Dear 1991 Mark,
First, get comfy, because this is a long one…
Congrats, 24-year-old Me, on your new job as Junior Copywriter at one of Boston’s top ad agencies, Arnold Fortuna Lane! I guess recently getting fired from your account coordinator gig at that high-tech public relations firm – your first real, big boy job post-college -- was a blessing in disguise, eh? Hey, don’t get pissed that I brought that up; I would have fired you, too. All you did was write terrible short stories in your cube all day when you were supposed to be pitching high tech magazine editors on behalf of your clients.
So, if you’re reading this, former PR boss Marijean Lauzier: on behalf of both 1991 Mark and 2013 Mark, you were right to shit-can us. No hard feelings. We were the polar opposite of a good employee. (And we were hungover at work a lot, too. LOOK AT ME, I THINK I’M STILL IN COLLEGE! WHEEEEE!) So I guess this is Advice #1: Mark, do the job you were hired to do. Every time out. Do even more whenever possible, of course. Be reliable, and at the very least deliver what they expected of you when they started paying you. If you don’t, they will – and should -- fire you.
Speaking of Arnold, you will work at the many iterations of this particular agency on three separate occasions between now and 2009. Arnold Fortuna Lane; Arnold Fortuna Lane & Cabot; Arnold, Fortuna, Lawner & Cabot; Arnold Advertising; Arnold Worldwide; Snyder Communications (for a brief moment, more on that below); Arnold again; and inevitably Arnold-Publicis-Romijn-Stamos-Omnicom-Sleater-Kinney-al-Qaeda-Cougar-MDC-Mellencamp. So Advice #2 is: Just roll with the changes. Sorry to get all REO Speedwagon on you, but advertising is a transient, often heartless, cold, all-business business. People get laid off/move around all the time. There’s little to no loyalty, and everyone – even those with their names on the door -- is expendable no matter how important they believe they are. So when Arnold lays you off eighteen years from now, in 2009, seriously, don’t sweat it (even though your wife will be pregnant with your second child and you’ll freak a little bit). It’ll lead to your landing in gorgeous Boulder, working at Crispin, and eventually starting your own agency up near CU with some awesomely talented friends. So it’ll be for the best, trust me.
Anyway, as I write this, it’s December 12th, 2013 and I’m – we’re – 45-years-old now. We even have tiny flecks of gray in our stubble (when we don’t shave) and go to bed, on average, around 9:30 p.m. most nights. Terrifying, right? You think I’m pretty lame, admit it, what with my wife of twelve years, two kids, mortgage, Subaru Outback, and other trappings of middle age. And I laugh at your Harry Potter glasses, 21 Jump Street haircut and non-existent savings account. So suck it. Which leads me to Advice #3: Don’t take jobs for money. Yes, agency-hopping is one of the primary ways we get raises. But there will be jobs you almost take for a small bump in salary, and I’m happy to report you turn most of them down. Key words: most of them. Not that I have THAT much more money in 2013 than you do in 1991, but please be smart with your cash. Save enough to live for a couple months if the shit goes down, which it usually does in this business. (Thankfully, you’ll marry a woman who’s much better with finances than you are -- a former broadcast producer, of course – but still, don’t go buying that matching set of gold-plated jet skis after your first raise.)
Advice #4: Sometime around 2015, “Advertising” will officially change its name to “Prankvertising”. So start thinking of some brand-building pranks, stat.
