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January 31, 2018
Six More Quotes for a Deeper Understanding of the Ad Industry
And this time, famous women get their say
In my previous column, I referenced several quotes that I use to give folks a deeper understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the ad industry.
While I admitted I didn’t cover all the good ones, it was pointed out that I picked quotes from all white guys, mostly dead ones. Perhaps that, in some small way, says something about the current state of the ad industry.
So I’ll switch things up. Want a deeper understanding of the ad business? Then peruse these from some wise and wonderful women.
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” —Maya Angelou
Ever interview at a B-level agency that says, “We’re gonna turn this place around…we want to be the next Droga5”? Ever have a client with a history of mediocrity say they want Nike-esque work? The headiness of a new job, new client, or new partner can cloud your judgment. But in my experience, it doesn’t take long — maybe a week or two — before something new reveals itself for what it truly is. Pay close attention to those red flags: They tend to get cleverly concealed by rose-colored glasses.
“You can't just be you. You have to double yourself. You have to read books on subjects you know nothing about. You have to travel to places you never thought of traveling. You have to meet every kind of person and endlessly stretch what you know.” —Mary Wells Lawrence
It doesn’t matter if you’re a creative, technologist, account executive, or anything else in the ad industry. You won’t make it far if you can’t at least try to put yourself in another’s shoes. Which takes patience, understanding, and a lot of effort. And it can get harder as you get more tethered to the realities of life like mortgages or caring for elderly parents or young children. But the reality is too much advertising and marketing is directed at ourselves, our hipster friends, and our insular industry. Take the time to go see how the rest of the world thinks and lives. You’ll be surprised at what you see and learn, and it all goes on file in your mind for use later in your work.
“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”  — Madeleine Albright
I’ve always liked this quote, and I’ve always wondered why it should be limited to women. Because life, and work, isn’t a zero-sum game. I’ve taught aspiring ad professionals, given advice when solicited, and passed along job opportunities when I heard of them. I haven’t been too busy for a coffee with someone who’s just beginning to find their way in the industry or their career. If you don’t like the state of the ad industry or the nature of the people in it, then do something to help. Anything. (And no, writing a listicle column like this one isn’t really helping all that much.)
“Consensus is a poor substitute for leadership.” —Charlotte Beers
You’re not going to get very far in the business unless you know how to collaborate with others. But over and over, our desire to involve and collaborate clashes with the need to provide clear direction to our teams and our clients. And the result is milquetoast work. I’ve seen it countless times, from the agency owner I worked for who literally told clients, “We’ll do whatever you want,” to the conference call I had with six clients on three continents who tried rewriting copy over the phone. Clients pay us for our expertise as well as our execution. Which is why we truly need leaders who bring out the best in others. Everyone can have a say, but someone needs to step up and make the final judgment.
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” —Helen Keller
We have more access to information than ever before. Yet think of how many advertising and marketing campaigns, with plenty of money, planning, and research behind them land with a thud of ineffectiveness. Because the vision thing is missing. We have data but no insight. Big budgets but no big ideas. In other words, sight but no vision. It’s not easy, but for advertising to succeed on behalf of brands we need to see the big picture along with mastering the little details.
“When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.” —Mae West
You don’t need to be an asshole to succeed in the advertising business, although plenty of assholes have succeeded. Generally, I’ve found that people who cultivate that reputation are overrated and rarely worth putting up with. But I think everyone should have a small rebel streak in them. This business attracts folks who didn’t want a linear path in life. Balancing an ability to collaborate with a non-conformist streak is tricky, but it’s what separates ad people from accountants. So feel free to be bad. The trick is to inject a little of that attitude into the work, not the way you treat people.
I didn’t cover all the best quotes, and I’m sure you have some of your own that might explain this idiosyncratic industry. So feel free to share the ones you like.
Or better yet, aspire to be so well respected you make some of your own. And in a few years, someone will be writing a column like this — and giving you the credit you rightfully deserve.

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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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