Thursday, May 28, 2020


I got an email the other day from a young person in the business.

Young, bright, energetic and hardworking.

I don't know her well. But if you learn anything from traveling around the sun as many times as I have, you learn how to trust people. More important, you learn how to trust your gut.

You develop, for lack of a catchier moniker, a mensch meter.

Is a person a mensch or not. Do they do the things you have to do to be considered, at least in my book, a decent human being?

A mensch meter.

This person, I could tell was a mensch. Kind, generous, caring. And capable of tough love.

She sent me a note.

"I had to beg, but I'm finally getting a review at the agency after three years. They already told me there's no money, but I'm getting a review."

As the father of two brilliant young women roughly this young woman's age, it was a hard note to read.

My initial feeling was one of anger.

How dare you say "there are no raises."

That's not the way to treat people--especially young people who need encouragement, rewards and yes, money for rent. That's not the way to attract diversity--you're only attracting people who's parents are wealthy enough so they can afford to not get raises.

Most of all, it's not the way to attract ambitious people to our industry. Because what kind of ambition do you have if you're willing to make the same money at 27 that you were making at 23? 

I sent my friend to Dave Dye's great site, particularly his podcast with and portrait of copywriter Richard Foster. Beyond seeing a few dozen great ads written by Foster, the retrospective includes about a dozen offer letters Foster received, starting at the end of September, 1968 to one Foster received from David Abbott on April Fool's Day in 1980. (It was no prank.)

Sept. 30, 1968.  £500/yr.

July 07, 1970.  £1,750/yr.

July 13, 1976.  £9,000/yr. (+ £3,000 car allowance).

April 1, 1980.  £20,000/yr. (+ 2% equity and £10,000 car allowance).

I told my friend to look at these letters, and to plot Foster's salary trajectory from beginning to end.

Obviously, I told her, this is not merely about money. There are other ways to get rewards. And I know we live in impecunious times. 

But, part of revitalizing what's left of our industry is returning to the idea that you can make money, a lot of money, and you can rise quickly.

In fact, the absence of raises and increases and bonuses mirrors the decay of the business. We have become afraid of big moves, afraid of taking a stand, afraid of taking chances, afraid of squeaky wheels, malcontents and oddballs. We have become slow, plodding and incrementalist.

We used to attempt the extraordinary and reward the extraordinary. 

Now we are stodgy, staid and incrementalist.

The business made more sense when we thought about and worked for our clients' success--and our success came along with it. 

The business made more sense and was more successful
when people could actually succeed in it.

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