After college I was one of the lucky kids to snag an extremely low-paying job at a massive Madison Avenue ad agency. While most of my friends got jobs on Wall Street trading stocks and bonds and stacking up piles of cash into their savings accounts, I went the creative route and chose a career with unusually long hours, finicky clients and the aforementioned small paycheck. I took solace in knowing that although I was living just barely over the poverty line, I got to work daily with the most fascinating creative people I’d ever met. These were the people who shaped and influenced the way I go about work and life to this very day.
Advertising people think differently.
My first boss was a quirky Brit named Paul who had an engineering degree from a university in London and an MBA from the Sloan school at MIT. For some reason, which he never explained to anyone, he ended up working at an ad agency. He was extremely creative for an engineer and brought tons of enthusiasm to every single task he undertook. As the leader of our account team, Paul convinced all of us that our clients were living unbelievably mundane lives and that the only joy they received was when the agency folks showed up to present. It really didn’t matter what we were presenting, he claimed it was infinitely more fun and interesting than the drudgery that our clients were forced to endure each day crunching numbers in dark cubicles as brand managers. It was a fun to think that way. It made us love our jobs a little bit more and helped us focus on bringing original thinking to our clients at all times.
I ran with this bit of advice and for years would tell clients to grab the edge of their seats because we were about to share some exciting and original mind-bending creative work. While I never actually saw any of our clients grab their seat, they seemed to enjoy the buildup and the mindset that they were about to be presented with some original ideas. For the most part, our clients appreciated our creative approach to problem solving. I am sure that they would have loved to do it themselves if they could, but that was precisely why they hired us.
Advertising people love a challenge
Our creative director often says “when you want the best creative thinking from an agency, put them inside a box, and then make it smaller.” That might not make sense to many people, but to agency folks it sure does. It is about scratching that itch in our brains, the one that won’t go away till we figure out a creative way to get outside of the box. The joy of working in a creative environment is not lost on me. Every day we learn something new that’s needed to help us solve a problem. Over the years I acquired knowledge on subjects as varying as how running shoes are made to how serotonin allows brain cells and nervous system cells to communicate with each other. My dad would often marvel about how I knew just a little bit about a lot of different things. That was his nice way of saying I am an inch deep and a mile wide. But I kind of like that.
The best advertising folks love their jobs
I recently lost a great friend and mentor to cancer. He was my boss and the most genuinely positive person that I have ever met. On the days when things were going great he would remind me how awesome it was that we get to do this type of work. He would never say this when things were upside down and work was crazy. He knew that I was too much of a cynic to buy into that. He would save it for those days when we were shooting an ad on a beautiful sunny day at a perfect location, or maybe for that one time when we were upgraded to first class on a flight home from a successful meeting across the country.
But he was so right. We are fortunate that we get to be in this business. We get to work with a collection of creative minds who look at problems inside out and upside down until it’s figured out. We get to work with people who show up every day not totally knowing what’s in store for us. We get to work on lots of different accounts and with a wide array of clients. We get to learn about the biggest challenges that they face, and then we get to help them solve those problems. And while I no longer believe that our clients live boring lives crunching numbers in darkened halls, I do cherish the choice that I have made to spend my career working in advertising with creative people every day. It’s the reason I get up out of bed.
We get to do this.
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