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June 27, 2013
Quiet Doesn’t Work In Ad Agencies
How do introverts fit in a business based on communication?
A long time ago, an art director partner of mine said to me, “You don’t talk much…but I know you’re thinking.” Which is true. Most of you reading this don’t know me, but I’m quite an introvert.
I’m the quiet one in meetings, which is often perceived as being distant and uncaring. And I’m sure my career has suffered because of it. Because in advertising agencies, it’s the loud people that get the attention, whether they know what they’re talking about or not.
So can introverts succeed in the advertising business? Is this a problem that needs addressing? In a business based on communication, is there room for people who don’t speak all the time?
As Susan Cain pointed out in her best-selling book “Quiet,” being an introvert is not the same as being shy. For me, it’s not a fear of public speaking. I’m quite comfortable speaking to a crowd when I’m prepared. Rather, it’s more of a natural state of being that I listen and contemplate before reacting or blurting out a thought.
But listening and contemplating aren’t skills ad agencies value much, certainly not in the scrum of a brainstorming meeting or a presentation. In those situations, part of me always wants to scream, “Time to turn up the volume and speak up…” and part of me prefers the solitude to collect and gather my thoughts. I often wonder if extroverts, or anyone else for that matter, even experience that conflict.
And let’s face it: loud people like to dominate meetings. They’re extroverts, to be sure, but many times there’s something else happening. Loud people in advertising are often compensating for not being that bright, being uninformed, or simply trying to be argumentative. Many simply like to hear themselves talk, just to fill the void.
So, does the work suffer because when loud people take over? Of course not. Frankly, it’s often fun to be in the presence of high-energy, talkative people, because I can feed off that energy. But when they dominate the direction of an idea or ad campaign, that’s when someone needs to apply the brakes and step back.
Advertising is a subjective business that’s prone to groupthink. Do quiet people react to certain types of advertising the same way as extroverts? I wonder how many bad ads, or how many brand problems, could’ve been avoided had the quiet people had the courage or the internalized permission to speak up and say, “You know, that might not be such a great idea.” Instead, the group defers to the loud people who react instantly and positively.
More and more, our business is focused on collaboration. And today’s ad agencies reflect a mandate to be “on” all the time: Open-space office plans. Conference calls where only a few do the talking and the sound quality is so poor it only works if you yell. Brainstorming meetings with more storminess than braininess. It’s not enough to be a lone copywriter or designer doing great work while sitting in solitude, if it ever was.
Yes, creative people are a delicate bunch much of the time. But that doesn’t last long in advertising. We do the work of commerce and sales. Contrast the solitary life of an artist with the moxie of a car salesman and we fall somewhere in the middle, straddling both worlds.
So what’s the answer? Can an introvert maintain an act to be someone they’re really not?
In a collaborative environment, knowing the contributions an introvert can make takes a bit of understanding on other’s people parts. But that’s often too much to ask. After all, my introversion is my problem, not my creative director’s or CEO’s problem.
I still believe it puts me at a disadvantage, one I have to work to overcome. In a noisy world, ideas need advocates and champions. How many times have you heard that someone “fights for great creative?” Fighting for ideas involves vocal and verbal acuity. One’s gotta get in the ring to start fighting, I suppose.
In an ideal world, my writing could do the talking. But that’s not happening. Our business only produces the best ideas when the right people come together to make them come to life. That’s what we find all types of personalities in the advertising business, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. There’s a place for all of us.
So if you tend to be quiet and introverted, you need to adjust accordingly. But you’re also not alone. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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