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March 6, 2010
Welcome to the New Normal

Last fall, I started a blog series for unemployed and unhappy ad professionals. I’ve covered how to stand out from the pack, identify whether one is the man or works for the man, and differentiate the peons from the gunslingers.

Today, I’m wrapping up the series with a cold shower, a can of Red Bull, and a little Norman Vincent Peale. Ready? Let’s go.

Your ad agency job isn’t coming back, at least the one you remember

Blame the recession. Blame social media. Blame Google. Blame digital. Blame your creative director. Blame your agency. Blame your boss.

Whomever you blame, write that name on a rock. Got your rock? Okay, now wind up that throwing arm of yours and heave your grudge rock into the virtual lake in your head.
Do you feel better? I hope so. Because to embrace the future, or what I’m calling the New Normal, you have to let go of the past. That’s true if you’ve been tossed out like expired milk or you’re pining for the ad glory days like Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico.

Find your one 'thing' Everyone has one thing he or she does better than most. If you haven’t found your one thing, it will bubble out of your top strengths. If you need help determining your strengths, I can help. (I know of a helpful Web site. However, I can’t recall it at present, so e-mail me and I’ll chase it down.)

Your one thing is powerful because it allows you stand out; it’s your area of expertise. People know or will know you because of it. If designing annual reports is your thing, make it your one thing. If you’re a whiz with Facebook, become an expert.

For me, my one thing is writing. I can clamor all I want about my leadership, motivational, and presentation skills, but it doesn’t matter. Writing overshadows everything, so my challenge is taking my writing and repackaging it for target audiences willing to pay top dollar.

Specialists rule, and generalists drool

What’s true for ad professionals is also true for ad agencies: It’s the specialists who are doing well right now. In my market, specialist agencies target agri-business, digital, education, healthcare, hospitality, and seniors. The ones I know are going gangbusters.

On the other hand, if you’re a generalist agency, you just don’t look that special, and with a skeleton crew, your point about having a deep bench, diverse capabilities, and resources doesn’t sound so true anymore.

There’s just something about industry specialization that tells prospective clients you get their business. It’s easier to be a voice in the industry, attend events, and buddy with the trade media.

My point is, if you’re looking for an agency job or looking to jump ship in the New Normal, many opportunities are going to be with specialist agencies. As a matter of fact, every job opportunity I’ve heard about or interviewed for in the last six months has been with a specialist agency.

Going client side

If you’re an ad man or ad woman, the chance to go client side has never been a bigger possibility. A number of my agency AE friends have landed in companies.

It’s funny. Early in my career, I scoffed at client side. I thought those creatives just weren’t good enough to make it in the ad-agency world. Do I think that way now? Who wouldn’t chuck his or her old portfolio case into the river for a chance to work at Apple, Google, or Nike?
In 2010, those companies are the cool places to work. As for ad agencies, I fear we’re becoming irrelevant.
Most client siders will end up in marketing departments at small and/or mid-sized companies. It’s not the end of the world, but speaking from personal experience, here are a few things you should know before entering the client-side world:    

  • There's no beer. My last agency job had a keg on tap. Client side, I haven’t seen a can of beer, even on a Friday at 5 p.m.
  • It’s marketing, not advertising. I recall a white board with a laundry list of objectives. New ads was listed at 19. Advertising just isn’t the high priority it once was.
  • Embrace the spreadsheet. What a painful thing for a creative person like me to write, but that’s business. It’s about making sales and serving customers. Numbers are valued.
  • Weekdays are not-so casual weekdays. Save the jeans for Fridays.
  • Set the alarm early. It's an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. day.
Big Ideas

For every big idea you have, what’s the cost-benefit analysis?
Well, there you have it: five company survival tips for ad-agency expatriates. Wait, didn’t I promise you some Norman Vincent Peale? Here it is: “Change your thoughts, and you change your world.” That’s the challenge before you in the New Normal.



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Mike Ogden is a digital/senior writer based in Kansas City. Ad agency stops have enabled him to create for major brands like American Century, Capital One, Sprint, and USAA. Seasoned and sharp with a touch of gray, Ogden, aka Og, is known for creating and championing ideas. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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