Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising 2013

We wanted to finish the year on a local high note here on The Egotist. So, we asked the most respected creative visionaries in Colorado to create a piece, entitled "On My First Day of Advertising." We asked them to answer the question: “If as an adult, you could send a letter to your younger self on your very first day of advertising, what words of guidance, comfort, advice or other message would you put in it?”

This is an archived collection of the pieces we received, posted daily during December 2013 and into January 2014. Great advice from Colorado's best thinkers.


Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #1: Jonathan Schoenberg, Executive Creative Director/Partner TDA_Boulder

Dear self on your first day of work,

You don't suck as much as you think you do. And, if you do suck that much, nobody has figured it out yet, so try and relax and see if they figure it out.

Ok, not that relaxed, you should not be drinking at two in the afternoon on your first day of work. I take it back you should be insecure and you are an idiot. Ok sorry, you do write pretty well buzzed, but not as well as you think.

Those thrift store dress shoes from the 1940's/50's that you keep wearing are not that cool, and they are gross. You can't really clean "vintage" shoes , and there is something very unclean about wearing other people's old shoes. These geriatric shoes don't make you more interesting, they make you look like you live with your grand father and borrow his old shoes.

Account people are your advocates, don't be one of those infantilized junior creatives that argues about dumb shit that does not impact the idea. Be that young person that accepts you have been in the business for 10 minutes and should talk less and listen more.

Keep writing those "thank you" notes, even in the future when nobody writes handwritten "thank you" notes. You got into this business by accident, and by the generosity of people who could have easily been less generous with their time, please don't forget it.

Don't grow a goatee in the summer of 1995 like every other junior copywriter in NYC. You will look like a douche. You are sort of a douche already so the goatee is really gonna put it over the edge.

Thanks for reading my note and please know that you are going to enjoy your career a great deal. Even if you will spend your first several years not listening, drinking too much, wearing old shoes, and growing that douche goatee.


Your future self.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #2: Rachael Donaldson, VP of New Business MADE Movement

Dearest Rachael,
Welcome to advertising.

When I peek into the prism of your soul I want you to know that being the real you is always more beautiful than trying to be someone else. Don’t let anyone else define who you are. If they try to, or if they crush the light in you, move on and seek similar ethos. Your instincts are really good, learn how to listen to them.

Lean in every chance you get (someone else will write this book). When you stumble (and you will) get up and lean in again. Everyone stumbles. Don’t run from the hurt or the lesson, absorb it and your strength will flourish. This will be far from easy but will set the stage for your true path in life, not just advertising.

Oh, and don’t be so fucking Type A that you miss the great moments in the every day. You’re surrounded by amazing people, experiences, shoot locations and food (don’t even get me started on the food - there will be many, many client dinners and even though you’re working, you’re also eating at places you won’t be able to afford yet, so enjoy it). Be present instead of always focusing on the next day, the next presentation, the next promotion.

Take vacation time. It will never ever be a ‘good’ time to leave the office. Travel fills up your creative reserves and exposes you to life experience that makes you a better person, not to mention better at this job.

Be confident even when you don’t feel like it, because everyone else in the room has fragile, creative egos too—not just the creative team—and confidence is magnetic.

Smile. Be bright. Be courageously you.

Much love.

PS: stop putting off learning Photoshop and some light coding, you won’t have time later.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #3: Rajeev Basu, Senior Creative

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #4: Jeff Graham, Partner_Account Grenadier

Dear Me,

This is the 43-year-old you writing to the 21-year-old punk I used to be — to offer a word or two of advice as you start your journey into the wonderful world of advertising.

Here’s the thing. What you learned about agency account service in college centered around big, traditional, corporate-style agencies located in the usual places like New York and Chicago. What they didn’t tell you is there’s an entirely different way to be an agency account person — in smaller creative shops, located in places where ad agencies aren’t supposed to succeed. Places that will allow you to be a ‘creative account guy’ of sorts. A partner in the process with your creative counterparts; and with a genuine sense of ownership in the creative product that happens on your watch.

One day soon, a creative director you work with will hand you a stack of One Show annuals and CAs, and you’ll wonder why. He’ll tell you to study them and have a point-of-view about what you like, what you don’t, and why. You’ll see it as a challenge; but it’s actually an invitation. Take it. It’s what will start you down this alternative path of account service; and change the trajectory of your career in ways you can’t imagine now.

‘The work is all that matters’ — make this your new motto. Be the only account guy you know who carries a book — just like any writer or art director. Sweat the two big things you can actually control each day — how hard you work, and the attitude you bring to it. Keep your head down, dig your ditch, and let your work do the talking for you. Approach all of it with passion and tenacity. Oh, and don’t be a dick to anyone. Ever. This business is rife with insufferable jerks who might look successful to you now; but they’ll soon be unemployable washouts. This is a very small industry. Be humble. Be nice. Do your job in service of these simple principles, and you’ll find a lot of other stuff will naturally fall into place.

And while this advice will help you do a good job at work — don’t forget to do a good job at life too. Don’t let work steal away the moments that really matter with your family and friends — this line of work has a way of doing that. You’ll just regret it later. Remember, we’re not curing cancer here — it’s only advertising.

Always Be Closing,

Jeff Graham

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #5: Jim Elkin, Director/Creative Director Roshambo Films

Dear Jim,

There is no easy way to put this. You're a jerk. You're sitting there in your comfy office at J. Walter Thompson thinking you're so amazing, really incredibly good looking and a fantastic Jew. Well, you're not, you've got a bad haircut and chances are you just finished a BLT with extra bacon. Take a look around...look out the window of your fancy office to the streets far below. Do you really deserve all of this? Do you really think you should be so cocky? Do you really think you're that special? Things are going to change and you are not ready for it...not at all.

In about 1 minute from this moment...your life will completely change. Well, actually 1 minute and about twenty years later, but one thing is certain...things will change. You'll be standing in a delivery room with your wife in the middle of the night with snow falling gently outside the frosted window. Your baby daughter was just born seconds ago, but she's not breathing. In fact, she's completely blue. Your wife will start to cry. You're now beginning to cry too as each second ticks by. The doctors are rushing around you with masks on trying to appear calm. You'll stand there wishing you could take back every bad thing you've ever done in your life. You start to concentrate on the sound in the room. You hear your own breathing now and that's all you hear. You're now wishing your daughter was able to breathe instead of you. You want to take her place. She's still not moving. You're beginning to panic. Your breathing is getting more shallow. You're sweating on your upper lip. You're beginning to sob. Your wife is inconsolable. She's begging you to do something. You're completely helpless. Another minute...

This all started where you're sitting now. You will sacrifice everything in your life over the years for your work. You think it's worth it. Every choice you make is for the better good. It affects everyone around you. Your closest friends. Your family. People you wish you treated much better and with more care. You'll lose people you care about. You'll have relationships that should have lasted a lifetime. Friends...lovers...wives...but you will lose them.

In twenty years and 2 minutes you look down at your daughter. She's lying in a warming tray now. Her color is a deeper blue…as blue as the ocean. Doctors are storming into the room. They crowd around you and the baby. Watching both of you intensely as if you have some control over any of this. Your tears will stream down your chin now and reach your shoes. You can hear your soles squeak from the salty water rubbing on the linoleum floor. This can't be happening you tell yourself. This is a bad dream and I'm going to wake up. But, you can't wake up when you're not dreaming.

