Ex-City Ad Execs Balance Work, Life in the Hinterlands

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Ellen Steinberg is "in love with Brooklyn." So what's the former creative director in Fallon's New York office doing living on a five-acre farm in Durham, N.C., with goats and chickens? She's now group creative director at McKinney, a Durham-based ad agency.
Serenity: Ellen Steinberg bought the farm.
Serenity: Ellen Steinberg bought the farm.

While this once quintessential New Yorker had been looking for an opportunity to live in the country, the change of scenery has not been without its epiphanies. Sometimes, Ms. Steinberg said, she thinks, "Durham. What the hell was I thinking?" But those goats, well, they make up for it.

"I've had days where I've gone from marking up a TV script to getting one of the baby goats to take its mother's nipple, and I was like, that would never happen in New York," said Ms. Steinberg, 38, who has spent a year at McKinney.

'Cleaner way to do better work'
A smaller market and smaller agency hasn't meant smaller accounts, but rather work on national brands such as Virgin Mobile and Coldwell Banker. And "being away from the city," Ms. Steinberg said, "is actually just a cleaner way to do better work."

She's not alone. Many advertising executives are fleeing concrete jungles for the hinterlands.

Ann Beriault, for example, seeking to escape the high city costs, left the Chicago office of Doner Advertising more than 12 years ago at 33. She assumed a "downsized" career was the inevitable trade-off for starting a family, and that led her to Indianapolis-based Young & Laramore.

The move beat her expectations. She works on national accounts such as Delta Faucet, and that downsized-career fear is gone. She just made partner last month and is director of account services. And the mother of four boys lives in a sprawling 3,200-square-foot house.

Making a change
By the time Matthew Dodds was 31, he was regional director of client services at Foote Cone & Belding, Asia Pacific, based in Hong Kong, and a board member of the Tokyo office of McCann Erickson. He arguably had reached the pinnacle of his advertising career. But disillusionment came quickly. "It was my first day as a board member. ... I walked in and thought, 'You've really cracked it; you are such a hot shit. You are 31, sitting on this big long table with the 12 angry men,'" he said. But he was shocked that at this high level, the most serious thinking the board members were doing was about the smoking policy, he said. "The realization was, 'Oh my God, I really don't like this.'"

His job at FCB -- the kind "where you're in Karachi in the morning and then you need to be down in Auckland in the afternoon" -- had him working more than 100 hours a week.

"I found the conflict with being a father just staggering, and I was only seeing the kids for such short moments," he said. So he started from square one. "I had done so much traveling. I wanted to be geographically committed."

Today he and his family live in Burlington, Vt. He started his own firm, Brandthropology Inc., in 2001. His first client: Gatorade. He now consults to top-tier brands.

"Am I making the same money I used to? No. Am I OK with that? Absolutely," he said. "I've got a 1953 Criss Craft boat, a little 1840s house, my wife's got a pottery studio, and I can go watch my boy pitch a little-league game. I'm just feeling like I'm sane again."
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