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Some avuncular advice on entering the ad biz
Including "the one thing you’ll need to succeed"

By John Emmerling
Advertising Age
September 14, 1998

What do you tell a favorite nephew seeking advice about a career in advertising? Actually, I don’t happen to have one of those nephews, so I’ll invent him.

Meet Bill, a 21-year-old English major who just graduated and is eager to blaze new trails.

Bill: Uncle John, your whole career has been in advertising—and I've been wondering if it might be a good place for me?

U.J.: Pull up a chair, Willie. Let's have a little chat.

Bill: Okay, but could you please not call me "Willie." Frankly, that's always bugged me.

U.J.: Bingo! Score one for being direct. That goes a long way in the advertising business. Successful advertising people are direct, clear communicators. Not wishy-washy, second-guessers. Now, Bill, do you like to solve problems?

Bill: You bet! Problem solving is very exciting.

U.J.: Well, advertising people get paid to solve thorny problems in short time spans.

I told him every new assignment is part of a marketing chess game; playing against shark-toothed competitors who are planning to eat your pawns for breakfast and checkmate your king for lunch.

I described the initial client briefing. How he might then take a trip to watch the product come to life on a factory floor.

Next, into the field to witness a real live consumer—maybe a female, 25 to 34, with $50,000+ household income—as she encounters his client’s product on Aisle 17.
I told Bill how the agency’s marketing, media and creative engines quickly rumble into action. I explained that, once the marketing strategy had been developed and accepted, the momentum would build... creative presentations... client approvals... the production process... and suddenly the new campaign would begin to spill from the media in an orchestrated geyser of TV spots; magazine and newspaper ads; radio spots; and outdoor billboards.

U.J.: Bill, the amazing thing is that the whole process—from factory tour to 30-second spots on the 11 o’clock news—can happen in as little time as two or three months. Six months would be a foot-dragging pace.

Bill: Sounds great. But how many years of back-office grunt work do I put in before I actually get to do things like that?

U.J.: In advertising, young people aren’t held back by bureaucratic structure. If you’re good you can quickly take on a high level of responsibility. It’s merit—not time on the job—that counts.

Bill: Well, I like to take on responsibility. I love to think creatively—and I thrive on fast feedback and quick results. Any other advertising opportunities I should know about?

U.J.: I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the "I" word. The Internet might be the most potent new medium to hit advertising since network TV boomed onto the scene 50 years ago. And with the Internet, old fogies like me are lost in the fog—in the online world, youth rules.

Bill: Tell me this, Unc… in advertising, would I be working on my own? Or is it more of a team sport?

U.J.: Teamwork is critical. In an agency, everyone pulls together toward the same lofty goal—M.Y.C.A.S.

Bill: M.Y.C.A.S.? What the hell is that?

Since he’d caught me in a P.A.C. (Pompous Acronym Coinage), I backed up.

U.J.: What I mean, Bill, is that you and the team must Make Your Client A Success—and from that all good things shall flow.

Bill: Well, I definitely work well with people, but I also feel strongly about my own ideas. I don't want a committee to mush them up.

U.J.: I always knew you were a humdinger, Willie ... uh ... Bill. Stick to your guns and you'll end up leading your team.

Encouraged to continue my advice-giving (Bill had actually started to take notes), I described the ad business as an industry that would employ the right and the left sides of his brain. "Get ready," I told him, "to use both your highly creative ‘Steven Spielberg’ lobe—along with your keenly strategic ‘Rupert Murdoch’ lobe." (I could see him thinking hard, doing an internal inventory. Yup, he had both those lobes.)

Bill: One last question, Unc. If you could name one thing I'll need in order to succeed in the ad business, what would it be?

I hesitated, rubbed my chin, and pretended to puzzle over the question. But it was a piece of cake.

UJ: Bill, what you need is enthusiasm.

I told him about this century’s reigning genius, Albert Einstein, who had stated: "Enthusiasm is more important than intelligence." Then, for good measure, I tossed in Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

Bill jumped up from his chair. "Wow, you've really inspired me. I'm going to polish up my resume, call 20 ad agencies for interviews, and go knock their socks off! Thanks, Unc, I'm pumped!"

"Go get 'em, Willie!" I cheered, unconsciously reverting to the disliked moniker. Young Bill didn't even notice. He was already on the phone, calling Y & R.


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