Tuesday, May 1, 2018

No one ever tells you how long a career is.

There was an article in the Times last week headlined, “Nobody Tells You How Long a Marriage Is.” That headline hit me between the eyes, and like so many things, made me think of advertising.

The article ends like this:

“Nobody tells you how long marriage is. When you fall in love, when you have fun with somebody, when you enjoy the way they see the world, nobody ever says, “This person will change….”

It occurred to me, you could substitute the word career for the word marriage—especially a career in advertising.

When you’re starting out all you focus is on getting that first job, on getting some real work in your book. If you’re 21 or 22 and alone in the big city, your focus is on paying the rent and having enough left over for an occasional pizza, maybe even with pepperoni.

In short order your focus shifts to doing the work you need to do to get better assignments and more money. Before you know it, doors begin to open and you start making some money and enjoying some success.

What no one tells you is this: how long you’re going to have to do this for. How long your work life will be and what you’ll have to do to sustain success for 40 years or so.

Maybe you think you’re good enough or lucky enough to be one of the few who make it to the big money and the corner office. One of the few who can hang up her spikes at 50 or 55. That’s such stuff as dreams are made on. But highly impracticable.

More likely, like me, you’ll be part of the advertising lumpen-proletariat. You’ll be someone who has to figure out how to grab his lunch bucket and take the subway to work—not some days, not when you feel like it, not when you have a fat assignment to answer, but every day you’ve got to fill your quota of coal.

There’s no book you can read to last. And no guarantees along the way. And I can’t speak with any real authority. I could be kicked to the curb like an old tin can any day.

However, being a world-famous blogger, I can offer what might pass for wisdom in our dumbed-down Trumpian era. In fact this is something I wrote nearly 25 years ago when someone asked me what it takes to be a good account person. I think it applies to any job, frankly, at virtually any level. So I’ll leave it with you today.

1. Be smart about everything. Be an expert in your client’s business. Be an expert in “agency mechanics”…Learn to listen.

2. Be 100% buttoned up. Get inside and control the “boiler room”…Plan for disasters…Proofread as if typos could cost you your job.

3. Be curious. Question everything and everyone. Get out of the office and look around. Learn from others.

4. Commit yourself to “original thinking.” Be more than an advertising mechanic. Set aside a part of every day to “blue sky” big thoughts. Be seen as one who can serve up fresh ideas.

5. Create your own opportunities. Don’t just look for “handouts.” Constantly do the little extras. Deliver products that are consistently excellent.

6. Gain respect of everyone around you. Expect that you will need to “win” support from everyone. Always recognize others when they do good work for you.

7. Learn to express yourself effectively. You will go nowhere if you can’t advocate ideas. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Learn how to talk to different audiences. Always be enthusiastic.

8. Build a broad foundation early. In the beginning be a jack-of-all-trades. Get involved with everything. Go back to school. Never stop exploring.

9. Wash windows—willingly. Face it, every job comes with drudgery. Always volunteer to pitch in when asked. But, always look for ways to do dirty laundry as efficiently as possible.

10. Learn to manage your business well. Get early agreements on assignments. Always be realistic, honest. If you disagree, say so. Make clients a legitimate part of the team.

11. Smother your clients with care. Be in constant touch. Make them feel that you think of them often. Dream up reasons to gain broad access to key client contacts. Never neglect clients at lower echelons. Know the “big issues” on your clients’ minds at all times. Lead.

12. Treat your clients’ money as if it were your own. Show them that you are both fussy about quality and frugal. Don’t simply accept the cavalier attitudes of others. Give appropriate direction on cost parameters. Make people meet expectations.

13. Don’t be meek and nervous. If you do your homework you will succeed. Act with confidence. But if you don’t have answers don’t fake them. Remember, most people want you to succeed.

14. Develop your own ideas about how to be a good manager. Watch your supervisor and others. Prepare now to take on more responsibilities.

15. Constantly build trust. Be 100% reliable. Be 100% honest. Do what you commit to do 100% of the time. Be respected by 100% of the people with whom you work. Be nothing less than 100% professional.

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