#157 In which our hero considers the past.
There once was a time, long, long ago, when I had never been fired from a job. Leaving every job I’d ever had, from lowly busboy to the dreamed-of copywriter position, had been a matter of me saying, “hey boss, I have to put in my two-week notice.” Every job had led to another job, one that was more satisfying, paid better, and really advanced my career.
But that era ended in short order when I moved to Cleveland.
When I was first laid off it was a real shock. It started an ugly spiral of jobs that were less and less satisfying, paid worse and didn’t end up lasting anyway. I was pretty much at the lowest point of my career, working for a sleazy direct mailer when I got the call from the agency I’m working at right now. Now, I’m not big on touchy-feely-what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-motivational-BS, but I can honestly say that I’m a better copywriter now for all the shitty jobs/situations I’ve had to endure in the last few years.
Which may not be saying much, because when I first moved up to Cleveland, I was a real asshole.
At work, I mean. The Scientist can chime in to say if I was one at home too (I don’t think I was) but at work I was put-near unbearable.
Here’s the thing: advertising people tend to be kinda arrogant to start. I think it comes from the fact that our jobs require us to be experts in, well, nearly everything. We often have to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers (“Okay, I’m an 80-year-old grandmother, what features would be important to me in a deodorant?”) and master a great deal of information in a short amount of time (“I’ve reviewed your advertising from the last 40 years, and here’s why it hasn’t worked”) so sometimes we think we know everything. And man, I was the poster child for that at my first real agency.
If the client (or worse, the account executive) dared to question my concept, they were clearly a clueless idiot. How could you NOT see the beauty, passion and utter brilliance of my copy?! If I wasn’t dismissing you out of hand, I was arguing with you, disdaining to dumb down my ideas enough so that your miniscule brain could comprehend them.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I was pretty full of myself.
Fortunately, nothing brings you back to earth faster than losing your job and not being able to find another. I’ve often wondered if it was my bad attitude that haunted me, preventing me from securing jobs I was clearly qualified for. Having some seriously lean times made me appreciate my work much more than I ever had before.
And finally, I came to the realization that it’s really easy to spend other people’s money. The client clearly needs to run a heavy rotation of 60-second TV spots… who cares if he really has the budget to afford it? This isn’t about the client or his money, this is about serving the hungry gods of advertising! Or so it used to go. Now I get it. You’re paying the check, so you get to call the shots. I may not agree with them, and sometimes I may think they are completely off-target… but it’s your money. All I can do is suggest what I think is best. The guy holding the money gets final say.
And honestly, since I’ve adopted this attitude, my stress level at work has gone waay down. Once I accepted that I will NEVER have the final say, no matter how much I rant and rave, life became much easier. I do advertising… no-one’s life is on the line, no-one will die based on my decisions. It’s TV commercials, radio spots, print ads… fun stuff. It is fun. And it’s not worth developing an ulcer over.
I’ve been thinking about this today because yesterday and this morning I felt some of my old asshole ways creeping back. We’re in the middle of this project, and one of the things I had to do was propose names for a new product the client has developed. I thought I had some good names, but the account guy (and then the client) picked a name that I think is terrible. Not only is it not fitting for the product, it isn’t going to make any sense to the customer. I expect a whole lot more “huh?” than “Holy crap! I have to have this!” I argued my point, gave my reasons… and felt my temperature start to raise. How the hell is it that this guy cannot see how stupid this name is? How it doesn’t even work? Am I the only one in the room that understands the folly of this course of action?!
So I’ve taken a step back. The client likes the name. That’s all there is to it. My job is to now shine this turd until it gleams.