Often the most important skills for in-house creative professionals to master are the ones that are most challenging to teach in school. How to communicate creative ideas, offer feedback to peers, and manage expectations with difficult clients--these are skills that are nearly impossible to get across in an academic setting.

So Carolyn Swartz, who leads a course called Opportunities in Video in the graduate program of Graphic Communications at New York University, brings experienced creatives into the classroom to share their work, their perspectives and the real skinny on what it's really like to work as a creative in the real world.

Each semester, one of the highlights of Carolyn's course is the evening Mario Giampaglia, Creative Director for SAP America in New York City, comes in as guest presenter.

"Students are really impressed with Mario's portfolio of innovative, creative and often very funny videos, and heartened to know that it IS possible (if challenging)--even within a big corporation--to produce fresh and really cool work."

Beyond the videos that always generate lots of "how-do-you-do-it?" questions, Mario's One Man's Guide for Creative Professionals keeps students hanging on every word. A timeless and clever compilation of creative "truisms" that Mario and an SAP colleague and friend jotted down over the years on a whiteboard, the Guide rings out with truth and authenticity about the creativity, the business and getting things done.

As Mario explains it, "We'd find inspiration in quotes we'd read. Or sometimes one of us would toss out an off-the-cuff statement that resonated with such clarity and truthiness (as Steven Colbert likes to say), we'd deem it board-worthy and write it down. Once a statement went up, it was never erased. After about 7 years, the Board was pretty much full."

So what are some of the gems of this two-man "One Man's" guide?

- "Never Lose a Good Idea to a Bad Presentation"
To communicate is to sell. And to sell an idea, you have to know your audience, ask yourself: how easily will they "get it"? Do they need help connecting the dots? Will the presentation benefit from similar examples? Illustrations? If so, is a simple storyboard sufficient? Or should you go for something more polished?

- "Horses for Courses"
Always put together the right team for the job. A brochure or training video may not warrant the same resources as an annual report or a branding film that kicks off a big meeting. One kind of horse is good on a dry track; another runs well in the rain... and the same is true with creative teams. Get to know who's out there. With a deep bench of "go-to" resources, you know who to call for what.

- "It Doesn't Take Genius to Complicate. It Takes Genius to Simplify"
Why do people confuse complicated with smart when, in fact, it's just the opposite? Real genius, Mario points out, is often found in simplicity. Stephen Hawking managed to explain the workings of the universe in ways the broadest readership could understand. As a result, he has millions of fans around the world. If you have a complex idea to get across, dig deep to uncover its essence--the ideas that your audience will most likely relate to. And resist the temptation to try to get across too many points in one piece of communication.

Giampaglia explains his motivation for sharing his One Man's Guide for Creative Professionals with students:

"When I was in college, I really didn't know what opportunities might be 'out there in the real world'." And the coursework always seemed so one-step removed. Really, no amount of schooling can take the place of that real-world experience. So after 25 years of "on-the-job learning," I thought it would be fun to share what I've experienced on my path, so to speak. And if I could inspire anyone considering a similar career path, all the better. Finally, I was curious about the "give and take" that takes place when people are genuinely interested. I wanted to know what questions might arise and hoping that my work, insights and experience might elicit genuine interaction. "

According to the Instructor, they do. Carolyn reports that Mario is an incredibly engaging guest. The students really get a kick out of his humility and candor--not to mention the gracious credit he gives to the other creatives he partners with. After each guest presenter's visit, she asks students to write up their reactions. Here's what some students had to say about their evening with Mario:

  • "Mario Giampaglia's clear presentation on how to succeed creatively in a large corporation is inspiring for all artists and designers trying to build careers in traditional business environments."
  • "I'm encouraged to see from Mario's work that there are mid- to large-sized corporations in our area with enough imagination to trust their creative department executives' ideas about marketing and promoting their products or services."
  • "His observations inspire the students to work towards building professional experiences and portfolios that would attract the attention of forward-thinking companies like SAP."

Mario's work with NYU offers a great example of how creative leaders can enhance the core curriculum of local schools and universities. As Carolyn points out:

"Seasoned creative leaders should know that university programs are hungry for affiliations with real-world professionals in related fields. I've put together symposia and brought guests into my class, because I have the contacts and issued the invitations. But it could work the other way around, too. Every program like NYU School of Graphic Communications is always looking for new ways to give real-world opportunities to students in the form of internships and exposure. All an in-house creative would have to do is find out who runs video and design programs at nearby colleges and universities, and send an email or call. The academic community is welcoming and appreciative. Calling with an offer to speak or present would surely result in an invitation--most likely ASAP. And yes, there's something in it for the professional, too. A rapt audience, for one thing, in students who appreciate both the creativity and the credibility that comes from the war stories and scars. The students are like sponges--eager to soak it up. By the same token, I've never had a guest who didn't make it clear that he or she had a blast in my class--especially during Q&A."

Thank you Mario and Carolyn for sharing with us. We hope your work inspires a few professionals out there to bring their experiences back to the classroom.