Closing My Shop Was Hard, but Not the End of the World

Working for Another Agency Hasn't Killed My Creativity

By Published on .

Ten years. Well nearly 10 years anyways. For nine years and six months I toiled away in a little shop I named Culture A.D. (Culture Advertising Design). I named it one day while working with a huge client at another shop. We kept referring to culture and the importance of it in creating meaningful voices for advertising. I liked the way it sounded and the way it rang different to just about every one you discussed it with.

My shop was a labor of lust mostly. I adored advertising, concepts, teams, meetings, design, clients, messaging, briefs, pitching and winning. I completely fetishized advertising. I secretly relished the stimulating added challenge of doing predominantly African-American work -- the lavish construct of what made the niched cultural hurdles of extremely tenuous reasoning and intense long explanations all worthwhile.

In spite of it all, I shut it down.

People constantly ask, "Why would you shut down something you loved so much?" That coupled with, "Why would you go back into another agency, take a pay cut and/or a pay check?"

At some point I grew weary of the hectic pace of juggling all the balls myself. My shop at its largest was five, maybe six people total. And that was on a good day, perhaps a day with strong winds that blew someone in off the streets with a little knowledge of an Apple computer and could cleverly fit the words design or aesthetic in a sentence.

Around year four my wife, Brooke, joined the agency. She breathed life anew into the shop and somehow trimmed all the fat while nearly tripling the billings. That's when the fun and love of advertising and marketing turned into sheer money-making excitement -- the exhilarating feeling of controlling your destiny and making your own money. Along with working with your best friend daily from any beach we chose.

Together we laser-targeted the ethnic hair-care market, a segment I'd heard a former boss of mine mention a time or two, and we went in hard. Together we figured out a way we could work for nearly all of them. Simple really. It was called "Tell the the truth." We told them: "We work for nearly all of you."

And it was easier than you might think. We knew the lingua franca and had zero learning curve. We played different roles with different companies. Some were completely design clients, some all advertising, others were both. They all had different messaging needs and were not overly hung up on agency exclusivity. Our new staffing paradigm could range from two to 50 contingent workers on any given day. My wife and I were able to make it work and actually grew closer in the process.

As time went on we grew restless with the work. Our family was growing and other interests came into play.

The rough economy in 2008 didn't help either. It nearly took us out. Shaken but unashamed, we changed modes again. The business that started at home could go home again. We closed our swank little studio without a tear and moved desks and an ass-load of equipment into our decent sized house that the business bought. Now the business that was born from me re-examining my life after 9/11 and started a mere month after was in flux again.

This latest crises was different, it was economical. The lessons of what really matters that I'd learned from that dire day in 2001 allowed me to see this was just a small issue -- and we would recover. As hard as it was, it was only money. Money comes and we can always make more. But living on this plane is brief and despite what pharmaceutical commercials say, we can't make more of it.

In 2010 the money came rolling back in. But my priorities shifted. I wasn't eager to do all-nighters, regardless of the project or the money. I didn't want to see my family through bleary, bloodshot eyes. I don't want my children to remember me always showing up late (or not at all) for everything that meant something to them. I'm still fascinated with advertising and all the minutiae associated with solving the contextual puzzle du jour. But at what cost? It's not worth my family. It never was. I know that now.

So for about 10 weeks now, well nearly nine and a half weeks, I've been going to work at someone else's agency. It still feels strange to say. But I'm at a shop I love. I don't own it, I don't want to. I have a title now; it takes a bit getting used to. But I appreciate every bit of it and I enjoy it thoroughly. Even though it's a pay cut that I can't dwell on due to the adverse reaction it would cause, it's been a life boost. Sure, there will be a late night or two and the travails of daily office life, but I welcome it.

Funny thing the perspective you bring back into an agency after running one. You're like a kid in a sandbox again. Your knees stick out of the sandbox, because you've grown. You can see what everyone's doing because you're just a little taller. You understand the cost and construction of the box better than most. And you know exactly what makes the sand so much fun! You can even listen to others tell you something you learned years ago and be excited about the new way it's being expressed. But the best part is rolling up your sleeves and remembering you haven't forgotten how to play.

Being open to closing wasn't an invitation to some inner death or an acceptance of limitations, it was actually an opening to new possibilities.

Craig Brimm is now ACD at Sanders/Wingo, Austin, Texas. He blogs at KissMyBlackAds.
Most Popular