When asked what I “do,” I proudly point to my t-shirt, which reads “Retired. Go around me.” I sometimes relent and explain that I am now an adjunct professor at Columbia, teaching Copywriting. After 30+ years as a copywriter, producer, Creative Director and, finally, a free-lancer, I have mellowed into a mentor, and I like it. I enjoy interacting with my students, feeding them the manna of my experience and, in return, absorbing their energy and enthusiasm. Together we share a taste of what makes advertising such a wonderful profession. Sometimes, it is sheer foolery, which delights me, although I do not suffer fools gladly.
I left the college campus for a world of dishes, diapers, dinners and dirty floors, but I defy anyone to say that being a homemaker is not a “real” job. My years as a wife and mother were far greater preparation for my subsequent career than anything academic. My first actual out of the house job was in the accounting area of a major ad agency. I was a lowly accounting clerk, paying bills from our production and media vendors, and preparing monthly invoices to the agency’s clients. It was mind-numbing work, but I learned a great deal about the Ad Agency Process, how the agency’s income was generated and how its money was spent.
Rising from bookkeeper in a twelve-man shop, to Executive Vice-President/Chief Creative Officer in this country’s largest African-American agency was pretty cool. Along the way, I collected at least one of all the major industry awards… Clio, Andy, Addy, Hugo and Effie… as well as over a dozen awards specifically designed for niche advertising. Those statues, medals and plaques are nice mementos, but what gives me the most satisfaction is the knowledge that I shaped the creative philosophy and direction at Burrell Advertising, and helped the shop grow in size and prestige. Moreover, I can take credit for launching the careers of many African-American copywriters, directors, producers, editors, singers and actors.
I don’t think I could have survived three decades in Advertising if I had not loved the challenges it presented: solving client problems, creating award-winning advertising, satisfying client requirements and co-existing with disparate, often eccentric, personalities. Advertising is intense, as frustrating as it is exciting, so you gotta love it, or leave it alone.
I don’t know any successful, one-dimensional Creative types… i.e. the Copywriters and Art Directors who actually come up with the ideas. They’re also poets, painters, cooks, seamstresses, toy makers, photographers, mechanics, etc., etc. and they all read anything that has print on it, go to movies, watch television (the good, the bad and the ugly,) enjoy sports, stay current with events, dance like nobody is watching, sing like nobody is listening, and they eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations. They’re curious about everything, they ask embarrassing questions and they never stop learning. In short, successful advertising Creatives embrace the world. So should you.
Finally, whatever you do, play it straight. Don’t cut ethical corners for short-term gain. Advertising is a small fraternity playing a game of Musical Chairs. People move from agency to agency, carrying your reputation with them. Memories are long and you never know who your next boss, or client, may be.