Thursday, March 3, 2022


As I enter my third year running GeorgeCo., LLC,  Delaware Company, even though I started GeorgeCo. after more than forty years in the advertising business, I've learned a few things. In fact, I think it's honest to report that I've learned more about advertising in the two years I've been a soul and sole proprietor than I did in the forty years I was working for others.

You have to learn. The same way I'd have to learn if I were to survive Armageddon. I'd have to learn things I'd never learned because they had always been done for me. As I like to say, working on your own is like walking a tightrope without a Net 30.

Along the way, I've hit some milestones. Some I've bounded over. More where I stubbed my toe and wound up with some gnarly nails. The trick is trying to learn no matter what.

The first milestone I passed is how important it is to slog. I had no years where everything I touched turned to gold pencils or gold heads or gold lions. I had many more years where I worked and worked and worked. Where I did the hard work of making work, of listening to clients and helping them build their business. Work can be joy. But it is also work. And anyone who thinks success can come without sweat was either born a billionaire or delusional or both.

For me, my dedication to the slog reaffirmed my belief that agencies are agents. That we stay behind the spotlight and work for the greater good of our clients not for our own glorification and aggrandizement. I don't care what's au courant. I work for my clients today--I guide them and I push them and I challenge them. But I never forget I do it for them. 

I promote myself, you have to. But I spend 98.7-percent of my brain muscle working for my clients.

Early on, I disappointed a client. That was milestone number two. They were pleased with my first round of work but felt the second round made the work worse, not better. I learned that sometimes you fuck up and fucking up is ok. I redid the work for the client, without extra charge, and I made them happy. I still work with that client today.

Once I heard Steve Hayden say to a client, "If we hadn't had that failure, we might not have this hit." 

I passed my third milestone when I had a prospective client bark at me. He wanted me to evaluate his website and give him feedback on how I would re-write it. 

After all my years in the business, I gave that task the time it deserved--ten minutes. (I wasn't being paid.) The prospective client accused me of 'phoning it in.' I barked back. "Just as a realtor can look at your house and immediately evaluate why it's not selling, I can do the same with your site. It doesn't take a professional a long time to size up a problem." 

Thank goodness we decided not to work together. Milestone three--is easy. It's having enough respect for yourself to allow yourself to work only with people who love you and trust you.

Milestone four came for me when I encountered a dickweed of a client who decided to try to stiff me out of $54,000. It's not unusual for clients to act as if they're Goliath and you're lowly David. They're big and you're small and therefore they have the right to push you around.

This is where you learn the importance of impeccable record-keeping and airtight contracts. Oh, and also having a brother who's one of the world's top attorneys. 

Of course, they had no cause for not paying me, except somebody probably spent my money on an illicit girlfriend or at the racetrack. Or just because they wanted to throw their weight around. Or because they could. And of course, there was no apology. But there was a lesson underscored. And a lesson learned. If you get the gut feeling that a client is an ass, go with your gut.

Oh, and maybe I learned this from my Bronx roots. When shoved, shove back harder.

Milestone number five came when I learned to go not only with my gut but with my sinew, as well. A lot of times you get assignments that seem obtuse and ill-defined. 

When you're working in an agency, nominally, there's an infrastructure of people around who can make things clear. Or clearer. Planners to clarify. Account people to calm you. Cohorts to defibrillate your synapse. When you work for yourself it's just you, your brains and your typing fingers. Work and work and work and work until you work the problem out. 

Labor omnia vincit, the Romans said. Work conquers all.

Milestone six came when I began to learn how to charge. If you've spent your life in the ad industry, you've seen the agency's sense of its own worth crumble. We compete on price, like a used car dealer, and to my old eyes it sometimes seems that the holding companies are in a race to the bottom.

You've lived through layoffs, salary freezes and a greater and greater share of agency revenues dedicated to supporting higher-ups who have somehow convinced themselves, shareholders, the Internal Revenue Service and most of the agencies they control that their shit don't stink. Their pay has gone up. If you're old like me, yours, at least in real dollars, has probably gone down. 

Learn your worth. Not with a sense of entitlement or aggrandizement or hued by an over-inflated ego, but according to the value you--and only you--can provide. In Manglehattan, where I've lived for most of my life, plumbers charge $450/hour, an Ivy-League lawyer $1,000/hour, and a top McKinsey consultant about the same, and one of trump's hookers, considerably more.

This is the biggest, most important milestone of all. Not just learning your self-worth, having the composure to demand it. When someone balks, take a breath, turn on your heels and say, "I'm sure you can find someone at the price you're willing to pay."


To the couple of dozen of clients and handful of colleagues who have helped me learn these things over the past two years, and to a friend, far-away, who is thinking of going freelance and who, thereby inspired this reflection, thank you. 

Thank you for teaching me.

Even more, thank you for trusting me. 

And for letting me come through for you.

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