Home > Career > How to keep your head, in advertising

How to keep your head, in advertising

Advertising is a crazy business, with crazy hours – and crazy people. And yet call me crazy too, but I love every minute of it. But what keeps me sane is the realization that the way to harness crazy and turn it into positive energy is to keep your wits about you and to not lose your head – while others around you might be losing theirs.

Recently, when I was asked to give a talk to aspiring execs at the Met Club in Chicago, I reflected upon what it takes to maintain sanity within the world of ad crazy – and half-jokingly, I came up with what I called The Seven Headly Secrets to Achieving Sanity and Success in Advertising. Admittedly, my first intent was to yield a chuckle or two, but secondly, I was also trying to get across a few points and some helpful career advice.

In short, here’s what I said:

1. Be prepared for your 15 minutes

Andy Warhol told us to expect 15 minutes of fame – but he forgot to mention that moment could arrive when you least expect it. Point is, in the ad business always be ready for your 15 minutes – and seize the moment, otherwise it might just pass you by.

2. Become ambidextrous

Rafael Nadal’s path to success has been enabled by a secret weapon – an ambidextrous ability to play either a left–or-right handed forehand shot. Similarly, as a strategic thinker in the ad business, it’s advantageous to be able to leverage your left or right brain – as a way to heighten the powers of your problem solving skills. Become comfortable with quant and qual research, apply inspiration and rigor – appreciate art and science – and you too will have your own secret weapon.

3. Anticipate and harness change

Don’t let your salary become a piece of cheese in a mouse trap – whereby you become comfortable with the status quo, and live off your past glories. Accept the world is unpredictable – and that change is inevitable, otherwise, your piece of cheese will disappear and you’ll get snared. Prepare for the unexpected – let the power of innovation and positive change guide you, and chances are you’ll get a bigger piece of cheese.

4. Build your own authentic brand

Arguably, Lady Gaga isn’t exactly a great singer, she’s not overly attractive – and yet, the world still adores here. Why? She’s knows who she is, and celebrates what she stands for, in developing her own authentic brand that people can identify with. Same principles apply to the ad business: develop your own distinctly unique and personal brand, be proud of who you are – don’t try to fake it, or aspire to become someone you’re not.

5. Develop IQ and EQ

You have a career in strategy because you’re smart. You have the intellectual capital to make the agency better – both through your thinking and the resultant work. Maybe you have a high IQ, are curiously smart, or you have a brilliantly intuitive mind? That’s all great. But if you don’t have emotional intelligence, then you’re only half way there. Develop your EQ – learn how to read situations, adapt, and connect with people – and chances are, applying your emotional intelligence will enhance the potential for success.

6. Never stop learning, work on your weakness

Just like a chain, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. To become stronger, find the weakest link in your skill set – recognize it, develop it and keep working it – until you can master it. If you don’t improve on your deficiencies, it will only become more of an issue as you move up the ranks, and one day – it might just catch-up with you in your hour of greatest need. To avoid that, never stop learning or improving.

7. Learn to walk the tight rope, mindfully

A career in advertising is like walking a tight rope – make a big mistake and you might fall. Run recklessly and become too self-absorbed by who’s beneath you – and you will increase the chances of falling off. Too much career and no life will also unbalance you. Be courageous, stay focused on what’s ahead – walk with purposeful ambition and you’ll stay balanced.

Of course, there’s no money back guarantee or full-proof advice in any of what I’ve outlined here – given how unpredictable the ad business can be. But hopefully, there’s more than a half-serious truth in here somewhere, that might just help you along the road to achieving outrageous success as a strategic planner in the agency world – even maybe beyond.. Ultimately, I guess that’s up for you to decide. But at a minimum, I’m hoping that at least a few of these points might help you keep your head on straight – as the inevitable pressures of the ad business start to consume you.

But then again, maybe that’s all just plain crazy?

Stay sane my friends.

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  1. November 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I really like what you said about being ambidextrous. The numbers can tell you which segments are responding, if costs are too high, or if the test is beating the control. But knowing good copy, good art, the production process, etc. can take one’s strategic planning to a whole new level, because the quality issues can be addressed upfront; instead of when it’s too late.

    • November 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm

      Thanks for your comments Noah. Some people define being ambidextrous as a “T-shaped person” – that is, a person with broad understanding and breadth of knowledge as a strategist – but with deep levels of subject matter expertise in one particular area (planning, data analytics, research, or digital etc.) Thinking in this way, helps us all to make smarter and better informed opinions – and ultimately, to become more successful at what we do.

      • November 23, 2011 at 5:35 am

        I understand your point. When you said “art and science” I was thinking macroscopically of advertising as a whole (probably goes without saying). Thanks for your clarification. I appreciate the response.

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