Look around the office again. What do you see that is worth anything besides the awards you’re dreaming about winning? There is a picture. The one good thing you put in that office. A picture of your family. The people who raised you. They taught you what is truly important in this life. They taught you the difference between right and wrong. They taught you that doing the right thing means making hard choices. It means to sacrifice the things you really want and take care of the people you love. Remember those things. Remember to be kind above everything else. There are other things besides this office…besides the awards you want to win…besides the work. Remember to put the work aside every now and then. Go home and be with the people who love you. You’ll thank me for it.

Twenty years later and 3 minutes now doctors are rubbing your daughter's back on a small metal tray. She still isn't breathing. You think to yourself that this can't be it...hundreds of years of medical knowledge and they just rub a newborn's back. How can that help? Then you hear a sound out of the silence. A breath. The most incredible breath that you've ever heard in your life. The blue skin that made your daughter look like a human Smurf begins to some kind of real-life perfect special effect. The color changes from blue to orange. You reach out and touch her hand...she squeezes it. Life. You're so happy that your tears turn into something different. You've never cried before. Not like this. Not like a happy cry. Your heart leaps from your chest right into hers. It all makes sense. Life makes sense. Your daughter squeezes your hand harder. She's alive. She's beautiful. The doctor asks what her name the nurses are crying with you. You look over at your wife…and turn back to the doctor…“Violet,” you say wiping away your tears. “This little flower is going to need you to grow,” said one of the nurses patting me on the back. It turns out in the end, she will be the only award you ever need.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #6: Evan Fry, VP/Executive Director of Creative Development CP+B

Dear 24-year-old Evan,

Hey man, it's me. Rather, it's you. From 20 years in the future. How you doing? Aside from dealing with that terrible haircut, I mean.

Let me get to the point. I'm writing because today is your first day in your first ad gig. And there's some things I want to implore you to not lose sight of as you progress in this business.

And you might lose sight. Because it's going to be hard to get where you know you belong. To scrap and fight your way out of your first gig, out of the mediocre shops, and earn your way into a truly great ad agency will require dedication and single mindedness.

And it's going to be even harder once you crack that elite level. It'll take years, too. But you're going to do it. Cuz you're not going to give up.

But. Here's the thing I want you to do for us: As your career success accumulates, and the added responsibilities pile on, stay honest with yourself. OK?

What I mean is, if at any point along the line you realize you don't really love what you're doing, don't stay in it just cuz you look down and find you've become shackled in "golden handcuffs."

Don't misunderstand. I know you need a job right now. A real job. A career. And this one for sure seems like the right one for you right now. You've shown some promise in school, it seems like a lot of fun, and I get why you're doing it. It's one of the best "jobs" any lucky 1st-world sucker could score.

But please keep perspective. Don't get so focused on trying to "make it" that you discount the very true fact that you need to do what makes you feel satisfied. Time will pass fast. And unless you stay honest, you might one day realize that you were so concerned with career success that you didn't plot out life-success.

And what I mean by that is: Doing for a living that which fosters your sense of well being and happiness. Money cannot — and will not — make up for doing anything short of that.

OK. That's it really. Now go get a better haircut. Oh and dude, be cool to your first Creative Director. She knows a shitload more than you do. Be nice.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #7: Mark St. Amant, Partner_Creative Grenadier

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.

Your pal,
2013 Mark

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, 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.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #8: Ryan Johnson, ACD Cactus

Dear Me,

Congratulations! You’re a copywriter. In about four years, your parents will figure out what a copywriter does. Good for you.

So, you’re feeling overwhelmed. You’ve got a brief on your desk with three tactics—some print, a TV spot and a little radio. What’s that? You only have five weeks to concept? Dear lord! How are you keeping it together? You should be curled up in a bathtub right now, drinking peach schnapps and listening to Joy Division on repeat.

Oh you precious little kitten, get over yourself. Cherish this time. Cherish it like a simple ball of yarn that’s going to turn into a 12-page media flow chart.

The Internet (or information superhighway) is about to get all up in your business. You currently use it to pass along obscene photos your brother sends you or to watch cartoon hamsters explode in microwave ovens. Well, apparently they’re researching bigger and better things to do with the Internet. By “they” I mean the people who invented it, which is the government, the porn industry and the NFL. Never mind that.

That list of tactics you’re sweating is going to multiple by 50 and the timeline is going to get hacked. But the Internet will provide countless opportunities to reach consumers. You’ll get to do banner ads, which are like miniature outdoor boards except they animate. Or sometimes they animate and sometimes they don’t. Or sometimes you’ll think they can animate and you’ll concept them like that, and then you’ll find out the ad servers have a file size limitation and they can’t really accept anything more than a flattened image or something like that.

Whoa. Don’t freak out, kitten. Everything is going to be all right.

Technology is your friend. And it’s a friend to your friends. See all these friends you’re making now and you think you’ll lose touch with after careers pull everyone in different directions? You’re going to be connected forever. More than that, you’ll know exactly what they had for breakfast, when they buy new pants and when they’ve got a violent case of the flu. Also, you’ll share photos of sunsets, which are nice things to share.

I understand this is probably a bit much to take in. And, quite frankly, there are going to be plenty of times in the future when you’ll certainly want to curl up in the bathtub with that bottle of schnapps. The good news is you’re going to have a crazy-ass smart phone from which to write this note to yourself.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #9: Jeremy Seibold, Creative Director TDA_Boulder

Dear Me,

Congratulations on your first real job. Now quit. Get out of there right now. You’ll leave in October anyway and you’ve got more important things to do. Go give Effie a kiss, then get on a plane to California. Go home and hug your Mom. Squeeze her until you can’t anymore — which will be roughly 5 months from now. Tell her twelve times a day how much you love her. Thank her. No matter how many times you’ve said it, you haven’t said it enough. Rub her feet. She likes that but you won’t realize it until she is in so much pain that foot rubs won’t possibly make a difference. Get on an airplane with her and visit her hometown of Rockland, Maine. Walk the Breakwater and when you get to the end just sit there. Sit and talk until there is nothing left to say.

When you’re out of time get back to the airport and head to Idaho to see your future father-in-law. You’ve still got 7 months until your next job. That’s not nearly enough time to learn everything he has to offer, but you’ll have about 6 more years to pick his brain. Don’t take this time for granted, though, because I promise you it will fly by. Learn modesty. Learn to tip when no one is looking. Learn to fly fish. It is excruciatingly slow and uneventful, but I think that’s the point. And if it’s not, who cares? It’s time you’ll spend with him and that’s something you’ll wish you had more of when you’re my age. And for Christ’s sake, travel! Be in Pretoria, June 23, 2010, standing side-by-side with him when Landon Donovan makes history, bringing the crowd to fever pitch with a game-winning stoppage time goal against Algeria.

Now get on with it. Let these things steel you but not shape you. And stop being a slacker. It’s fear and laziness that prevent you from writing, and you can’t fix one without fixing the other. Write. Write short stories. Write songs. Write a book. Just write. And show people. The sooner you get over that fear, the better you’ll become. I think. We’ll never actually know if you don’t try.