Actually, according to my iPhone calendar, we’ll be 46 in ten days. Sorry -- an “iPhone” is a futuristic communication/information/fellow human-ignoring device created by a brilliant sociopath named Steve Jobs. Jobs’ company, Apple, created that 1990 Macintosh Classic upon which you’ll now be writing your god-awful headlines and scripts, and whose various technological iterations – laptops and such -- will be your life’s blood for the next two-plus decades. Get used to Apple products, man. They’ll be more vital to your survival than your spleen (whatever one’s spleen does). And speaking of headlines and scripts, for a long while, you will do nothing but write shitty ones and have hare-brained ideas that you think are brilliant. But they’re not. They’re probably derivative and unfunny. So I guess Advice #5 is: Don’t get indignant when your Creative Director kills them. Because better is always out there. Don’t be so blinded by pride or frustration that you miss it. And when writing, be brief. Sparse. Economical. Don’t say in ten words what you could say in five. Ironic advice, considering this letter will go on for another 27 pages. But in the future, due to a lethal cocktail of text messaging-fueled laziness, high-fructose corn syrup and something called “Twitter” (don’t ask), peoples’ attention spans will be shorter than a hummingbird on crack. So write accordingly, because annoyed commenters in blogs like the Denver Egotist will bitch and moan that you yammered on too long…and they’ll be 100% right. (But for those of you who stick with me until the end, there’s a reward of sorts waiting for you. Promise.)
Speaking of crack cocaine, here’s Advice #6: Mark, I know it’s your first day, but get out of advertising and into politics, get your Canadian citizenship and become the Mayor of Toronto. Talk about job security! You can apparently do anything short of choking out an underage hooker on top of the CN Tower -- and you could probably even do that – and still remain employed. Just a thought.
Now, Advice #7: Lose the tie. Even though it’s your first day and still a relatively prehistoric 1991 where you are, creatives just don’t dress like Don Draper anymore. (Sorry. That reference will be lost on you. The advertising-themed television show known as Madmen on a cable network called “AMC” won’t exist for another sixteen years because its creator, Matthew Weiner, is still writing for Becker and its handsome star, Jon Hamm, is still playing Hamlet in summer stock theater in Bakersfield. Madmen will also make AMC think viewers would enjoy another advertising-themed show called The Pitch, which, in actuality, will only make them want to brutally murder people in advertising. But I digress…)
So, yeah, no necktie. But just for now. Because this dovetails nicely into my next word of semi-wisdom. Actually, that reminds me, let me first inject Advice #7.5: Never use business cliches like “Dovetail”, “Think outside the box” or “Ideate”. And certainly don’t refer to even the most talented ad professionals as “rock stars”. Jimmy Page is a rock star. Eddie van Halen and Davie Lee Roth (he wrote, only to appease his myopic colleague, Jeff Graham) are rock stars. But a senior copywriter wearing sunglasses indoors at Chez-Jay? That’s just an asshole.
On a related note, Advice #8: Don’t waste energy and time trying to look creative; just be creative. Too many closet hacks – many of them your future colleagues and bosses -– will judge you on style over substance and make you secretly worry that you’re not as “cool-looking” as those sporting gang tats, quintuple lip piercings and generally disguising themselves as 16-year-olds straight outta Dogtown despite being 38-year-olds straight outta Dartmouth…all to hide the fact that they couldn’t write a coherent sentence or come up with an original idea if their clip-on dreads depended on it. So don’t lose a second of sleep about why you’re not being given the secret handshake to the Cool Creative’s Club and getting those killer creative assignments as quickly as you’d hoped/expected. Instead, make the best of what you ARE given to work on. Make your own great projects. Keep your head down, keep working your ass off and trust that you have the talent to succeed. People who know the difference will be able to spot the genuine article, and won’t hire/encourage/mentor/promote you simply because you look like Travis Barker. Some of the best creatives you’ll ever know over the next twenty-plus years will just be regular guys and girls who aren’t trying too hard. Who aren’t spending an hour in the morning making their hair look like they just rolled out of bed AND TOTALLY DON’T CARE. Be yourself, yes. But if you have to emulate someone, be more like those folks who just ARE creative. Shut up, listen, and learn from them. Everyone else is just meticulously unkempt static with relatively short shelf lives.
Advice #9: No matter how attractive it might seem at the time, do NOT start an agency with Wade Paschall. Just don’t. This is non-negotiable.
