I just snuck out of my office for 32 minutes to have a cup of coffee with an old advertising friend of mine. These days, sneaking out is unusual, but needed. We're all meant to be so strenuously and scrupulously accounted for that the smallest bit of socializing or even attending to bodily functions are frowned upon. I sometimes feel we're a day or two from needing a time code to piss.
This friend and I have known each other since the earth was considerably cooler than it is today. We bumped into each other on the street not long ago and I noticed that his always-expressive face was appreciably more hangdog than usual. So we met up at a small place with uncomfortable seats, surly cashiers and exorbitantly priced coffee. You know, par for the course in post-sensible America.
Many years ago, Red Smith, a Pulitzer-prize-winning sportswriter for "The New York Times" said, "Writing is easy. You just open up a vein and bleed." Today, I think the same can be said about talking about your career in advertising. Ask someone how their job is going, and then watch out. They'll open up a vein and bleed.
You're likely to get a diatribe. If you don't know what a diatribe is, you might get a philippic. If that word, too, draws a blank, you'll probably hear a torrent of tsurus, regrets, what-ifs, curses and fears that might well continue till the last ding-dong of doom.
My friend is a wise man though and he summed up life in our industry today in just seven words:
"There are no jobs in advertising anymore."
I was too polite to write that down. Shocked maybe. But I remembered those words all the way back to my desk. In our dumbed-down world today, that counts as a prodigious feat of memory.
What I realized was that my friend was associating the word "job" with a quaint and dated definition of the word.
This is the quaint and dated definition from Merriam-Webster:
Here's another definition. This from a dictionary called Lexico, which claims to be "powered by Oxford."
In both examples, you have to consider the word "regular." Regular is something that has a "constant or definite pattern" and "recurs at uniform intervals." Regular, in other words, means something you can count on.
For twelve years in this space, I have been clear that nearly everyone (at least in the creative end of the business) entertains now and again a bout of paranoia. But never in my very-nearly 35 years in the business have the feelings of precariousness, fear, angst, disposability and yes, house-of-cardness, been so rife and vivid for so many.
Regularity, that which you can count on, is gone, finished, kaput.
The four holding companies, according to 2017 data, have combined revenues in excess of $70 billion. I suppose someone has figured out--or rationalized--that it's good for the advertising business if the people who work for agencies feel they can be eliminated at any moment for any reason despite anything they've done.
That policy seems to be how other profit-maximizing monoliths like Walmart operate. Why shouldn't it work just as brutally in advertising?
Maybe, just to be clever about it, we should rename our industry.
How's thin-ice-vertising sound?
Some non-Georgian ruminations about work: