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September 1, 2004
Can Ad People Find Happiness?

I once saw Bill Bernbach speak. He was 71. I was 24. He laughed and joked about his career. He seemed really happy. I wish I had asked him why he was so happy.

Three months later he was dead. But I believe he died happy.

Advertising is a craft-we are artists-but why are so many of us tortured artists? Is happiness attainable or are we just on some Don Quixote-ish quest? Is happiness getting in CA? Last year CA had 11,468 entries for 194 slots. The One Show had 11,145 entries for 1500 slots.

There are 13,000 ad agencies in the US fighting for those spots. With the globalization of advertising has come the globalization of entries. We're not just competing against our own pro bono—but the world's pro bono.

Besides, do you want your happiness defined by someone (probably nursing a hangover) deciding whether or not to drop a colored bead in a Styrofoam cup next to your ad?

So how do you find happiness in this business? Here are seven things to consider:

1) Starting out, it's not where you work but who you work for that will set the tone of your career. Don?t pick an agency; pick a person (no matter where they are). I could have worked for Hal Riney & Partners in New York, but I chose to work for Hal Riney, the person, in San Francisco. At the time, San Francisco was considered the advertising boonies.

2) Wherever you work, don't just create great ads, help create a great culture. The happiest folks I know are those who were at Chiat in '80. Goodby in '85. At Fallon in '81. Ground Zero in '92. Or at Mother in '98.

3) Treat the client's money like it was your own. This may not give you happiness, but it'll save you a lot of pain. Plus it gives the client the illusion that you're responsible. And if they have this illusion, you can use it to sell better work.

4) Learn the art of listening. Yes, that's what I said, "Listen!"

5) It's better to be perceived as smart than just clever. If you?re really smart, everyone will think you?re clever anyway. In the 80's, Donny Deutsch was just clever. And Deutsch was just an okay shop. In the 90's, he became smart and his agency became successful.

6) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (yes, I stole it from the bible)-but in time, your reputation as a person will carry as much weight as your portfolio. Bob Barrie and Steve Simpson have spotless reputations. If God opened an ad agency, he'd hire these guys to run it-they are that decent and talented.

7) And lastly, read a good book about advertising written by someone cleverer and smarter than I am. It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden. It's an easy read. It's only 122 pages. The type is 16 pt. And there are lots of pictures. If you follow half of what Mr. Arden says you might really find happiness and sell some good ads.

I'll stop at seven, otherwise you'll think I'm just bullshitting. These are only suggestions. And while your ads may die a horrible, miserable, unhappy death, you might die a happy ad person. Or even better, have a happy life in advertising.

Oh, am I happy? Yes, kind of, sort of—but #3 still gives me trouble.

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Steve Baer is the Executive Creative Director at WestWayne, one of the largest ad agencies in the Southeast. Prior to heading south, he honed his craft on both coasts, having worked at O&M and FCB in New York, as well as Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco. sbaer@westwayne.com

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