Don't Get Chewed Up and Spit Out by Agency World

Some Simple Steps for Staying Relevant

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"Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you're right." -- Henry Ford

The advertising industry is a great white shark, always feasting, yet never satisfied. You had better get better if you want a career that lasts for more than a few years.

"Wait a second," you say, "there are so many hacks who have survived in this business for decades, how can you believe, to survive, one must get better?" They are chum, my friend. Wait and watch. They sit in still waters, relaxing, gently paddling around in circles ... when, suddenly, crunch. They're a two-bite hors d'oeuvre at Red Lobster. Enjoyed, but not remembered. I've seen it happen over and over.

A client lost: crunch. A senior art director who's been in the business longer than his creative director slips beneath stirred waters.

A new creative director: crunch, crunch. The "old" creative team that won the big award 20 years ago is gone.

Boy, this seems dark. What brought this on? The repeat of history, that's what. From time to time, I get asked career advice by people who have been around awhile. Usually, the person is trying to stabilize a career that has moved into its senior phase. Their efforts would have served them better if they had begun many years earlier. That's a tough message to share with someone. It happens too often.

The cause of the problem for many seniors in this business is that too many have avoided committing themselves to growing in responsibility or ability. They may have realized some success early in their career -- a One Show award or two -- and they lived on that for too long. Now they are worried.

This is really a business for the young and the hip. Shouldn't old guys just move on? Well let's define old. I'm not talking about guys in their 50s, or their 40s. This can happen to someone in his 30s. My advice to my creative staff is to completely replace their portfolio every two years. That's a tall order, but one that guarantees you're not caressing old awards while mumbling "precious."

Here are a few tips about how to work on what you want to be doing in the next five, 10 and 20 years from today.
  • Keep one eye on the task at hand, and the other slightly ahead. Let's say over the horizon.

  • Take a hard look at your work. Ask others you trust to be honest about what is worth keeping.

  • Get a work ethic. Do the work. Then do it better. You'll get a better job at a better agency.

  • Don't fall in love with yourself. Doing great work doesn't make you special, it makes you marketable. Along with about 10,000 other people.

  • Don't give up. There is no excuse. There is only your will. It's up to you to get better than you are.
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