November 20, 2013
Advertising's Most Destructive Force
One of the great afflictions suffered by people in the advertising industry is status anxiety – worrying about what people think of you.
I’m not really sure what role status anxiety plays in the lives of media people, account people, planners or administrative types. But having grown up in creative departments, I know that it plays a powerful and seriously unhealthy role among creative people.
One of the most obvious manifestations of status anxiety is job-hopping. It has been my experience that creatives who jump from job to job are usually among the most status conscious and least happy people in our industry.
At one time, in one of my agencies, we had a talented creative guy who was about to be promoted to creative director of the agency. He had just completed a wonderful campaign for one of our clients that was winning all kinds of awards and he was gaining recognition. He was a very good creative but had bounced around a lot and had never settled into a situation in which his talent could be fully cultivated and harnessed.
Because of his much-awarded campaign he was suddenly on the radar of some of the most high status agencies in the country. He did not accept our offer to run our creative department and become a partner. He accepted a second-tier job at Goodby. Obviously, working at Goodby conferred more status on him than staying at our agency.
Instead of choosing the opportunity to be the chief architect of his own agency, he chose the reflected glory of someone else’s. I have nothing but respect for GS&P but, in my opinion, he punted.
The problem with a decision like this is that it confuses reflected glory with true accomplishment. It may feel nice to tell people at cocktail parties that you work at a famous agency, but as the person in question soon found out, reflected glory has a limited shelf life.
It’s important to remember that the truly high-status people in our business – the Goodbys, the Wiedens – eschewed status themselves to start their own things. They did not take a job at a prestige agency. They built their careers on a bet against the reflected glory of someone else’s agency, and put their money on their own ability to outclass the high-status agencies of the time.
There are plenty of people who find solace -- and, in fact, satisfaction -- basking in the reflected glory of their employers and colleagues. While I always enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to work with top quality people, the only status I could ever convince myself was worth anything was that which came from having accomplished something myself. Being near success may feel nice, but creating something on my own was my only true gratification.
Status anxiety is a destructive and debilitating force. Worrying about what others think is a monumental waste of time and energy. Making career decisions based on what you think others will think of you is not just pitiable, it can damage your life.
Do what you think is right, not what you think will impress others. If others don’t like it, fuck ‘em.