It's a funny thing to have been in advertising for well-over half you’re life. It’s an especially funny thing if you have a facility for keeping in touch with people through the years.
Life in our estranged, alienated and atomized world often means, to quote Stephen King in his book and movie “Stand by Me,” “Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.”
Yes, they do.
People who mean a lot to you move on. They switch agencies, or accounts, or careers or cities. And that’s that. Maybe a fond memory. In a few years, or decades, they’re just a single fading pixel in the terabyte of life.
My oldest, dearest and wisest friend pointed something out to me many years ago. We’ve been friends since we were ninth-graders together, back when Vietnam and Richard Nixon were raging. Back when the National Guard killed four un-armed students in Ohio.
Back when our current president was whoring with bone(r) spurs.
Fred said, “There’s a difference between people who have been friends for a long-time and long-time friends.”
He left it there. Like I said, Fred is wise and judicious. And one of the reasons we’re long-time friends is that with each other neither of us feel the need to over-explain.
Not too long ago, a long-time friend sent me a note. She had read a post I wrote about the death of my sister, Nancy and she felt compelled to write me. She told me about a long-time friend of hers, a business partner, who had lost her son at a much too-young age.
“_________,” I wrote. “I don't say this lightly. But I feel in a sense we are family.
"We've known each other since we were in our twenties. I don’t know your partner as well as I know you. But by association, she's ‘family’ too.
“We've known each other. We've survived together. We take a licking and keep on ticking.”
Maybe that sensibility is maudlin on my part, saccharine even. Maybe I feel this way because, growing up, I didn’t have much of a family. Or more accurately, the family I did have was hardly loving and supportive.
Maybe that’s why I look for those things now.
But there’s a point here that the MBAs and the holding company chieftains will never understand.
People are people.
They need to have caring souls around them.
They need the metaphorical pat on the back. The acknowledgement of a job well-done.
They need to know they’re not alone. That they have support. That they’re respected, backed, promoted, rewarded.
Much of those “soft metrics” have disappeared from our industry and our world today.
After all, they don’t bolster the bottom line.
To be brusque about it, they probably erode shareholder value rather than enhance it. And today our industry and our world are about one thing only: shareholder value.
In fact, we’re so bent on delivering shareholder value that we’ll undervalue people to get there.