For advertising creatives, side projects are nothing new. But a few factors have made today’s side project more fulfilling than ever.
In some ways, we’re in a golden age of advertising. The projects coming out of ad agencies are more strategic, useful and engaging than ever. Agencies aren’t just making ads, but ad-like objects that deliver utility and entertainment. Agency work is more liked, used, and shared. Technology is running rampant.
Agency work used to star Idea and Execution. Now the cast on any given project includes Strategy, UX, Social, Tech and Analytics. The stage has gotten crowded. Projects coming out of agencies are more multi-dimensional and unexpected than ever, but the spotlight isn’t always shining on creativity.
Agency process has evolved to shortchange creativity, too. Budgets and timelines have shrunk. Clients favor decisions backed by data, not gut instinct. More work is project-based, meaning that trust formed by agency-of-record relationships are becoming a thing of the past.
This isn’t a knock on agency projects as a whole. I love what I’m doing now more than when I made retail-based :30 second product-centric TV spots. What it all means is that if you’re a creative, agency projects aren’t offering the same creative high they used to. You need to go elsewhere to get your creative fix. Enter the side project.
In the past, side projects were a hobby or afterthought. The writer with the half-written novel in his top drawer. The art director who paints or makes t-shirts on the side. You’ve heard the stereotypes and probably met them, too.
But these days, you can inject the same attributes that clients and agencies covet — engaging, useful, sharable — into a project void of agency or client restrictions. You can make it beautiful. And, do it right, and you can watch it spread on social, just as much as anything by a brand.
Agency work used to have higher budget, production value and superior reach to side projects. But the ubiquity of social and easy access to coding have evened the playing field. Side projects are good for your day job, too. When you put a thoughtful side project in your book, creative directors know you’re a hard worker and they see the way you think.
Side projects come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are made overnight, others turn into full-time jobs.
Side projects can do good. Saneel Radia founded Greatest Good. It’s a platform that allows professionals to offer their services to anyone who wants it, while helping a charity. When Sandy struck New York, Jaime Schwarz created I Stand Buy, helping businesses near his hometown recover.
Side projects can solve problems. Brothers Adam and Ben Long noticed that too many writers today have a tendency to overwrite, creating long, flowery sentences that are difficult to follow. So they created Hemingwayapp to help writers write more bold and clear, like Hemingway.
Side projects can offer an unfiltered browser window into your soul. Heather Payne didn’t like how developing was a man’s game so she left her full-time job to found Ladies Learning Code.
Forget failure. There is no failure. There is only do or don’t do. Your goal shouldn’t be to get a million hits. It should be to make something real, fun, useful, authentic, engaging. Do that, and you’ll be fine. And it might get huge, who knows. Either way, you'll be one step closer to success.