After decades in the advertising industry, Frank Blossom said he’s not as interested in earning accolades as he is in helping his students snag their own.
That didn’t stop AAF West Michigan from naming Blossom its Silver Medal Award winner for 2010 in recognition of a lifetime career in advertising. The award is scheduled to be bestowed at 7 p.m. Thursday during the organization’s annual ADDY Awards celebration at The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. A Silver Medal reception begins at 5:30 p.m. at the same location.
Prior to arriving in Grand Rapids 16 years ago, Blossom logged many years as a creative director for agencies in his native Chicago and in St. Louis.
Today, Blossom is a visiting professor for Grand Valley State University’s School of Communications’ advertising program and runs The Polishing Center, a 15-week course to help near-graduates, recent graduates and early-career adults develop their portfolios and job interview skills. Each fall, he produces the Creative Smackdown, a chance for students from Michigan colleges to pitch their work to a panel of advertising pros. He also runs Frank Communications, his own marketing company.
“I’ve been teaching at Grand Valley for five years now. Part of my approach has always been to help make a connection between the academic world and the professional world,” he said. “So I’m very big on getting working professionals into the classroom and getting students into working professional environments.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Blossom majored in psychology as an undergraduate at Ohio Wesleyan University near Columbus, which offered one lone class in advertising.
“I always was interested in it (advertising), and I don’t know where that stemmed from,” Blossom said. “I didn’t know much about it.”
He moved to New York City to look for a job, without success. He returned to Chicago and was hired by a department store.
“I heard about a copywriting class that was offered by the YMCA, of all places. … I learned a ton, and developed my portfolio,” he recalled.
In just six months, he landed a spot at Leo Burnett, where he spent a dozen years working on accounts such as Kellogg, Maytag and Kentucky Fried Chicken, among others. “I got to make a lot of commercials and worked with a lot of great people,” he said. In St. Louis, he worked for D’Arcy and another agency in Springfield.
As creative director, Blossom would work with art directors and copywriters, sell their work to clients, shepherd it through the agency and help with production of television commercials and other products.
“It’s coach, coordinator and, in a lot of cases, doer,” he said. “You’re the keeper of the brand flame.”
In Grand Rapids, Blossom worked for two agencies, including Felder Communications, before moving into teaching and establishing his own firm.
“In the large agencies, there’s obviously more structure,” he said. “At Leo Burnett, I was one of 500 creatives and one of 1,200 employees. You can feel a little bit lost in the shuffle.
“I think that at a smaller shop, you can make more of a difference. You’re not working less hard — in many cases you’re working harder. But I think you see more direct results, and you’re still applying the same principles and quality that you do (at larger firms); you just don’t have the huge budgets. You’re not doing million-dollar TV spots.”
The Polishing Center brings a class of no more than 10 into ad agencies and creative studios to meet with professionals about their careers and receive critiques of their work, Blossom said
“One of the underlying philosophies is, why not have the people who potentially could hire you help make your work better, and find out how to approach them and get three, four hours of face time?” Blossom said.
He said Polishing Center alums have landed jobs in San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Boulder, Colo., and even Thailand and Costa Rica. “Ninety, 95 percent of everybody who goes through it gets a new job,” he said. “I don’t describe it this way, but others have: It’s the stuff you didn’t learn in school but that you need to get a job. It’s really based on concepting, developing ideas and problem-solving, for copywriters, art directors and account executives.”
The Creative Smackdown is a one-night competition with cash prizes for the students who win over a panel of judges from the advertising profession. It’s a way for students to see how they measure up compared to their peers, Blossom said. It’s also kind of a trial run for the student ADDY awards. “They get advice,” he said.
He recalled a student who took criticism hard at the Creative Smackdown, then made changes to his entry and ended up placing in the top five in the national student ADDY competition and landing a job at a top agency.
“He used the advice that he got and kept working and used it to make his work better, and it paid off for him,” Blossom said.
Blossom lives with his wife, Sam Helmrick, a Realtor, in Grand Rapids. They have two grown daughters: Jessin, a U.S. Navy physician, and Kellyn, a special assistant to the U.S. Department of Immigration in Washington, D.C.
“They never really understood what I did,” he said. “My job had no relevance to them till I was working on Skittles and … could bring home product samples.”
Sweet perks aside, Blossom said, constant change in the advertising business is what motivates creatives like himself to get out of bed every morning.
“I think what we like about the business is that it is always new: There’s new challenges, new clients, new things to learn,” Blossom said.