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September 25, 2010
The Problem With Working at an Agency

I thought we were all in this together?

I hate to break it to you fellow Madguys and gals, but what we do isn't rocket science, not even close. How do you explain the raging egos that rear their ugly heads all too often in this business?

We don’t find cures for diseases. We don’t discover black holes and create theories that string the universe together. We just add to capitalism and consumerism, if we’re good at it. How good is "good," and who’s the arbiter?

The number of lemmings who brainlessly line up (or worse, sleep overnight) to buy the latest gadgets, even when they don’t need or can’t afford them?

The creative director who holds the big 360-degree idea hostage and only cares that his or her name is branded all over it? (Face it, you’re just a pair of dummy hands: a reverse Magic’s "Get the knife, Corky!" Well, maybe when X-Actos were still needed.)

The hiring manager who has no prior creative experience? (Again, just a pair of hands for the self-impressed Madman who’s suffering through useless all-day meetings and consequently never has time to review another hackneyed portfolio.)

The "genius" consultant who wowed the industry and now expects nothing less than genuflection?

The senior vice president who is only as good as his past and makes sure you know it by dropping agency names more frequently than Canadian geese empty their colon?

The paranoid boss who cautions you not to “talk your way out of a job” by sharing what you know (a real team player)?

The colleague who’s desperately fighting for his or her job and gladly will strangle your creativity before throwing you under a fleet of unemployment buses?

Sure, everyone’s entitled to their opinion of what’s “good.” But, just like the consumer, it’s subjective and shouldn’t be used as propaganda to catapult some careers while undermining others -- especially in a business where who you know is at a whole new level of egregious butt-licking.

Unfortunately, in a society where surface matters, we’ve all been victims of perception -- the 99 percent reality rule, Reality Lite.

All it takes is a few bigger mouths denigrating the work as "ungood," and most of the lemmings will follow, even if they don’t agree. Is it any wonder Madmen fall victim to the same thinking we’re trained to promote -- mediocre mass opinion?

How masochistic must we be to constantly put ourselves on the receiving end of everyone's opinion, regardless of how many awards they’ve won. One work sample, good or bad, does not a brain indicate. Even award-winning "geniuses" have off days. Isn’t that how they got there, by failing first?

It takes time and teamwork to nurture a truly creative union and the output that comes from that. It takes checking your Id at the sandbox and not shoveling the bull once inside to win the respect of your creative playmates. Everybody can bring something to the box, whether they play outside of it or not. The key is identifying and using each player’s unique strength, not undermining it. Perhaps our business is no more cutthroat than any other, wallowing in this abysmal unemployment swamp with quicksand traps at every turn. But in an environment where collaboration truly produces the most good, it’s a shame to see teamwork sacrificed to feed some insecure, imposter egos. If the work can speak for itself, there’s no need for the blowhard creator to shout it.

Everyone’s “good” is different, and somewhere in-between we should find the happy medium. Not to feed our egos, but to accurately communicate with the consumer so we can keep feeding our families. "Get the knife, Corky," indeed. Just don’t stab one other in the back with it.

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Mary Alias is a writer who hasn’t won any awards nor worked at any hot NY agencies. Consequently, you probably shouldn’t read what she has to say. She’s just a hard-working creative who doesn’t want to get ahead if it means sticking a stiletto-ed heel (actually, she prefers flats) into a fellow forehead. Mary strives to collaborate, create, write. And get paid for it — because, next to writing, she needs to eat

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