April 01, 2015

7 Things I've Learned Since Leaving Agencyland

Today marks two years since I ran screaming from the agency business. Here are some things I think I've learned about myself and about agency life since I left:
1. The greatest source of misery was status anxiety: The medium you swim in in agency life is anxiety about where you stand -- both as an individual and as an agency. You may not perceive it because it's all around you, but once you are out of it you recognize how pervasive it was.

2. The greatest freedom is not having to give a shit: Agency people are always bullshitting. Clients demand it. Colleagues expect it. We do it so much we don't even realize we're doing it. We think of it as professional discourse. When you leave, there is a wonderful sense of liberation in being able to say exactly what you think, without a calculation of the consequences.

3. I seem to be better at writing about advertising than I was at writing advertising: I was an OK copywriter, but I think I'm better at writing the stuff I'm writing now.

4. My second career is more gratifying: I was reasonably successful and happy in the ad business, but my second career -- doing whatever the hell it is I am doing now -- has been personally more satisfying. I certainly am not earning anywhere near the levels I was, but I am enjoying it more.

5. When you retire you become Chinese: To a great many people who kissed my ass and pretended to be my friends when I was a ceo, I am now Bob Hu? It is not surprising, but it is indicative of the levels of insincerity in the ad business.
6. I left the agency business too late: I had thought about leaving a few years before I did. I should have. Watching what has become of the business from a distance is amusing. But watching the unpleasant changes going on while I was still in it was painful.
7. The things I am ashamed of still haunt me: On those nights when I can't sleep, the things I did in the agency that I knew were wrong still trouble me. I don't replay the successes, I replay the dishonor.


LeShann said...

And here go my hopes this 1st of April's post was going to be about how amazingly impactful the latest social campaign was...

Note: I (and I'm sure many others) would be delighted to buy you dinner Mr Hu. But then again I'm biased, I live in China.

thegreatonymariani said...

And I shall call you "Bob Hu". Can you please pass the moo shu?

Cecil B. DeMille said...

I hope that, when I someday look back on my career in advertising in retrospect, I do not puke.

Tim Orr said...

Nice to know, Bob, that there ARE second or even third acts in American life, despite F. Scott.

Charlotte said...

Well, you weren't in captivity too long to lose your sense of irony. Thank God for that. My level of cynicism is reaching dangerous levels. Hope my liver can take it.

Doug Garnett said...

You nailed it in this list - especially with the obsession about status anxiety & giving a shit. Agencies live a tenuous life dependent on subjective evaluation of our work.

Read this book "Shop Class as Soul Craft" and loved an example where a machinist takes a part he's made to his super. The super gets out the calipers and it's right or wrong. Most agencies live on the tenuous edge of pure subjectiveness?

But only part of this is due to our subject matter. Many agencies have only themselves to blame as they aggressively dismiss any elements of objective evaluation. Seriously, there are measures that give objective insight into the impact of what we've done.

Things like "when the advertising was on-air X were sold in stores and when it was off-air Y were sold in stores". But most training programs encourage among young advertising acolytes the idea that there's no connection between what they do and something happening immediately.

Jim said...

Being virtuous is reward in itself. I think Socrates said that. Looking for morality in business let alone agencies is not a great place to search.

Which is strange because today they bang on about their ethics and responsibility so bloody much. It seems common practice now for some to make a living in a certain way then once they've banked the dosh do the whole poacher to game keeper switch-a-roo thing. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don't add the sob stories.

David Hanson said...

The shift is occurring in the way American’s are willing to pay for their entertainment. For the first time since the age of mass broadcast, Americans value their time more than their cash. Americans have always been willing to pay for their entertainment. They pay for movie
theaters, records and books. As for television, we have been willing to pay for our television entertainment by spending our time watching sponsors
commercials. But very recently, with the advent of high quality entertainment available on streaming devices, the shift is becoming clear: America is willing to pay for in-home viewing in cash rather than time. The unspoken contract between television advertisers and the public – where we offer our time to watch commercials in exchange for free entertainment is what is changing. I make TV commercials for a living, so basically this sucks.