What else? Oh, Advice #10: It will take you almost thirteen more years from now until you finally realize one of your childhood dreams and get a book published in 2004, and another in 2006. That’s great and all. Pop some champagne, for sure. But it should happen much sooner. You need to make the writing time while you don’t have kids whom you love more than anything and with whom you want to (have to, but mostly want to) spend all your free time. You need this other writing. Sure, advertising is fun and keeps your creative juices flowing. But you –- all creatives – need outlets with which you can express said creativity. Outlets that you AND ONLY YOU own. Whose edges can’t be sanded off by focus groups, hand-wringing account people, chief creative officers or anyone else offering what might pass as an “opinion”. Whether it’s writing poetry or screenplays, painting, sculpting, teaching SCUBA diving, rock-climbing, triathlon-competing, bull-riding, hobo-killing -- whatever it is, find that outside outlet, pursue it, and guard it as desperately and selfishly as Gollum guards his Precious. Unless that outlet is, in fact, hobo-killing. That I would not advise. Unless you’re really good at it, in which case I say, Godspeed, I-95 Rest Stop Killer!
Advice #11: When a man named Kanye Omari West asks you to co-star with him in a music video titled “Bound 2,” respectfully decline.
Time to wrap this up, 1991 Mark. I know you have to get back to that Boston Gas bill stuffer brief you were just handed. (For those of you here in 2013, a “bill stuffer” was a tiny little “ad” that retailers and utilities companies once “mailed” with “bills” and self-addressed return “envelopes”.) But before I let you go, I also want to give you Advice #12: At some point in the early 2000’s, a pint-sized jackal of a man, who made his millions in wallboard marketing, database marketing (a.k.a. junk mail) and product sampling, will buy and briefly own Arnold. One day you will find yourself standing next to him on the elevator. And due to the noxious aura of evil pulsating around him, you will just stand frozen, a little scared, staring at the wall, silent. Now, I realize this isn’t as historically impactful as those “If you could time-travel back to 1905 Vienna and kill a then-innocent Hitler, would you?” scenarios. But still, when you do find yourself standing next to one Daniel Snyder, please, when the doors shut, put him in a sleeper hold, force a cyanide capsule down his throat KGB-style, and dump his lifeless body down the elevator shaft. Legions of future Washington Redskins fans will thank you.
Advice #13: Invent Facebook and/or the Tesla.
Finally, Advice #14: You’re about to embark on a career that doesn’t involve shooting others, being shot at, or being imprisoned for your beliefs. It doesn’t involve smokejumping, digging ditches, assembling Steve Jobs’ tiny electronics, testing rectal thermometers, breaking up prison yard brawls, serving small children sloppy Joes, wearing theme park mascot uniforms, making change at tollbooths, handing out mints in restrooms, mining coal, cleaning up crime scenes, performing triple bypasses, or any other far more mentally/physically/soul-crushingly grueling tasks. No, we have it relatively easy in advertising. We’re lucky. We’ve worked hard and made our own luck, mind you. But still. So many others in this world have it far, far worse than we do. So, whenever you get “stressed” or “agitated” about something utterly insignificant in the scheme of life, please, appreciate every single minute you have not only in this business, but with your friends and family. Because when you turn 46, you’ll be more than halfway through the average white male lifespan. So do us both a favor and, when you get to December 12th, 2013, promise yourself – promise us -- to make the absolute best of whatever time we have left.
Oh, and speaking of not wasting time, Advice #15: Don’t start watching Lost in 2004. When it ends six years later, it’ll just make you absolutely furious.
Okay, that “reward” I mentioned earlier. This is an advertising blog, as you know, and a very good one. Meaning some of you might be out of work creative looking for jobs/new opportunities, which is always harder and more discouraging around the Holidays. Trust me, I know. So if you are indeed job-hunting – in the Denver/Boulder area or elsewhere – send me a link to your work at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Your Egotist piece sucked & violated me with boredom” (or just a simple “My link”.) If your work’s good and you seem nice, I’ll happily pass you on to anyone I know in this business who might be hiring. (I wish we were, but Grenadier is still a relatively small shop and our hires are few and far between.) Maybe our great partner agency, Barkley. Maybe someone from my old haunts in Boston. Who knows. But we’ve all been there, and there are a ton of smart, talented, driven people in this region who just might need a little luck or extra push to get that “in” they need. So I’ll do what I can to help. Happy holidays and thanks for enduring my yammering.
To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.