By the time I got my first agency job in 1984, I had already worked two quasi-advertising jobs.
The first was when I was in school and was writing copy on shoes for the Montgomery Ward catalog. These were pre-Amazon, pre-Walmart times and Montgomery Ward was a viable retailer, trailing by a long-shot Sears, but still producing thousands of catalog pages a year.
I wrote those pages. And though I didn't know it at the time I learned a lot.
I learned how to take briefs. I learned how to work with art directors, one of whom was 30 years my senior, cantankerous as a tugboat and drunk off his ass most afternoons. I learned how to work with supervisors, proofreaders, typesetters and producers.
Most important, I learned how to write fast. How to write on demand. And how to write to fit.
I also learned how to dig myself out of a hole if I found myself in one. I learned to solve problems and solve them quickly.
In the two years that I worked at Montgomery Ward, I probably wrote over a thousand catalog pages. This isn't conceptual, high-quality stuff. I guess catalog pages are to print advertising what newspaper inches are to a novel.
From Montgomery Ward, I got a job at the in-house advertising department of Bloomingdale's. This was the apotheosis of Bloomingdale's, of store as 'event.' Marvin Traub was in-charge and Bloomingdale's was hot. Also, my boss was John C. Jay who went onto fame, and I presume fortune at Wieden & Kennedy.
Bloomingdale's was much like Wards. It was a tonnage game. I was there for just short of three years and probably produced 10-15 ads a week, 50 weeks a year.
You got used to getting a brief. Getting a layout. Writing your copy. Sending it to your supervisor. Having it approved, put into layout, approved again. You got used to producing work--seeing your ads in "The New York Times."
Again, most of the ads were of the "Save 20% on Pure Cotton Towels" variety. But I emerged from these apprenticeships unafraid of my keyboard and comfortable filling a blank page.
Though we kibbitzed at both places, and I made friends and hung out and had beers, neither place allowed theorizing. You can't print a page of Theory in the Times.
Today, we've forgotten that at some level our job is to find a rectangle and fill it with compelling words and pictures. There are people who spend their days talking about global media paradigms and the disruption caused by cross-channel whoozamawhats.
None of this, really, has anything to do with what our jobs really are.
Which is to persuade people to buy shit.
Somehow, along the way, that's gotten lost.