Thursday, January 24, 2019

When a new boss arrives.

If you've been in the business a while--like, say, three months, you'll sooner or later be faced with a situation where everything changes.

They'll be some big change on the client side, or a new account person will come in, or a new supervisor or some sort, or a new partner, new assignment, a new CCO.

I remember sitting in my office way back in maybe 1992 when Hall-of-Famer Mike Tesch decided to leave his job as Executive Creative Director. (ECD was the highest creative title back then. Long before there were Group ECDs, Vice Chief Creative Officers, Deputy Chief Creative Officers, Global Chief Creative Officers, New York Chief Creative Officers, and North American Chief Creative Officers.)

The agency where I was punching the clock was on a long downhill slide and they decided that the only thing that could fix it was a new CCO. Like I said, I was sitting in my office and my desk phone rang.

"George, this is Mal. Can you come up to my office?"

Shit. I was being summoned to the new boss' office. At that point, I don't think we had even met. Like most neurotics, in an industry filled with them, I was sure I was being fired. I used my 300-foot walk up to his office to figure out what I wanted for severance.

I knocked tentatively at his door and walked in. There was a gaggle of account guys already there, looking as rosy as marzipan, and Mal, my new boss, seated behind a desk that in about two-dozen ways was many sizes too big for him.

But I didn't know that then.

"George," he stuck out his hand to shake mine. He handed me a sheaf of typewritten scripts and said, "Here. I know you're busy, but make these better."

I read the first one. This wouldn't be a hard assignment.

I started backing toward the door.

"I'll have something for you tomorrow." I stammered like Billy Budd--my shyness asserting itself. "But I should ask. Is there anything that resembles a brief?"

The marzipan collective laughed at that phrasing. Laughed some more, and didn't answer.

The next day I brought back a dozen scripts, half of them circling around a fact I had found in one of Mal's.

"Oh, I made that up," he said, talking into the floor.

There's a point in all this.

The first thing people usually say when they get a new C-something in their lives is this: "Shit. I have to prove myself all over again. I had built up some equity with so-and-so and now I'm starting at square one."

Of course, there's some validity in those statements. It's no picnic meeting someone new, learning about their enthusiasms, tastes and work styles. You also never know if they've been given the mandate to gallop in like a Cossack and cut people into quarters with two stokes of their sharper-than-a-razor cavalry shaskas.

There's not much you can do, if that's their agenda. You can hope that your reputation is strong, your client relationships sturdy. But if there's a bullet with your name on it, as Kurt Vonnegut might say, 'so it goes.'

When you're old--at least old in this 'young person's business' and you get that new boss, or boss' boss, or boss' boss' boss' boss, you never quite know what will happen. I've heard stories about new CCOs that ride in and 'make redundant' anyone over 50, or even 40.

I guess this is all to say that there's not much you can do when a new boss arises. As for proving yourself all over again, well, that's what we do every day, with every assignment. That is, you do your best, you try you hard, you try to carry the day.

And one more thing. 

You hope for the best.

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