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Do you want a career in advertising?

When people ask me about careers, I say if you're lucky you'll find work so absorbing that you'll never know what time it is. And you'll be rewarded for what you do well. But the most important part is you'll be in the company of kindred spirits.

It's a bit of a crazy quilt, this life. It's compelling, absorbing, satisfying, stressful and risky.

Like getting fired. I remember every time-at J. Walter Thompson Co., Tatham and Ogilvy & Mather-we got fired. Ninety days and it's over. It's always painful.

We all live through cycles of losing and winning, so mastering new business is crucial. These reviews are aptly called the Dance of Death because the win rate is about one in 10.

You can find yourself doing the weirdest things. Once our team played volleyball all summer with a prospect, as a chemistry check.

At Tatham, we needed a food account. So we invented a presentation called "Food of the Future." The premise was that food and emotions and medicine are connected. We presented it in so many places the charts got tattered. One day, at a Kraft meeting, we were horrified to see Stouffer's still on the presentation.

So here I am, wrapping up the pitch, and I say, to illustrate the attitude, "My body is a temple." Ralph Rydholm, described then as roly-poly, stood up and said, "My body, on the other hand, is an amusement park."

Some of the best and brightest are, unfortunately, your competitors. Since we share clients, the clients always talk about how good the other guy is. Our Sears client commends Y&R; Unilever admires JWT's planning process; Pepsi screens Phil Dusenberry's latest film for me. Even Keith Reinhard of DDB Needham, my buddy, insisted on beating us regularly in Chicago.

At Tatham, we're in this duel with DDB Needham for the Louis Rich turkey business. Yes, we're mounting those tattered old "Food of the Future" charts, and an amazing thing happens-we win. Next day, I receive a box from Keith. I think how grand, how sensitive-this is more like it. Out jumps a live turkey. It's so nervous, it flies around the room making contributions everywhere. I collect these droppings and send them back to my friend Keith.

In advertising, our product is ideas, and you can never prove that an idea is going to work.

I recall a pioneering day, two women presenting, working on a "save the account" idea for shampoo. My partner, Marion Howington, in describing the proposed ad, says, "This scene will give a nice, warm feeling." Hal, our client, interrupts to say, "Listen, girlie, if I want a nice warm feeling, I'll pee down the side of my pants leg."

This, at least, illustrates the very different topography of men and women.

But living with the thought that you can get fired, or living with having to constantly present your soul in new-business presentations, is not a bad way to stay fresh, flexible, inventive.

In such crisis events, you are forced to step out of the thousand daily duties and form your philosophy, and that which defines the character of your company.

Prior to the early, secret dialogues with IBM at O&M, we had spent all year on our vision-to be brand experts. We reorganized the agency network to deliver on this promise. When IBM finally made it clear they were talking about all their ad business, from 46 agencies to one, we were daunted until we realized we had been in preparation for just this kind of test.

If we could take part in the vitality of this remarkable world brand, IBM . . . wouldn't that be a great way to make a living? And it was . . . and it is.

Agencies are defined by their clients, made famous by their clients' brands. We are often in the company of great minds, strong leaders who are involved in their brands. The bonus is, your clients become good friends.

Only five years ago, agencies were being characterized as all alike and brands were thought dead. Today, of course, brands are essential and we are regarded as indispensable partners since brands don't cross borders without a good agency to balance local and international interests.

When Tatham merged with a French agency, the creative star was Jacques Segula. At Procter & Gamble Co., Jacques, in his great French accent, is describing the creative process. It's hard to follow. Finally, we are stunned to understand that he is talking about the fragile path of a spermatazoa as it makes its lonely way up the birth canal . . . a Frenchman's version of the journey of an idea.

The best thing about advertising is that it's a constant study of how people behave.

It's quite a laboratory we work in. We're required to go to plays, concerts, see movies, sit in bars, read, listen and enjoy the great diversity of human beings. Not a bad job description.

Of course, people in advertising-because of this keen insight into human behavior-are more balanced than others, right? Well, not necessarily. A balanced life, it seems to me, is the great goal for women in the '90s.

I know all about balance. I've had it. Just never all at the right time.

In my days at JWT, I worked so fiercely, so intensely, my back would give out in protest. They'd lay me out on the floor or back seat of a car-then prop me up in meetings, as I couldn't stand. Now there's a picture of balance for you.

Then one day I forgot to pick up my daughter after skiing-she was 12. I drove like a madwoman to the train, fearing the worst.

Next day I told my bosses: I need a travel hiatus. I have to be home. My enlightened management said, "Well, OK, but this'll put a scar on your record." They were searching for balance, too.

I move to Tatham from JWT in search of balance. Tatham is smaller, not so glamorous. But I have an ownership stake and I learn we are near bankruptcy . . . I don't sleep through the night for three years.

My husband is not happy . . . we make plans to quit Chicago. I'm trying to imagine life in a Southern city he's picked to relocate to. He realizes, and I reluctantly do, too, that leaving behind such a real part of us, the work we do, is not balancing anything.

And we become a statistic of imbalance . . . divorce.

However, I'm still interested in the concept-a whole life-so, at Tatham in the early '90s, we are doing so well I feel I can now go find out what real life is like. I ask my partners to let me go. They send me off beautifully . . . with great style.

I don't know what I am going to do except go to the dentist . . . but I'll find out who I am outside of The Job.

Five months later, I'm chairman and CEO of O&M. I couldn't resist. I've been training all my life to take part in such an effort.

Our hardy, small band who bonded together to remove the word "beleaguered" from our beloved O&M realize now how fortunate we were. For in these troubled times, we were able to put into practice all our communication and business skills to revive and restore our own brand.

We worked hard and long, making mistakes, trying the new but keeping a regard for the old.

From this time and these people, I learned that:

Consensus is no substitute for leadership.

Character is formed in the midst of people in crisis, not in solitude or in prosperity.

Generosity is the great secret weapon of success in business.

I learned that the whole point of work is to be in the company of kindred spirits.

Just such a kindred spirit is O&M's new chairman-CEO, Shelly Lazarus, and that team's future is so promising, I can leave gratified to have been a part of this great agency.

Each place I have met friends, learned a lot, watched many people grow and thrive. Now I'm off to write a book and . . . invent a new life of balance. I'll be saving a place for you.

Ms. Beers, chairman emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, was recently presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by Advertising Women of New York. This article was adapted from remarks she made on accepting that award.

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