At the very start of my agency career—this is way back in 1985—I had a very smart partner. As a matter of fact, though we stopped working together probably in 1986 or so, through our travels in and out of dozens of agencies and nearly every sizable advertising market in the United States, we’ve stayed in touch.
We don’t speak often. But we see each others triumphs and defeats on social media. We exchange the occasional email or text. And through the splendors of the modren world, we stay in touch.
Since Craig and I worked together, I’ve toiled under the aegis of literally half-a-dozen advertising Hall-of-Famers and worked at some of the world’s top agencies for some of the world’s top advertising people—creatives, account people and planners—but very little, no nothing, has ever surpassed the wisdom of what Craig said to me back when Ronald Reagan alzheimered the Oval Office and the earth was considerably cooler.
“George,” he said, “you never stop working on your book.”
Not long ago, another old-time friend from the business rang me up on my flip-phone. We started talking, as pterodactyls do, of days gone by, when agencies were a bit fatter and you could peck at a good triceratops carcass for a week or two.
My friend told me a story I hadn’t thought about for a while.
“Back when I was at ________, _________, _________ & _______,” she began, “I was, as you remember on the senior leadership team.”
“I remember,” I said. “I was more than a little bit green.”
“You’ve always been the envious sort,” she chided. “One day, the president of ________, _________, _________ & _________ told us all to come in the next day wearing something fancy—like we’d wear for a big new business presentation. We were going to have our photograph taken—a group shot of senior leadership—for our website.”
My friend has a way of milking a story like a prize-cow.
“Two months later, something happened, if you remember…”
“And I was out on my rosy red rectum.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said, “but I get the idea.”
“A friend from the agency pointed me in the direction of ________, _________, _________ & _________’s website. The senior leadership team photograph was on the site. But I was retouched out. I was replaced by a nice upholstered Barcelona chair.”
“At least they have good taste,” I said.
“You’re perspicacious,” my friend answered, “But as usual you’re missing the point.”
“Missing the point is what I do best.”
Because she’s known me a long time, my friend ignored my banter. Most people do.
“Here’s the thing, dimwit,” she continued using one of her many terms of endearment for me, “Stalin is the head of most agencies.”
“Is that an allusion to failed Five Year Plans?” I asked.
“No, though I suppose it could be. It’s the language agencies use. I guess most modern businesses use. ‘We’re family. We’re colleagues. We’re all in this together. We all have each other’s backs.’”
“That’s not an HR violation?”
“Backs, you idiot. Not fronts. And they spout it and spout it and spout it. You get a bottle of wine now and again, a pat on the back, a hug in the hallway.”
“Sincerity is everything. Once you can fake that, you’re home free.”
“Then one day, you’re disappeared. Where your desk used to be is a filing cabinet or a $19.99 beanbag chair, and you’re out on the street.”
“And out of the photograph.”
That children, is why you listen to my friend Craig.
“Never stop working on your book.”