It wasn't an easy decision. Like most of the creative people at the agencies where I've worked, I had always arrogantly believed that going to New Jersey was akin to going to the minor leagues.
But after more than 30 years as an art director, copywriter, creative director and proud New York City advertising snob at such agencies as Della Femina Travisano & Partners, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, Ogilvy, and my own shop extrovertic, I was ready to try working west of the Hudson, closer to my home in Mendham, N.J.
I started researching agencies in my area. Most of the bigger ones were pharma, but I had spent the last four years as a pharma Executive Creative Director, and I wanted to get back to my roots of working across all categories and channels.
A few places looked pretty good. Then I found the website for GráficaGroup, a multichannel, multi-category agency with a history of working for Fortune 500 companies. Something about it just spoke to me. The agency had recently relocated to the quaint urban business center of Morristown from the farmlands of Chester. While its employees may have felt as if they were moving to a city, to me their new home would be the ideal escape from the City. Not to mention a less than 15-minute drive from my home.
I sent them an e-mail with the subject line, "Forget my salary. I'll pay you to let me work at Gráfica*." (At the bottom of my note I qualified the asterisk with, "*Okay, I lied about that part. But you'll find my salary extremely negotiable.")
The next day, I received an invitation to come in to discuss consulting and freelance opportunities. Within a few weeks, I was their new creative director.
I quickly learned that no longer having to spend two to four hours on, or waiting for, New Jersey Transit trains at least five days a week could lower one's blood pressure. I also learned that the world of advertising is a bit more subdued outside the Big Apple, where the lunatics are often running the asylum. After working for the likes of Jerry Della Femina and partaking in his agency's infamous annual "Sex Contest" for many years-- we voted on whom at the agency we most wanted to go to bed with -- not to mention indulging in many of the standard Madison Avenue vices of the '80s, I had become quite numb to the excesses of advertising behavior.
Even in more recent years, as the business got more conservative and bottom line-driven, there was always a tacit understanding that we creative-types were just a little more edgy and childlike. As long as we delivered great work, on time and without antagonizing the clients, we were kept on a long leash.
But soon into my tenure at GráficaGroup it dawned on me that my New Jersey workmates were just a little more conservative in their behavior and use of language than my New York ones. Old habits die hard. I still often find myself needing to abruptly slam on the brakes as a four-letter word starts to form in my mouth.
But my new coworkers' gentility doesn't make them any less enjoyable to be around. They are funny, but in a PG-rated way, rather than the hard R that I'm used to. They love their sports teams. Playing the lottery. And their families. Go west of the Hudson and it's like you're suddenly in Middle America. It's much more family values-focused. In fact, twice this past week, kindergartners roamed our office as their dads worked. It's a healthy, positive environment.
Instead of the sex, drugs and drink that were in abundance throughout my early years, bowls filled with chocolate candies now test my willpower. My blood pressure may be down, but my triglycerides are surely going through the roof. But the chocolates are a fitting metaphor for the general sweetness of the people I now work with.
Sure, it's a bit kinder and gentler than what I'm used to, but it couldn't be more perfect for where I am in my life today.