiety. I had nobody there to teach me the ropes. Over time I got used to it, but I never enjoyed it.

When I got to the big leagues at an ad agency, which was in 1985 at Campbell Ewald, the CD was Trevor Goodgoll. He was the most amazing presenter I had ever seen. I would be in the boardroom, a green copywriter, and I’d watch Trevor present to a room full of clients and it was magic. He owned the room. He was theatrical, he was smart and he knew how to create build-up, so that when he revealed the idea of the ad it seemed as if that were the only choice. I learned from him how to present.

I learned that it’s a two-sided coin in an advertising creative department: one side is generating great ideas, and the other is selling those ideas. So I made it my mission to become at least a competent presenter.”

On doing your homework:

“It’s critical for young people starting out today to do their homework in a couple of ways. One is pore over advertising awards books, because I really think they are the training manuals of our business. Next, when you’re going in for an interview at an agency, do your homework about that particular agency and that creative director before you go.

I’d learn everything about the guy. Years later when people would come in to interview with me at Pirate, they’d say ‘I love Pirate and I want to work here,’ and I’d say, ‘Tell me three of your favourite Pirate ads.’ If they couldn’t answer that, the interview was over right then and there. I’d say ‘I’m sorry, you didn’t do your homework. I recommend you go do that.’”

On making a move: 

“If you’re happy at a shop, you’ve got a job you love at an agency and you’ve suddenly got another agency tempting you and offering you more money, stay put. Don’t move if you’re happy, because it’s hard to find a place that you love. And I wouldn’t go for the money, because the money will come to you.

On making a career switch: …

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