Before I go — enjoy it. Smile more. Hug your loved ones. Your liked ones. Hug strangers. Enjoy every moment you have because the best ones seem to go the quickest. And try to relax. Everything works out, I promise. The stress really messes with your sleep in a few years, and sleep is something that’s hard to come by as of 11/20/12.


Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #10: Anne Macomber, Creative Director Pilgrim

Dear 22-year-old Anne:

I have many bits of advice for you.

Most of it you will never heed because you never really were one for listening, especially at 22. But you are a reader, so I’m hoping you’ll read this:

If you don’t know how to do something, ask. This will come in handy at your first radio record, on your first TV shoot, and in at least a hundred other instances. You will look far less stupid asking what a “patch” is than checking every closet to see where the talent is hiding.

Try, try, TRY and talk less. In fact, shut up. If that is impossible, at least shut up long enough to listen to anyone giving you anything that even remotely resembles advice.

When presenting to Rich, remember to duck BEFORE he throws the coffee mug.

When asking for a raise, it’s not because you need it, it’s because you deserve it.

Pick your battles.

Bite your tongue.

And when in doubt, start a fresh email.

Wear a less see-through shirt to the Clio’s in ‘99. Also, take a pass on that last drink and you won’t barf on Lane Foard in the cab on the ride home.

If you’re banging on the front door and no one answers, go around and see if anyone’s left the back door unlocked. In other words: When force fails, try finesse.

Since you are a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, consider wearing it under a sweater from time to time.

A corollary to this is: Work on your poker face. It will come in handy more than you know.

Do NOT take the tampon job.

Do NOT let Amy Hudon move in.

Do NOT say “sure, dude” when asked to smoke weed with your boss(es).

Remember the lessons you learned as an intern. Because 90% of success in this business is “intern stuff” that you will end up doing for your entire career.

Be a problem solver and you can accomplish anything. Solve problems with a smile and some creativity and you’ll amaze.

Stay away from married men. Especially the unhappily married ones. They are nothing but a pile of heartache.

Make yourself invaluable to clients, and you will make yourself invaluable to your agency.

At the end of the day, people buy people. Be a person people want to buy, and you will never be at a shortage of clients, work or friends.

As the years go in, take a moment to thank all the people who overlooked your flaws and loved you when you were a total pain in the ass.

Kill your darlings.

Keep the dream alive.

Remember who loves you.

And make shit happen. Thinkers and engines are what this business really needs.

And finally, here’s some advice for the day before your first day. Because your first day will go just fine, but the day before it is when you will need it most:

You will be an intern. And you will be asked to present in a meeting. A big meeting. You will do a great job presenting. And the client will be just about to buy your idea. And then, slowly, and sneakily, your ACD will take everything the client likes about your campaign and merge those ideas into hers. So slowly and sneakily, in fact, that you won’t realize what is happening until the moment when client buys her idea instead of yours.

And then, you will start to cry.

You will cry so hard that you have to be taken out of the client meeting and put in a car.

You will be driven back to the agency, where you will sit in your office, waiting to get fired. You will wait for what feels like an eternity.

And finally, your Creative Director will come. And he will call you into his office. And he will shut the door. And you will still be crying.

He will sit next to you on the couch. He will hand you a box of Kleenex. And he will tell you he heard about what happened in the meeting. You will nod. And sniffle. And he will tell you something amazing. He will tell you you’re not, in fact, getting fired. He will tell you, instead, you’re getting a job.

And through your runny nose and watery eyes and pile of tissues you will look at him in amazement.

“But, why?” you will ask.

And he will tell you that it’s because you have passion. Because tact, and judgment and poise can all be taught. But passion; either you have it or you don’t. And passion is a rare thing. So congratulations, kid. Congratulations, go blow your nose, and get back to work.

Which, 20 years later, is still pretty good advice for all of us:

Congratulations on having passion.

Now go blow your nose.
And get back to work.

Love, me

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #11: Pat Feehery, Freelance Creative Director/Art Director

When I first got this assignment to write a letter to myself I thought, “Shit, I’d never read it.” It would lie on my nightstand next to unpaid parking tickets and prayer cards from my mom, who was probably scared I’d never make it through the Pearly Gates (and rightfully so). So I thought, where would impressionable me be? Ah yes, the bar. The Park Tavern to be specific. I can still smell the stench of cigarettes and cheap beer permeating off my oversized, blue-collar body. Look at you, Philly construction worker turned creative. You did it. Now here are four things I wish I knew when I started in "the biz."

Have fun with advertising. When you start to stress out, realized that you’re one of lucky ones, not many people have the opportunity to do what you do. The stress of advertising is manufactured; it’s put on us, by us. Remember we’re not saving babies; we’re probably making them talk and use financial software.

Keep your family and friends above advertising. Your professional loyalty is commendable, but don’t sacrifice relationships or experiences because of it. As much as you care about advertising, advertising doesn’t care about you, because it inanimate and it certainly doesn’t have feelings. This time around don't miss your grandfather's funeral because of work, I promise you'll regret it.

Work smart, not hard. The more efficiently you work the more you will enjoy life outside the confines of Adobe Creative Suite. The more you enjoy your time off, the more you will enjoy advertising. Consequently the more you enjoy advertising; the more it will pay you back. So, yes Miller Lite will only be a life choice in the future, and not a budget conscious decision. Trust me you'll still drink it, they release this Vortex bottle that becomes a cult classic with you and all your juvenile friends.

And last but not least, don’t be a dick, because you never know who that person you piss off turns out to be. Unless he’s an dude who went on your computer and stole your files. That dude you can still threaten to kick his ass with every being in your body, because that’s just not cool.

In closing, just keep advertising a cool, humble place to work for yourself and others. I wish you realized this a long time ago, but know that one day you’ll be happier than a pig in shit. Oh and speaking of shit, stop smoking and lose some weight.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #12: Steve Babcock, ECD Evolution Bureau

SENT BY: Google FluxMail
TO: July, 1999

Dear Steve,

Today is your first day as a Jr. Copywriter at EURO RSCG DSW Partners in Salt Lake City, Utah. You did it. You graduated from the mailroom. You’re officially official!

And now, some advice. It’s a quote from David O. McKay.

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

What does this have to do with advertising, you ask?

As you’ll soon discover, the advertising industry is funny. It’s not just about making ads that drive results for clients. For many, it’s largely about creating work in hopes of gaining recognition. Whether that’s winning an industry award, being featured in an article, impressing the boss or outdoing a coworker.

Everywhere you turn there will be opportunities to pursue recognition – all for the sake of feeling important.

And by all means, please pursue these opportunities.

But never let the desire to be important in the workplace outpace your desire to be important in the home.

This doesn’t mean you can’t desire to go to Cannes. It just means that desire can’t be stronger than your desire to attend your daughter's piano recital.

Definitely strive to impress your boss. Just make sure you never let up striving to impress your wife.

Bring home all the trophies you can. Just make sure you bring them home in time for dinner.

Get the idea?

You’ll find that the advertising industry is a constant struggle to achieve balance. But an emphasis on home and family is an emphasis worthy of your pursuit. Home is the sure foundation. You’ll experience many jobs. You’ll get laid off a few times and even fired once. You’ll have ups and downs. Wins and losses. Times of happiness and times of utter insanity. It will be tempting to dabble in workaholism. None of which will truly bring happiness. Even the shiniest of titanium trophies will pale in comparison to the smallest of moments in the home.

