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December 22, 2009
Are You in Advertising? No Worries!
TalentZoo guest columns usually offer pithy advice with a lot of focus lately about how to survive this economic laxative we all seem to have ingested.
Well, I don’t have any pat answers for you here, no “6 Easy Ways To Keep Your Job” stuff. I’ve seen bad spells several times in my career and all I can say is like a rodeo cowboy, you just ride the beast as long as you can, get the tar whupped out of you, and hope it stops before you’re bucked off. If you land in the dirt you get up and find another bull.
So instead of a bunch of platitudes, let me tell you about an art director named Fred, may God rest his gin-soaked soul, who taught me an important lesson. 
My first ad agency job a long time ago was in Rochester, NY. When the CEO told me I’d be spending the first couple of weeks shadowing Fred, I couldn’t believe it. He was snarly, petulant, and usually hung over. But worst of all Fred was as art director. And I on the other hand had been hired as an Account Executive which I always spelled capital A capital E. Before starting work I’d even bought a shiny new suit and a couple of ties at Sears so nobody would miss that I was on the clean side of the business. So why am I stuck with this old fart?
It didn’t go well in the beginning. He wouldn’t speak a word to me the first week, wouldn’t even let me sit in his office so I perched on a stool just outside his door to peer in without aggravating him.

But after some time he mellowed a bit and started tugging me along like a pet on his visits to printers, type houses (I told you this was a long time ago), art studios, photo shoots, and a couple of bars where – believe me – everybody knew his name.
[You know, every new account person should get baptized by spending their first few weeks in Creative. In retrospect it was invaluable and really helped years later when I landed agency management positions that included creative oversight]
Well, times grew tough in Rochester and we lost some accounts which meant staff cuts were looming. Everyone knew they were coming and I was petrified. Like many young couples we had more bills than income plus a new baby at home. I couldn’t sleep, had trouble concentrating, and was observably scared.
Old Fred read me like a book, of course.
He took me aside and said, “Always remember – once you’ve been in the ad business a while you can get a job doing just about anything anywhere.”
He said our business is so demanding, requires so much talent in so many different ways, that almost any other job will be a cinch and you’re guaranteed to be successful. “If you can sell stuff to these [expletive forgotten – supply your own] clients of ours, and push ads through this place then you can do anything. Besides, people on the outside think advertising is magic. You’ll be fine.” 
Wow. I never thought about it like that.
I did get the axe, and in fact it happened a couple more times in my 35+ year (so far) career. But each time it was a comfort recalling what art director Fred declared: I can do anything . . . I’m in Advertising!
He was right and I’m still riding the beast. Lots of people who got shaken out of the business in prior bad times became successful elsewhere; many came back and thrived all over again. But you know, if you look closely they never really shed what it takes to succeed in advertising – they just applied that special mash-up of skills, creativity, and craziness someplace else.
Once an ad guy, always an ad guy.
So you were expecting some profound magic bullet advice in this column?  
You just got it.

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Joe Grant has survived more than 35 years as a successful ad guy with five agencies and a major client position under his belt. In 1992, he started Grant Consulting Associates to help agencies improve client services, accelerate new client acquisition, and sharpen management team focus. Joe’s gift is communicating practical insight that’s simultaneously provocative and therapeutic. He’s a senior-level coach, consultant, and confidante, and considered an expert on agency/client relations. He publishes Grant’s Client Brief, and his blog gRantvertising always has something fresh to say about our business.

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