Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Macro and Micro thoughts on working in Advertising. (A digression followed by nine more digressions.)

The other day I was asked by two young people who work for me if I would speak to a group of even younger people who were in the agency for a day to learn about the ad industry.

I get a lot of these requests, I suppose around here I'm a bit like the Ancient Mariner. Instead of getting stopped a lot to talk about that damned albatross, I get stopped a lot to talk about the damned business.

"It is an ancient Mariner, 

And he stoppeth one of three. 

'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, 
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me? "
But I like doing it. Really. I do.

There's a bit of wisdom from the ancient Jewish book the Talmud that says the person who has "saved a single life is considered to have saved the world."

Not to be conceited about it, but that holds true in our business, too. If you can help one person along her way, it's something like helping many.

I think when you get right down to it, that's what we're meant to do as humans. Help people.

And as you advance in this business, if the people you work with are aware enough (and secure enough) to admit that you know things very few others do, it's a good thing to do. It allows you to have a value that goes beyond your ability to write a spot or a 728x90 banner. 

In wiser times, they called it "perspective." And it was something that was rare and precious. As the eminent computer scientist Alan Kay once remarked, "a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points."

But in today's modern ad agency, we instead, whole-heartedly embrace group-think. Then some corporate tool  sends out a survey 
that proves based on majority opinion that majority opinion is the majority opinion because it's the opinion of the majority. If that last sentence made you a little dizzy, good. I've done my job.

In any event, last Thursday I found myself standing in a large conference room talking to a bunch of high-school kids half the age of my daughters about what life is like in advertising.

Fortunately, my friend from blogging, the great Dave Dye had done my work for me. Click on the link above and you'll see hundreds (yes, hundreds) of ads by one of the all-time greats of British advertising, Richard Foster.

Of course, I enjoyed Foster's ads, some of which I had never seen before. But what I especially liked--in the context of speaking to young advertising aspirants, was a small group of offer letters that Foster had saved and Dye had republished. I've pasted bits of those offer letters below, along with a personal note from Richard's boss suggesting that Richard will soon be "recognised [sic] as one of the best writers in London."

They chart a 30X rise in salary (more when you consider bonuses, cars, ownership and other benefits) in just over 11 years, from March, 1969 to January, 1980.

I was never the writer Foster was. I never scaled the heights of the industry and my salary slope, while precipitous, would not be nearly as steep as his.

I guess there are two things you can take away from all this, if you're just starting out, or even thinking about starting out. 

One, if you bust your ass and work hard, and do good work for the right clients and the right agency, and then bust your ass some more, you can have a career in advertising where your salary increases maybe the way salaries are supposed to increase.

Two, if I worked for a holding company, I'd look at Foster's offer letters and I'd ask my mogul friends a couple of questions. What's happened in our industry that we can no longer reward people commensurate with their value? 

Is it possible that as an industry when we stopped rewarding people for being effective (salaries are frozen again this year, salaries are frozen again this year, salaries are frozen again this year) our industry stopped being effective as well?

Friday, April 26, 2019

What makes a good boss?

A friend of mine who is the CEO of a vaunted (and hot) creative agency just tweeted something that got me thinking.

“WHO you work for early in your career is more important than WHERE you work.”

It got me thinking about what makes a person a good person to work for. Not to be too reductive about it, but I’ve boiled it down to two things.

1.    Your boss should have extremely high standards. Not just for you, but for everyone. Standards of professionalism, humanity, creativity, integrity and more. Your boss doesn’t have to stomp her feet or yell or scream. She just has to create an environment where you strive to do more than what’s expected of you, where you keep learning, challenging yourself and improving.

Sometimes the best creative direction can be, ‘try to do something else.’ Or ‘throw away the paper and try again.’ Or, ‘you can do better.’

2.    Your boss should trust you. Trust is something you gain over time. But over time, when your boss sees that you’ve inculcated her high-standards and added to them with demands of your own, she should stop micromanaging. Her super-ego, which set those standards, has been incorporated into your psyche. You know what you have to do, and you take the time and have the skill to do it. Now’s when a good boss learns from you—your unique view, taste, disposition, interests and passions. You’re trusted in other words, not just to cookie-cutter the work—but to bring your own soul to it.

As an early boss, Ed Butler said to me about six-months into working for him. “That’s good. It’s not how I would do it. But it’s good and it’s your way.”

The thing about these two components is that you can’t be a good boss without both of them. If you set high standards, but don’t trust, you’re oppressing and probably micro-managing your people. If you trust without setting high standards, you have created an environment where anything goes, where complacency can thrive.

Looking a trifle closer, high standards and trust are probably the most important components of being a decent parent as well. But that might be another post.

I’m sure there’s more to what makes a good boss. Maybe they bring in coconut patties when they return from vacation, or ask about your kids, or fight for raises and time off for you. I’m not saying those behaviors aren’t important.

But if you’re fighting for your career, find a boss that exemplifies the first two. You’ll do ok. And if you work hard enough, you'll become a good boss yourself.

Walking to work with a young (old) friend.

The other day I walked to work with a dear friend of mine. She’s someone I used to work with and used to see nearly every day. We decided in a relatively unspoken way that we liked each other too much to let our friendship end just because we’ve stopped working together.

Too many friendships end that way. And take it from me, someone who’s seen a lot of friendships end, friendships are too important to let die like weeds in an abandoned lot.

But we let them die. I’ve gotten too busy for some or someone’s moved away or it’s just not convenient. When you advance in years and look back at the people you’ve let fall by the wayside, well, it’s just a little sad. Of course, it’s somewhat inevitable, but my two cents say, to paraphrase a bit of Dylan Thomas, you should rage, rage against the dying of the smile.

I pick my friend up outside of her apartment. Depending on the crush of the day’s demands, we walk either for 20 minutes (which is too short) or an hour (which is also too short.)

About a week ago as we set out on our route I spotted a dime on the sidewalk and stopped to pick it up.

My friend said, “You see everything.”

On Tuesday, it happened again. This time I stopped and picked up a penny.

We smiled at each other.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Not the 11-cents I found. But about something else.

About making yourself aware of the bright, shiny things around you. Even if they’re small and seemingly inconsequential.

We should be looking for smiles, looking for wisdom, laughter, or even, the slimmest glimmer of love.

Too often, in life, in work, with our families, we shut ourselves off from beauty. We shut ourselves off from the bright and shiny.

Because we all get lost and distracted and denuded and, maybe, deranged by the over-bearing crush of the every day. Everyday.

We worry about our next deliverable, our next meeting, our next task. The next thing that absolutely, positively cannot be ignored, or denied or not put front and center. As an ex-client once answered when I asked her which “to-do” was top-priority, ‘everything is top priority.’

Except it’s not.

Work undoubtedly is important. Coming through professionally for yourself, your agency, your clients, is important. Building, fighting for and protecting your career. They’re all important.

But making sure you’re keen is just as important. That you’re not so snowed-under that you lose sight of life around you.

Because if you do stop seeing, as so many of us have seemed to, you’ll miss the glint of a penny on the street. You’ll miss the spark in a piece of creative work. You’ll miss the opportunities in work and life that you’ve been too busy to notice. You’ll miss friendship, and learning, and laughter.

And you'll probably miss the chance to do your best work. Because you'll be too miserable to smile.