So go be great. Work hard. Be passionate. Earn recognition. Just remember that if you make your family your priority, regardless of what’s going on in your career, you will always be successful.

Take care homie,


PS: SPOILER ALERT: The band never ends up making it big. Sorry. But it’s a fun ride anyway. Enjoy it.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #13: Mike King, ACD Fear Not

Dear Me,

I am writing to you from December 2013. I am now in my thirties, married and have a 7-month-old baby. But that’s a different letter. Today we’re going to talk about your career in advertising. By this year, you will have worked at five agencies. Five. So yeah, I have some advice for you.

1. Hone your writing skills. You’ve probably been skimming through a 2003 Archive saying, “I wish I’d have done that” about a visual solution for what most likely is a fake client. But the truth is, you’re going to need to know how to write a good headline, radio script or website in a pinch more often than not.

2. Scare yourself. You’re going to be presented with opportunities that will bring you out of the state and out of your comfort zone. Feel them out and if it feels right, don’t be afraid to go for it. A new city, new agency and new people will teach you more than you thought possible.

3. Get serious about digital. Don’t just concept microsites and banners, learn to create them. Even if you’re terrible at it. Trying means learning and learning digital will be more important than you could ever imagine.

4. Sweat the small stuff. The details matter. Do your research. Triple check things. Stress over words that seem insignificant. Spend hours finding the perfect music or voiceover for a project. The little things can make a big difference. Sometimes, all the difference.

5. Be more creative outside work. Write that damn screenplay already. Or that book. Fuck, write a blog if you want to. Actually learn to play the guitar. Collaborate with friends on stupid ideas. Creativity outside the office fosters creativity inside of it.

6. Fail smarter. This is one of the most worn-out expressions in the industry, but it’s so damn true: Accept failure. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Let it light a fire under your ass and push you forward.

7. Don’t use exclamation points. Never try to make your own sushi. Travel more. Ride your bike. Drink good beer. Help people. Make shit happen. Have fun. Be happy.

Best regards,

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #14: Jim Glynn, Freelance Creative Director/Copywriter

Dear 22 Year Old Jim

Congratulations on surviving your first day at Foote, Cone.

Sorry the Chief Creative Officer got so pissed at you for not bringing any ideas to the Shout gangbang.

How was he supposed to know it was your first day?

The memory of the door jam shattering when he stormed out still makes me laugh.

It does get better, but why ruin the surprise.

I do have two pieces of advice, though.

Every time you meet a girl with any ties to Indiana, run.

You’re gonna have to trust me on this.

And in 1980, a company called Apple will start selling stock.

Hock everything and buy all you can.


Slightly Older Jim

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #15: Jasper Gray, Director and Partner Futuristic Films

To young Jasper,

This is some advice for your first day on a film set. Because you don't know yet that you even work in advertising. You'll learn that eventually, but not today. You don't even know who those stylish people are behind the video-assist monitor or what they are doing. Although I will say it's good to get to know them as most of them will turn out to be pleasant company and good to have a drink with. And after all they did come up with the idea in the first place and are really the reason we are all here. But that's way too much for now and we can get to that much, much later.

So first things first...

Get to set early. Seriously. Not right on time and definitely not late. Double check your call time, the map to location, and your calculation of the time it takes to get there, but especially your alarm clock. This is going to be a tough one for you, I know. But you will have to learn quickly because if you show up late you won't get get hired again and your film career will be short lived. So take this seriously and I promise it will make you a better person. Or at least a better prepared one — which is almost the same thing.

Shut the fuck up. At least at first. No one is going to want to hear about your student film, your experience gained shooting your student film or your shot by shot breakdown of Hitchcock's Vertigo. You are working with professionals who have more experience than you can imagine and sometimes you have to shut your mouth to open your eyes and learn and this is definitely one of those times. There is no way that you can impress them with what you think you know. But through a willingness to learn and by busting your ass you can at least earn their respect. Maybe, just maybe during lunch someone will want to know about your student film award or why Tippi Hedren wore a green dress but probably not. This is also going to be hard for you. But soon you will learn not only how, but why.

Now that is out of the way….

Absorb everything. The fascination you feel right now will be your greatest asset. It will drive you to learn about every aspect of filmmaking. It will give you the enthusiasm and energy to make a career in the filmmaking. When you don't yet have the experience, the connections or the know-how, this is what will drive you through.

You are going to work with hundreds of crews, thousands of people, all over the world. And every new day on set you will have to prove yourself all over again. Some people are going to yell and scream, some people are going to test you, tell you what you can't do, even try to demean you (hey — it's the film business, and sometimes it's like that). Smile politely and then work to prove them wrong.

But more people will take you under their wing and mentor you. Sometimes this will go beyond filmmaking, some will also be your mentors and role models in life. Repay these people with the utmost loyalty, and when the time comes follow their example.

And when the Prop Master asks you to separate the best cornflakes from a case of cornflakes boxes do this with pride and whatever cornflake wrangling skill you can muster. Make sure those 'hero' flakes are set and ready for their close-up when the time comes and that you have even more triple A+ flakes in reserve. Try to realize that one day you may need someone to do something like this for you, and if they half-ass it then it's your shot that could suffer from shitty looking cornflakes. And if that's too abstract then just do your best because you want to get hired back and because everyone on the crew gives their very best work even on something that seems completely trivial.

And through all of this make sure that you enjoy yourself. Because you've just stumbled into what could possibly be the greatest job in the world.

Oh, and yes, that table full of snacks, you can help yourself — just try not to overdo it.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #16: Tom Van Ness, Creative Director Amélie

Tom’s Top Tips for Young, Stupid Tom. (Or any young creative for that matter.)

Be obnoxiously curious. If you don’t know exactly what’s going on, just ask. Now is the time to be naïve, not eight years from now. Ask a question. Then ask a few more. It’s better to look curious and eager than dumb. More importantly, you can get yourself in a lot of deep shit by just nodding your head when you don’t know what something is. It’s a trait that will benefit you for a lifetime.

Become an MBA on the side. Well, it doesn’t have to be MBA level, but the more you can learn about business, the better. After all, advertising is business, not just creativity. An ACD or CD or even junior creative that knows about how the bottom line becomes the bottom line is a very valuable commodity. How does the agency earn money? What can you do every day to help profitability? This too will serve you for a lifetime. Especially when you try to open your own agency in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s.

Practice your presentations. Your life depends on presenting. Well, the career side of things at least. Improv. Just do it. It’s ridiculously fun, and it not only helps your presenting, it helps your brain think quickly and in different ways. Voice classes, why not? Public speaking. Hell yes. Then practice your presentations. Even the little ones. As a creative, you’re on stage every time you present. The more often you kill it, the more often you’re the trusted go-to. Remember, any good actor rehearses. Great actors rehearse until they vomit. Rehearsals give you the chance to build the bridges between ideas, and polish the concepts so that you can sell what you want to sell.

