Coming Clean About My Time in Advertising

I Must Admit, I've Never Really Had a Job in the Field

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
I'm going to start this New Years off with a confession: I've never had an advertising job, never worked a day of my life at an advertising agency.


It feels so good to finally come clean -- I've never worked in advertising!

I have to thank my sons for helping me face the truth and giving me strength to make this admission.

On the way home from the movies, my youngest son, Micah said, "I want to be like you, daddy, and never have a job."

"What?!" I responded, trying to keep the car on the road.

Before I could say anything else, his brother Devin chimed in, "Me too! I don't ever want a job!"

At this time, my head was spinning, thinking about how their mother's going to kill me -- I am so dead, so very dead. Yall just don't know how ugly this is going to be. (Remember, no matter what anyone says, that was no "freak grilling explosion!")

Devin, sensing my panic, I hope, continued, "I want to do something I love for a living. I don't think I want to work a 'job.' I've been thinking I want to create comic books."

"I'm going to write books! Mainly science fiction, maybe some graphic novels," added Micah.

My heart was finally beating again; I may get to live. For the rest of the drive, we talked about the projects they have in mind, and what it takes to realize their dreams. I didn't sugarcoat it for them, I let them know how hard it is to make a living by writing.

Halfway through our conversation, Micah's comment hit me: "I want to be like you, daddy, and never have a job."

"Excuse me, but what makes you think I've never had a job?" I asked. I wanted to hear this.

"You call it work but you really enjoy advertising, you're always talking about it, reading about it, writing about it. You do know that there's more on YouTube than just commercials?" responded Devin.

"That's not a job," agreed Micah, "you enjoy it too much."

Children sometimes see things more clearly and simply than we do.

I haven't ever had a job in advertising.

Advertising isn't a job to me. I'm not doing this until I can sell a screenplay or movie idea or TV show. I'm not trying to figure out how to write a book. Advertising is my dream. And that explains a lot.

(I know right about now, some of you are going to ask about the bad bosses I wrote about previously. Yes, they were bad, horrible, terrible, horrendous and dreadful but even then I never thought to myself, "I'm done with advertising, I'm going to find me another job." I always thought to myself, "how much more fun this would be if this idiot would get hit by an asteroid or at least a small car?" But I never wanted to quit advertising.)

A fellow blogger recently asked me to put down my "student of advertising hat and put on my business owner hat to answer a question." And I couldn't. I tried to answer his question as a business owner, and the more I tried, the more I realized that for me, the two are the same.

I don't want to run my agency like it a business, I want to run it like it is an advertising agency. I want to be creative in everything I do: how I pay my people, how I view profit, how I manage staff, how I brand the agency, how I approach finding the right clients and everything else. All of it has to be done like I'm running an agency, not a business. To me there is a huge difference.

I see advertising differently, and the more I write this blog, the more I realize how very differently I see things. I've had my butt kicked by this industry but I'm still here banging away. Why? It isn't the money or the opportunities.

It is the creativity.

It's the one thing that when agencies work right, we do better than anyone else on the planet. Yes, Harry Webber, I know so many agencies do it poorly, but there are those out here that get it right consistently, that deliver creative solutions that speak to the human being in all of us, that touch a universal emotion in all of us, that make a connection and cause us to "get it."

It is a shame that clients are now looking to increase their level of creativity to make up for our deficiency of creative thinking. Just thinking about that makes me so angry because I know we can do better.

In my career, I have helped to create one or two campaigns that I felt did this. And let me tell you, if you've ever created something that you know touches people, you are hooked! You will spend the rest of your days trying to create it again; it is intoxicating and humbling.

This is why I rage against the hype of digital and social, this is why I scoff at the thought that there is no such thing as the "big idea," and it is why I am deeply offended by the assumption that what we do is so easy or unimportant that any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk in off the street and do what we do.

All of which is so untrue.

Here's a little secret: True geniuses do things so well that they make it look easy, but when you try to create on their level, you discover how difficult it really is. I know there are those of you that don't believe this. And we can discuss it, but if it wasn't true then the quality of the majority of advertising would not suck as much as it does.

I'm not saying I'm at that level yet, but I am striving to be. I'm not ashamed to be passionate about this thing we do. I want to be the best. And if you don't, then why are you here? Seriously. I am really curious about that.

I can't imagine working for an extended period of time doing something that I did not enjoy. And trust me, I should know. I have had jobs in my past. My path into advertising was neither smooth nor easy.

So, when I reflect on the words of my sons, I have to wonder why anyone would work in advertising if it were just a job to him/her? There have got to be better paying, better-benefits-having and more stable jobs to work than those in advertising.

I have never worked in advertising.

Wow. It feels so good to say that! I've been wanting to say this for the longest time.

And I know I am not the only one. (You don't have to be in the creative department to feel this way about advertising.) Go ahead and say it. You'll feel so much better. You don't have to say it out loud, you can whisper it to yourself.

See, I told you.

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, based in Columbia, S.C.
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