Leaving Life as an Agency Owner, a Few Words of Thanks and a Look Forward

Having Helped Small Shops Find a Voice in the Industry, I'll Help Young People Find a Place in It

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Seven years ago I received an email from Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications and editor-in-chief of Advertising Age. It was an invitation to start a new blog focused on small agencies. A couple of years before, we had played golf -- well, he played and I swatted at the ball -- but during that round we discussed the relevance of small agencies to our industry and how a forum for those who make up the majority of our industry was lacking.

That was a fortunate conversation for me, because when he asked me to help launch Small Agency Diary by being its first writer, I was not only excited, but honored. The experience has been a wonderful journey. I've written hundreds of posts, made a lot of new friends and experienced a great deal of personal growth in the process.

But as they say, all things must come to an end, and this is what I'm writing about today. This is my last thought as a writer on Small Agency Diary because I'm leaving agency ownership to do other things in our industry. More about that later, but I want to spend a couple of minutes thanking a few people.

Rance Crain, for giving me an opportunity to develop a platform for small agencies to have a voice in our industry.

David Klein, publishing and editorial director at Crain Communications, for working tirelessly with me in the beginning. He helped me navigate new waters and encouraging me in my early days as a blogger.

Ken Wheaton, managing editor at Ad Age , who has worked with me now for several years and has become a real friend and a mentor as well. He made me much better at my subject matter and always treated me as a peer. He's also a fantastic author. Read his novel, "The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival," and you'll see what I mean.

Abbey Klaassen is executive editor at Ad Age and has a special place in my heart. The first year of the Ad Age 's Small Agency Conference, Abbey gave me kudos for being the seed planter for the conference, the competition and Small Agency Diary. It was a humbling moment and very special.

Leslie Seifert is my editor and a guy who I have come to rely on heavily to make sure I'm making sense and being relevant. He's got very high standards and I appreciate his help to hone my skills.

To my fellow writers, particularly Phil Johnson, Marc Brownstein and Tom Martin, who made up the first platoon that came to my rescue in the early days of the blog. You guys were a lot of fun and wise as well. Keep plugging away.

There are many more people to thank at Ad Age that I've come to know and appreciate for their passion for our industry. You all made me feel like family and I thank you all. Beyond the blog, Ad Age allowed me to contribute on other small agency venues such as The Small Agency Awards and Small Agency Conference. One of my greatest honors in this business has been to work with Ad Age on these efforts.

Gratitude expressed, I will now explain why I am leaving my agency and therefore, Small Agency Diary. After 30 years, I want to finish my career responsibly. By mentoring others full time, I'm repaying a debt to other who helped me have a very rewarding career. I owe a lot to more than few who helped me along the way.

The ad industry is a treacherous sea to navigate, and many young people are struggling to realize their potential. Throughout my career I've been involved in teaching, sitting on advisory boards and mentoring those who have worked for me. It's taught me how important it is to help young people enter the industry. Their most ardent need is a well-designed career plan. The past year I've been thinking a lot about how I could help more of them succeed.

From this I formed an idea that would become Job Propulsion Laboratories, a career development company for people entering advertising. I'm coupling my efforts with teaching. Starting in the fall, I'll be teaching a creative concept course at Texas State University. On that subject, I've always believed the best creative directors are those who keep their blades sharp by continuing to do work. The same goes for instructors and mentors. So I'll still be doing my own work via freelance.

This latter chapter in my career is like a new beginning where the best is yet to come. I have the same passion that I've always had for this business. And I have the same drive to do it at the highest level.

I know a lot of people have my back on this one. Which brings me to those who I need to thank most about my experience writing Small Agency Diary: the readers. You made me look good through an active participation in the conversation. Many of you have been avid readers who have encouraged me over and over. You have my most heartfelt thanks.

Bart Cleveland was until very recently partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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