Sorry for being so practical, young Thomas. I would have woven some heart-wrenching, emotional storytelling into this letter, but there’s a guy here in the future they call Jim Elkin. And he owns that shit.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #17: Christopher Cox, Founder/Design Director Changethethought

Dear younger self on your first day in this upside down world,

You thought you were hot shit in college but the next 14 years is going to be a succession of personality beatdowns that will both humble and harden you. Starting with nearly losing your only brother in a car accident the year you graduate it’s going to be a long road to finding yourself spiritually and creatively. Every time you try to climb up on your egotistical high horse you will get knocked down.

If I can tell you one thing and one thing only it is not to be afraid. Do not approach things with fear. Banish it if you can. It will always be a challenge and it is even now, but try not to start with fear as the motivation for your decision-making. It’s okay to work for yourself. Not everyone was born to work the same job their entire life no matter what your parents say. But there are two sides to that equation, and the other is to not be afraid to commit. Don’t be afraid to commit to the people who love you. Don’t be afraid to commit being a good husband, father and friend. And yes being a father is amazing. You’ll put it off forever because you are being a self-centered douche bag but when you finally throw caution to the wind it will be the best decision you ever made. I’d tell you to do it earlier but you act like a spoiled kid for a long time so it’s probably best that you wait anyway.

If someone needs you then be there for them. Part of working to banish fear is banishing expectations. And banishing expectations of others is almost harder than banishing your fear. If someone is using you though, or you suspect they are then move on. Don’t be afraid to say no and on the other side of the coin don’t be afraid to say I’m sorry.

Be nicer to your wife. She’s actually even more of a beautiful person than you initially thought. Way more beautiful. She approaches and handles nearly everything in her life with an innate grace. Learn from her. And listen to her. She deserves it.

Don’t be afraid to change. This is part of banishing fear-based decision making. Actually you are going to have to change. A lot. The first 10 years is pretty much a succession of admitting wrong doing and being an overbearing jerk. Sure you mean well but it doesn’t come off that way. It’s going to take a while before you learn to project positivity even when you feel your negative upbringing tugging at your pant leg. You will lose people along the way and have to admit you were wrong many times. Choose to be self-aware as much as possible. Self-help books exist for a reason. Read them.

Don’t be afraid of time. It doesn’t exist. Everything is in flux. It seemed like things were changing back when you were handy in Flash, but you would not believe what’s happening now. It’s too weird to even describe. It’s hard to even know what advertising is anymore or if marketing is actually effective at all. The entire experience of it has changed so much in the past 15 years that it would sound like science fiction to you now. Two things do remain constant though and that is good design and old-fashioned artistic talent. You can always come back to that. When those two elements combine they are still capable of solving many problems.

Oh and please write more. Write as much as you can. Even if you aren’t great at it it’s one of the best ways to learn how to develop your ideas. And pick up the pencil before the mouse (or the Stylus pen (but you don’t even know what that is yet). You may not like hearing this but clients will pay more if you think before you act. Brain always trumps brawn in this industry. It makes the art direction side a challenge and puts a moving target in front of you but just remember to think before you act whenever possible.

But overall, just don’t be afraid. This industry is even stranger than you could have imagined. A lot of people will try to fill your head with bullshit but it always boils down to the simplest ingredients. It’s about relationships. You gotta work at that, kid. Hard. Just keep trying to get better at it. People will put you down. There’s nothing you can do about it. It will hurt. It always does. Learn what you need to from the criticism but don’t let it slow you down. You can always improve yourself despite the odds. You’ll have to work at it every day but it’s the only thing that will make your career move forward. You can always start over and will have to many times.

Just remember to choose at the start of every day not to be afraid. And smile when you do. There is love in every moment of life if you look for it.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #18: Norm Shearer, Partner/CCO Cactus

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #19: Mandy Stevens, Freelance Copywriter/Creative Director

When I look back on my first day in advertising, it’s pretty hilarious actually. My art director partner and I were a Chicago start-up’s first hires (they’re still in business). Fresh out of Portfolio Center in Atlanta, we had no idea what to expect and, boy, were we in for a rude awakening. It would take the agency about six months before they could afford to lease proper office space. We commuted out to the suburbs of Chicago and cranked out campaign after campaign while sitting at wobbly folding card tables haphazardly situated in a tract house basement lit by blinding incandescent bulbs. That was my beginning. Full of “you can’t write this stuff” kind of stories. We lasted there almost a year before we hopped on the big agency bandwagon for a while. Here are a few things I would tell my junior copywriter self if I was just starting out on what I hope continues to be a long, interesting advertising road ahead.

Here’s the most important thing to figure out.

Always do work you’re proud to put your name on.

Here’s what you need to ignore.

What everyone else is saying.

Here’s what you need to pay attention to.

What everyone else is doing.

Here’s what you need to work on most.

Learn to start a project without overthinking it. A thought-starter doesn’t have to be perfect. Come back to it again and again and again. Whatever you write will eventually become exactly what it needs to be.

Here’s what you need to embrace.

The pressure never goes away.

Here’s what will get easier.

Your confidence in your craft.

Here’s what won’t get better (so get used to it).

Your first pass at something will never be approved as is.

Here’s what’s pretty cool.

Every project is a chance to impress yourself with what you’re capable of creating.

Here’s what fear will go away.

Do I have what it takes to make it in this industry?

Here’s what fear won’t go away.

Do I have what it takes to continue to make it in this industry?

Here’s what should motivate you.

Everything everyone is doing inside, but more importantly, outside of advertising.

Here’s what will get you into trouble and hold you back at times.

Stupid integrity.

Here’s what will allow you to sleep at night.

Integrity that’s not so stupid after all.

Here’s the most important thing you’ll realize 15 years from now.

Be open to every opportunity you have to learn something.
Open your eyes.
Open your heart.
Open your mouth.
And the rest will follow.

Wishing everyone a great 2014!

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #20: Greg Cotten, Freelance Copywriter

Dear Butthead,

Congrats on breaking into the business. Now I know you’re itching to make like a tree and get to work. And win a bunch of awards. And show your CD you’re worth the relocation package. But I gotta break it to you – you still have much to learn. To help you out, I’ve put together some advice from the future. Stay true to these principles and you’ll never lose. Well, almost never. Which is still pretty good.

1. Don’t be a dick. Even to other dicks. You end up in a circle jerk with everyone in this business sooner or later.

2. You’re in sales. You may not wear suits or even carry business cards, but you’re selling your ideas, your clients’ products and yourself. Learn to do it well.

3. Write and concept in the morning. It’s when you’re sharpest.

4. Learn to kill your babies. The time you spend fighting for a dead idea is time you could be coming up with the winning one.

5. National agencies respect regional work when it’s done well. Just look at what Sukle has done with Denver Water.

6. Take pride in every project. The smallest ones can have the biggest impact.

7. Stay away from unicorn jokes. They’re going to hit their peak in about 2011 and won’t age well in your book.

8. If you comment on the Egotist, own it. If it’s too negative to own, there’s probably a better way to say it.

9. But always give it one last lookover before hitting Post. Same goes for Emails, Uploads and Tweets.

10. Marry Sarah Stock. Who am I kidding? You’ll know that immediately.

11. Pander to the woman in your life.

12. Only put your best work in your book. Even if your book feels light at first.

13. Embrace social media. Learn it all. Well, except for MySpace. In fact, delete your MySpace account altogether.

Now, Butthead, I know you’re too high to grasp all of this right now. So if you need a refresher, here’s my advice - make friends with Jim Glynn. He knows this stuff better than anyone and can state it a lot more eloquently than me. Or you. Or whatever.

