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Travel tales: ad execs' tips and more for the road weary

By Published on .

UM Global Managing Partner Justin Wroe once flew to Russia for a 30-minute meeting then turned around to fly right back to New York. Pitch CEO Rachel Spiegelman changed her entire outfit in the security line at O'Hare International Airport—without flashing any non-work-appropriate skin (and received applause from a fellow traveler). Dentsu Aegis Group President of Brand Solutions Matt Seiler hung up his suit in the front of a plane, all the while thinking to himself, "This is a bad idea. I'm going to forget this."

You can probably guess how that story ends.

And here's one that hits a little closer to home: "I say, 'I pay rent in New York, but I'm not sure I live there,' " says Najla Haddad, EVP of account management at Digitas.

Travel is a fact of life for many agency executives, which means so are the travel war stories. But the good news is that along with the horror stories there are also ample tips to pass along.

Credit: iStock

Here, agency nomads share their experiences. Bonus: Maybe you can learn from them.

Saw nothing but the inside of a hotel room MullenLowe Mediahub's Lavall Chichester was in Clearwater, Florida, pitching for three days inside a hotel conference room. "Three days of 12 hours, just grinding slides and arguments, really, really intense," says Chichester, who is a global senior VP of search and content marketing. "There's this little window in the corner of this room, and outside you can see the beach and sand and it's just paradise."

At one point, he says, everyone gravitated to the window to longingly look outside. "There was this guy, we think he's an adman, but we don't know, he was just lying in a gray suit with shades on the beach. We're like, 'Wow, that could be us.' It was just a surreal thing," he says. Some of his colleagues went out to join the suited man, he says, who they imagined had just finished pitching the client.

To avoid going stir-crazy from being trapped in offices or nondescript hotel rooms, VML Chief Marketing Officer Beth Wade makes a point to get out for some culture whenever she can. Even if that means an early morning alarm. On a recent trip to Cape Town, South Africa, Wade accepted her clients offer to take their agency partners out for a 6 a.m. hike touring Lion's Head mountain. They were back in the office at 9 a.m. "You try to find those little pockets of doing something so you see a bit of the city, see a bit of the culture," says Wade.

If your client actually is a hotel, even supposed R&R time can begin to feel like a grind. Inii Kim, co-founder and creative director at King & Partners, says the agency recently took on a new hotel client, and the property visits had a ruthless pace that took them to five hotels in five days. "It was really tough," she says. "We had a really tight schedule, interviewing every stakeholder." Those hotels, however, were in Napa Valley, California, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "[In Napa] we had to eat all the food, drink all the drinks, then we had to wake up at 3 in the morning to head to Cabo. Then we had to get a massage, eat different tacos, go to the beach, go to the pool. ... The last part was tequila tasting. We had to taste Mexico's 12 best tequilas." Sounds awful.

Bad luck and bonding

Some team bonding activities are forged through pain instead of good times.

Dentsu's Seiler was in Dubai a few years ago for a regional meeting, where his team was entertained with a desert ride to a camp with camel rides, belly dancers and chicken skewers. The next morning, the meeting was scarcely attended.

"Every single person had gotten food poisoning," he says. "The only people that could come to the meeting were with bottles of Imodium. Tragic."

Not quite so tragic, but potentially more embarrassing, Terri & Sandy Creative Director Angela Denise says she and a co-worker bonded fast when they dropped off their laundry at a Fairmont they were staying at in Santa Monica—and the hotel combined their laundry. The two had to dig through to sort out who had what.

The hiccup effect

For the most cringeworthy bonding experience of all, imagine having to sleep next to a client on a plane. Paul Spriggs, president for System1 Agency in the Americas, did just that.

On a long-haul flight, he and a client (who he says had a "badass" reputation) were seated next to each other. The client got a serious bout of the hiccups, and Spriggs helped dole out some old-style remedies. At the end of the day, it leveled the playing field a little bit.

"The hiccups brought the tough-guy facade down pretty abruptly," he says.

Denise adds that while it might be easier to not have to connect with travel companions, that's not the case in advertising.

"In this business, it's so different, the relationships are so different," she says. "These people I travel with have become some of my best friends."

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