Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Day I Left the Ad Industry

Industry diehards would say I am weak or lack passion. But the day I left the ad industry might have been the best day of my life. Strong statement, huh?

The advertising business is so much fun. I don't know of any other business except maybe film or music where your clients pay you to have a good time. The creative process is exhilarating to be a part of and fascinating to watch. The production of television and radio and print is rewarding. There is nothing like flipping on the television and seeing a commercial that you helped create or hearing a radio spot done by one of "your" people or seeing a billboard bearing the design and hard work of your coworkers. Every bit of the making of advertising is fun. Even in the midst of the chaos and stress, it is fun.

I loved my work. For 16 years, I served as a project manager on interactive, creative, experiential and social media projects for brands that ranged from dog food to fast food and health care to tourism. I thrived on tight deadlines and a heavy workload. I enjoyed problem solving. I made things happen. Every. Single. Day. And I loved every minute of it.

But there were many reasons it was time for me to hang it up and move on to a new career. First of all, when you are in your twenties and right out of college, it is exciting to spend nights and weekends cranking out work. Eventually that gets old though and, in the ad biz, there's no rest for the weary.

Second, there are a lot of jerks in the biz too. It's ok to be loud, outspoken and demanding if you are a man or if you are the boss but project managers who demand compliance with process and expect respect are short lived. Especially if she's a woman... It is the one industry I have been a part of where the role of the female vastly differs from the role of the male. Women are definitely kept in a box. I can't be penned in. I need room to grow and change and create new ways to do old things. Process is not about hard fast rules. It is about adjusting and stretching and altering the way you do things to suit the project. Besides I'm a big girl. And I'm claustrophobic.

Third,  if you allow it, the life will be sucked out of you. Literally. You will set aside your own life for the sake of pleasing others (the boss, the clients, your coworkers). If you are unable to create your own work-life balance, you will not have any because nobody else is going to help you.

Finally, the bottom line is the bottom line. There is an instability in the advertising industry that is blamed on clients. The client cut the budget. The client decided to give that piece of business to another agency. The client wants to do it for no money. The client, the client, the client... I would suggest that the instability in advertising is more likely due to the greed of owners and management and their inability to manage the funds that are coming in the door. Agencies are cost centers of extravagance. Yes, there are a lot of little things that the agency does day in and day out that warrant big retainers but there are a lot of people making one hell of a lot of money while the people who actually do the work don't benefit from those retainers. It's a pretty unbalanced situation.

So I woke up one day and I thought, "If I am pushed one more inch or asked to take on one more responsibility, I'm done." And it happened. If I could have a do-over, I wouldn't just walk out. I would have offered my resignation and got everything in order for everyone else before I left. But you can't live life with regrets. And while quitting a job in a poor economy seems irresponsible, I think that business owners and managers should stop banking on their belief that people should just be thankful to have a job. Yes, they should be but they still deserve to be treated well.

The day I left the ad industry was the beginning of new opportunity. It was crazy and a little scary. But I'm glad I did it. It may just prove to be the best day of my life.

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