Good luck, kid. Make us proud.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #21: Matt Ingwalson + Gang, Creative Director Karsh Hagan

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #22: Josh Wills, Creative Director Factory Design Labs

Hey brother,

It’s you from the future . . . or . . . me from the future? Whatever. Grammatically this letter is going to be a train wreck. Hand your ticket to the conductor, smoke some of that shitty dirt weed you got stashed and fasten your seat belt.

I’ve been asked to write a letter to you on the first day of our professional career. That’s right, you devil, you are indeed a ‘professional’. The days of loading freight trucks, unions and working in warehouses are behind us for now.

It’s been a while since we went separate ways. More things have changed than stayed the same. Your three-year-old son is now a freshman in high school and growing into a solid young man. The daughter growing inside of your wife’s belly will also be a teenager here in a year or two, she’s caring, ambitious, and already smarter than both you and Tran. We didn’t quit there, we’ve done seeded two more hellions . . . Breathe . . . all is good. We’ve still got a full head of hair.

Here is the thing. Most letters like this urge the younger version of ourselves to alter the past — to do, look, and react to things differently. The only thing I ask of you is to follow your heart and let the fire in your belly light the way. Chances are you’ll make a lot of the same choices and decisions, there is also a solid chance you’ll do a few things differently.

Truth be told, shit is about to go south. I have no idea how I would react or what I would do differently put in some of the same situations just ahead of you. In a few months from now, you’ll get laid off and be out of work for over a year. Your one and only family car will be repossessed, you’ll pick up hours working as a clerk at a gas station and you’ll receive your first student loan bill from Sallie Mae. This is beyond humbling, it’s humiliating and for the first time since you took this leap, you realize what a huge gamble we’ve asked Tran to take with us. Stay with me, dude . . . I promise for all the lows there are even more highs.

We are still paying off school loans but things have definitely turned around a bit. You eventually do land some gigs as a designer, then as an art director, and guess what, you broken little bastard… you eventually become a creative director. We’ve walked on 4 of the 7 continents, worked with Olympians, Surf Legends and even the great grand daughter of Jacque Cousteau. We’ve had the privilege of working side by side with some incredibly talented people whose passion easily equals, if not out paces, our own.

There is one person in particular that has done this more so than anyone else in our life. Your wife. She continues to surprise and inspire us. There isn’t another person that we’ve met who can chase dreams and shape the world around them as quite as beautifully and as passionately as she does.

Together you’ll open a small business or six. Through this you get a chance to apply everything you’ve learned in the professional world to your personal life and vice versa. Regardless of your current job or title, design and creativity for us is exactly what you hoped it would be, a way of life.

By no means are we complacent, we are far from perfect and there is still a lot left to learn and accomplish in front of us. Our past is riddled with mistakes and plenty of fuck ups. But honestly given the chance I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. I wear our scars with pride. Life’s Peaks & Valleys™ have shaped who we are. So my one piece of advice to you is this . . . run towards the darkness so that you can learn to savor the light. Enjoy the ride.


Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #23: Noah Clark, Executive Creative Director Victors & Spoils

Dear, Noah ~

First off, congrats on your first day as an advertising professional. Despite the fact you wore a tie to your interview and felt like a douchebag after being interviewed by the fourth consecutive person in flip flops and T-shirt, you got the gig! And nice work in dodging the account management bullet. I know had Court Crandall not called you, you’d be an assistant account coordinator on the Honda direct mail business at RPA right now. Trust me when I say you’ll have more to thank Court for than helping you land in a creative department over account services. Really, you should hug him today and every day after. You will owe him everything.

I know you’re anxious. I know you’re doubting your skillset. And I know you think you’re going to be copywriter. But all those things, I promise, will come to pass.

My biggest piece of advice? Embrace your youth. It’s not the blemish you think it is. Rather, it is your greatest strength. More than anything, you should know that you’re allowed to not know everything. You’re allowed to be 22 and not know a lick of Photoshop, Quark, what a proof is, what a lightbox is, what a photography loupe is. Knowledge will come. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, your preoccupation with your age will hurt your ability to learn until you stop pretending like you know more than you do.

Two more things.

First, don’t go drinking with your ESPN clients the night before a shoot. Ever.

And second, lose the blonde highlights and puka shell necklace. Pronto. Contrary to what you think, those will not get you laid. And they will likely delay your new coworker and future wife from entertaining the idea of becoming your future wife by at least three years.

Good luck today, kid. I’m rooting for you.


Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #24: Monte Mead, Partner Cultivator Advertising & Design

Dear 1987 Monte,

As you start out in advertising, remember you will work comfortably indoors in an ergonomic chair for the rest of your career. You will go to award shows and be patted on the back. You will get to travel to exotic locations with all your expenses paid. You'll get to go out to lunch almost every day.

Remember how you got here. Luck and talent will have less to do with it than lessons learned while working with your dad. He took great pride in his work as a bricklayer. He focused on getting it right, one brick, one stone, one block at a time. He worked outside every day, ate out of a lunchbox while sitting on a stack of concrete blocks. It was hard. He didn’t care. He cared about the work.

Keep those lessons in mind. Think back often on mixing concrete and keeping the brick stocked for him to lay. Remember carrying the heavy 5-gallon bucket of concrete up the scaffolding. Remember how cold and hard the work was. Remember it was important to get the basics right.

Never forget the time you were cleaning out the cement mixer at the end of the day. You were not doing a good job at it. You were tired and your hands were scraped up and sore. Your dad came by, took the trowel out of your hand, reached in the mixer and knocked out a generous amount of concrete that you had missed. He handed you back the trowel and said, “Monte. Clean out all of today’s. And some of yesterday’s."

Allow this simple truth about hard work to come back to you. Especially after he’s passed away. You'll wish you spent more time listening to him. And appreciating him. Live your life by following his simple yet profound example, and you’ll find that, after awhile, you won’t have any “yesterday’s mistakes" to clean up.


2013 Monte

P.S. Minnesota Twins in seven.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #25: Holly Menges, Creative Director Grit

Dear Younger Holly,

I know it doesn't seem worth it. Getting up at 6 am packing your work clothes into your backpack and riding your bike from Allston into Boston every effing hot and humid morning all summer long for a job in the basement mailroom that you're not even getting paid for. On the bright side, everybody's smoking upstairs, so it's healthier down there. Though I am sorry there weren't any internships available in the creative department, I know that's what you wanted.

When you get to work and the sweat dries and you change in the bathroom into your professional clothes, which on some days include pink silk wide-legged hi-waisted knee-length shorts, don't bother to fix your helmet hair. It's the 90s, there's no saving it. Just give up. Later, when it’s time for your shift at the Greek-run, No Name restaurant out on the pier that is possibly an illegal establishment, you're going to put your hair up anyway. Nobody wants hair in their fried clams.

What you don't know yet is that delivering faxes from the one fax machine in the basement of that big advertising building to the appropriate recipients, and pulling the tear sheets from all the newspapers and magazines, is way better than working at the donut place like your roommate Melanie. She has to get up at 4 am. Granted, she's now Executive Vice President, Group Head and Director of Operations for the world's largest public relations firm, but still, ok that’s not the best example. My point is your patience will pay off. It’s just time in the game.

The guy upstairs on the top floor who, when he is in, sits at the drafting table outside of the creative director's office because there's no proper place for him to sit and nobody cares because he's just the copywriter intern, is going to get fired. Yes, unpaid interns can get fired for not showing up for work and for showing up for work still wasted from the night before.

That's right. He's sitting in your spot. The spot where you write your first print ad that gets printed in an actual newspaper that some other sad intern will pull the tear sheet for. It's for a charity hike to raises money for cancer research. It has an illustration of a hiking boot. And your headline reads, "Give cancer the boot." It's brilliant. This is also the spot where you write your first radio script that says, "As long as you're living under my roof you'll do as I say". And it's for a roofing company. Brilliant again. And when you hear it for the first time on the radio you scream so loud Melanie nearly runs her car into the ditch (don’t worry, you eventually get a car, too.) It’s all so much better than the hungover guy could ever do.

Side note— the senior writer will try to convince you that he'll give you better projects if you sleep with him, but don't do it. You're going to get the good projects anyway. Because you are good. I know you don’t believe it but please try. Try to believe in yourself. And if you want to go to that Tom Petty concert with him and smoke pot with his old-fart 28-year-old friends I’ll tell you that it won’t ruin your life so have at it.

Keep working hard, keep showing up sober, keep devouring the creative stuff you admire that also makes you jealous, keep surrounding yourself with great talent even if they're kind of creepy just keep saying no, keep doing all of those things and eventually you won't have to keep that No Name waitressing job.

Maybe think about not keeping those pink silk shorts, either.

Hang in there, Younger Holly, and know that I believe in you.

Much love,
Older Holly

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #26: Blake Ebel, Founder/Chief Creative Officer Fear Not

Dear young me,

24 years ago, you were given this advice by a great creative director named Steve Turner.

It was more of a creative philosophy of sorts, but I think it still it applies today. So re-read it and get back to work.

1. everything you need.

A pencil. A piece of paper. A kitchen table. That’s it.

2. there is a difference.

The real difference between one creative shop
and another is not the size,
nor the accounts, and certainly not the location.
It is the quality of the people inside.
For me, the people and the values
they subscribe to are the heart and soul of the agency.
Their commitment to each other
and to the work makes the difference.

3. why are we here?

Great advertising sells product.
More importantly it sells ideas.
It moves people to do something
or to feel some way they haven’t before.
We have the rare ability
to change people’s opinion.
The way they act.
The way they feel and sometimes even the way they speak.

4. courage.

Someone once said, “any idiot can kill a good idea.
But it takes a real genius to recognize a good idea.”
This business of advertising is such a fragile one.
Big ideas are often intangible.
We must have the compassion and the
capacity to hear ideas and more importantly,
the courage to run with a great one.
We can’t afford to do safe, quiet advertising.
We just won’t be heard in today’s market.
Be safe and the only thing you will hear
is the sound of your client’s market share


5. do the work.

Do good work.
All the negative day-to-day jibberish goes away.
Do good work.
Forget about the politics of making ads and simply make ads.
Do good work.
You’ll feel better at the end of the day. So will everybody else.
Do good work.
You will actually earn your day’s pay.
Do great work.
And you will never have to look back and say
you should have done it differently.

6. you’re only as good as your last ad.

This business has a short memory.
That’s a good thing.
It keeps us reaching,
and stretching and fighting for the next great idea.
The day you believe you have it all figured out
is the first day of the end of your career.

7. God is in the details.

Details separate good from great.

8. say no.

Say no to nay-sayers.

Make believers out of them.

9. don’t give your clients what they ask for, give them what they never dreamed possible.

Isn’t that why clients come to us in the first place?

10. be nice.

Creatives will respect you.
Account people will help you.
Clients will request you.
And people will be nice back.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #27: Andy Dutlinger, Senior Art Director Sukle

Dear Me,
I'm writing you today to say congrats, you made it to nearly 40. Actually, this letter is technically two-fold in it's function, but I thought I'd get the most important part over with first. The second part consists of me writing you from the future (yep, we all got hover boards) to give you advice on you first day at your new job in Advertising. I have an inside source that tells me you're not one for being told what to do, nor for letters with super long paragraphs, so I'll try to keep this digestable for your underwhelming brain abilities, and merely advice you can take or leave.

You are about to walk into a job for which you feel you are not trained or qualified. You went to design school, and have nothing resembling an advertisement in your portfolio. Who fucking cares? It's not about what you have in that stupid, overdone, overpriced, box of bullshit you made at school, but what bounces around in that ADD-addled organ you call a brain. For once, people will pay you for all that stupid stuff you've made up in your head for years. I know, it's hard to believe.

When first asked to do this, I immediately began to jot down the usual, and somewhat clichéd advice for this career path. Then I realized that the ideal use of this letter is to put things into perspective for you, because perspective is the best part of getting old. Well, that and not giving a damn what anyone thinks about you anymore. Right now, your biggest worry is which show to hit next or who's having the party this weekend. Well, in just a few years, you're about to get punched in the gut with the gift of cancer. You read that right buck-o, you're gonna get so fucking sick your hair falls out, your skin looks green and you look like a goddam sekeleton (more so than usual). But guess, what, it will be the most eye-opening, awakening thing you will ever experience. Suddenly you realize that life is just that – LIFE. And this, my friend, is just a job.

Now, I'm not telling you to not care about this job, because if you don't care you will never go anywhere, and you and I will probably have very different portfolios. I'm just telling you to throw yourself into it bereft of fear and doubt. Don't be afraid to fail or suck or say something stupid. As long as you're breathing, you're winning, pal. Have fun with this thing; enjoy it, take risks, put yourself out there, and please don't take yourself too seriously. I can tell you that in the end it all works out, and the journey is half the fun. You'll miss out on the ride if you're obsessing about the future or success or money or whether you're good enough. Life is too short.

Lastly (I know, too long and preachy, but bear with me), life is about people – put them first. You are lucky enough to have a lot of really great people in your life. Your wife puts up with you, which is a miracle, and your son is like 723 billion times cooler than any fruit you thought your loins could produce and you have friends that would qualify as true family. You are also lucky enough to work with tons of amazing and talented people that are nice enough to show you the way in this crazy business. Do me a favor and treat all these folks for what they are: the most important thing in your life. Show them respect and learn a lot sooner than I did that killing people with kindness works a lot better than the other options.

Oh, and your faical hair never gets any thicker, stop hoping.

PS – Don't drive home from that Galactic show. Trust me. Call a cab.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #28: Rob Schuham, CEO, Co-Founder of Undercurrent, Co-Founder of COMMON, Chief Buzz Advisor for Climate Reality Project

Dear Rob,

Welcome to the wonderful world of advertising! If you denote a soupçon of sarcasm, that is because this note is from your older, more experienced and, yes, wiser self. I know you already know everything, but please Rob, listen up: I’m writing to save you loads of precious time and many headaches by sharing a few account management basics I've picked up along the way.

I didn’t do everything perfectly the first time around, but through my accumulated knowledge and years of experience I’ve written an indelible set of “Golden Rules” that should make your career path—and your future employees’ lives—a less bumpy road.

Follow them, and your learning curve will be steep; your career should accelerate.

Rob’s 11 Golden Rules of Account Management

1) Manage your business as if it was your own. (Because it really is your business. Manage your account as if it’s your company. Because guess what….it truly is. All the way down to the bottom line.)

2) The work is paramount. (Great creative drives the following: Happy clients, an energized culture, and this wonderful feeling of being proud of where you work.)

3) The details are everything. (Check, re-check and then check one more time. And then there probably is still a typo. So check again. The reality is that you can be brilliant in 99% of the work and that one little mistake can cost you your credibility.)

4) A client call a day keeps the reviews away. (If you don’t have a reason, then find something relevant online, or in the trades and write a point-of-view…)

5) Know your client’s business better than they do.

6) NEVER ASSUME (You will surely find you assumed wrong.)

7) Have an opinion. (If you don’t, get one. No milk toast. And guess what, it’s OK to be wrong once in a while.)

8) Proactively manage your business. (Don’t wait for the client to ask you to do something. Remember, you drive the business. Make the recommendation before they even think about it.)

9) Manage up and down. (Make sure your manager is managed too. You will find this pays off in the end.)

10) Get help if you need it. (Manager’s proverb: Bring me a problem early and you will have a partner in solving the problem. Bring it to me late and you will have a judge. And when you bring an issue to someone’s attention, always bring two+ smart recommendations along with the problem.)

11) Know your audience. (Every time creative work, letters, documents or any communication goes out the door, it must be relevant and meaningful to whoever your intended audience is. Put yourself in the place of whoever is receiving and viewing it. Ask yourself if you would understand it if you were in that person’s shoes…be it your client or the consumer/end user. Simple stuff. All ya’ gotta do is use your head.)

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #29: Andrew Price, Partner/CCO Factory

“Please, stop talking.”
That's how the conversation begins with my younger self.

The day I started I was lucky, I knew it all. I was steadfast design ruled the world. If it looked amazing, it was amazing. I believed the day began with a hangover and ended with blurry vision. I believed that we worked all day, dialed it in all night, and in the end a hero would be named. The one who stuck it out to the bitter end. The one who will save lives with this pixel masterpiece. The one whose presentation begins in 10 minutes and there is still one comp to bang out.

Since that day, how much have I learned? Too much to measure.
How much do I have still to learn? Way more.
How different am I from the day I started? I know each is day is an opportunity to learn.

The question is, how would you teach this experience? Even to yourself?
How do you know, what you do and don't know?
How do you learn to identify a good idea? A concept?
How do you create a campaign from a strategy document?

When do you understand pressure and timelines make your work great?
When do you grasp your profession is not defined by your first success?
When do you become truly grateful for what you currently have?

You don't. You can't. You aren't. You never will be.

You only know what you know.
It's the journey that teaches you.

So I would say to myself, “Please, just listen."
Because when you take the time to listen, to your peers, to your clients and to yourself.
That’s the day your career truly begins.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #30: Mike Sukle, Owner/Creative Director Sukle Advertising & Design

Dear Younger Me,

Congratulations on getting your first job in advertising.

Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. Part on top of the world, part scared to death.

I’m here to tell you it’s going to be great.

We’ll have more good days than bad.

We’re going to meet some of our best friends ever.

And it turns out that we have a pretty good knack for this sort of thing.

We even have our own agency now.

But you’ll have no idea how fast time is going to fly by. Don’t waste it.

Spend as much time as you can with your boys. (Yeah, you actually did get a date.)

And don’t ever forget, how lucky you are.

We get to sit around all day, tell bad jokes and make cool stuff. And, get paid for it.

But that’s just a small part of all the amazing things that are going to happen.

America is going to elect a black man President.

People will be able to buy pot in stores.

And the Broncos are actually going to win a Super Bowl. Or two.

No kidding.

Like I said, it’s all good.

There's only one thing that could make it better.

So I’m going to give you three magic words.

Google, Yahoo. Twitter.

They may sound like gibberish, but they’re your ticket out, the only things that will save you from having to write a Dear Me Letter for the Denver Egotist.

I know, who?

Don't blow it.

Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #31: Jennifer Hohn, Creative Director Vladimir Jones

Dear 1998 me,

First of all, what the hell is going on with that outfit? Seriously. Do they even make things out of rayon anymore? Between that and the hairspray, pretty sure you’re a walking fire hazard.

Oh hey, if I remember correctly, you’ll get to see Pearl Jam at Fiddler’s Green next month. So that’s cool.

You have no idea who you are yet. And that’s okay. Take the time you need to figure it out. But be aware now, if you really want to be in advertising, you have to love it. So much so, that you can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s very hard to break into this industry, and staying relevant is even harder. However, getting paid to follow your passion is an honor never to be taken for granted.

As you nervously sit in that agency lobby, completely intimidated by everyone walking by, know you deserve to be there. It’s just the beginning. And beginnings are scary.

People are not judging you – because, like you, they are probably also self-conscious. Smile, laugh and relax. You’ll be fine.

Over the course of your career you’ll have many successes and many failures. You’ll learn from them all. I guarantee everyone that does great things had to overcome adversity in some form or another. The defining difference is what you do after a door is closed or a tough card is dealt. Do you pick yourself up and push harder? Or, do you cower behind defeat? Either way, don’t settle for the status quo. Do something.

Don’t try to plan everything, and stay flexible. In 2009 you’ll show up late to your first Ad Club meeting and miss out on volunteering for The Fifty – which was first on the meeting agenda. Instead, you’ll get the opportunity to launch a new intense portfolio program. This, and the talented people you meet through the club will change your career path. And don’t worry; you’ll get to do The Fifty later.

After all those years of getting lost in your own head, you’ll realize your brain’s not wired like most people who can clock in and clock out of a job. You have to create and help others create. There’s not much you can do to change that, but work to balance life better. (If you find your mind wandering when you need to be present, wiggle your toes. Trust me, it works. And it’s only weird if people see you do it.)

These will inspire you in your work and will help you see other perspectives. Never underestimate the power of empathy and divergent thinking. Creativity is simply the ability to combine things in interesting ways. And, without a good idea, the rest is irrelevant. Remember that.

Take great advantage of every small opportunity you get. The more you exceed expectations through seemingly insignificant things, the more credibility will start to stick. And you’ll get bigger opportunities.

You’ll learn on both sides of that equation. These relationships are your quickest route through the creative ranks. Helping others grow will help you grow.

If you’re not getting the experience you need at your day job, find ways to make those opportunities happen through side projects and volunteering. There’s no short cut for experience. Put in your time and never think you’re entitled to anything. You’ll go much further with hustle and humility than with excuses and ego.

In your career, there will be one thing you’ll deeply wish you could have changed. At an award show, you’ll run into one of your favorite young creatives that you mentored years ago. With his quirky smile, he’ll tell you things are going great. His distant eyes will tell another story. This will be the last time you see him. And that final memory will haunt you. The most important thing I can tell you is to always be there for your network.

Well, I’ll let you get back to your meandering path through this treacherous, yet exhilarating advertising adventure you’ve chosen. Good luck out there and I’ll see you down the road.

2013 me

P.S. I really hope this future-self advice doesn’t mess things up in a Back-to-the-Future sort of way. Well, I suppose time will tell, right? (By the way, did you get that winning lottery number list I sent you last month? Judging from my bank account, I’m guessing no.)

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