Posts Tagged ‘Advertising Age’

[Note: This essay ran in a slightly different form in Advertising Age on March 15, 2009. It appears here now for the first time.]

If we’ve learned nothing from this recession, we have learned this: Job security is an illusion (although, to paraphrase Woody Allen – as illusions go, it’s one of the best).

The good people are trundled out the door with the bad. Experienced with the inexperienced. The smart with the stupid, tall with the short, raw with the cooked, left-brained with the right-brained with the non-brained.

Which begs the question a lot of folks in this industry are already asking themselves – if there’s no job security, does it really matter whether you’re employed by an agency or by yourself?

Yes, it does. Because not everyone is cut out for self-employment. Unfortunately, they often don’t learn it until it’s too late. So here are three reasons why you should stay – or, barring that, why you should try to get hired at another agency if you get fired.

Reasons to Stay

  1. You don’t want to be responsible for EVERYTHING. – when you’re on your own, you don’t just do the work, you also find the work, manage the work, bill the work, and pay for the work. You spend an insane amount of time doing a lot of stuff that people you currently know only via email and forms in triplicate do. It’s one of the paradoxes of life, but really, it shouldn’t surprise you; a big company hires you for a specific skill set, which you do over and over again. When you’re on your own, you can’t afford to hire all those specialists – so you become them. If you don’t want to, don’t go.
  2. The world – Most agencies are part of a global organization that is truly remarkable, and if they ever put it to work in a meaningful way (you know, more than just something to mention on the website) we’d see some really incredible breakthroughs. And I have to believe that very soon, someone will figure it out, and you may not want to be on the outside looking in. By the same token, there’s very little chance that you’re going to walk out of your current set-up with an international network like the one your agency has right now. Unless, of course, your name ends in “orrell”.
  3. You may need someone to hate – look, sometimes the only thing that can get you out of bed in the morning is the fact that some idiot scheduled a meeting for 730 that you absolutely have to be in. But when you’re on your own, there’s no one to hate but yourself, and if you’re cool with yourself, well, it’s very easy to find yourself laying on the couch watching Dr. Phil all day. And while far be it for me to tell you not to hate Dr. Phil, it is way less lucrative than hating your co-workers (see Dr. Phil’s special episode: “Hating you, hating me – a guide to employment success”)

Okay, but hold on a sec. Because just as there are people who aren’t cut out for self-employment, there are some folks who aren’t really cut out for agency work. Who spend years banging their heads against the wall (because of “job security”) to find out that they’d be much happier on their own. So here are three reasons to go – whether you jump or are pushed is your call.

Reasons to Go

  1. Do the work you want to do – think your agency is going in the wrong direction? Think that the new client is killing the soul of the company – and everyone else? Fine. Hitting the bricks gives you the opportunity to design a roster and workload that’s exactly what you believe in. Only “great” work? Only “work that’s finished by 5pm”? Only work “that celebrates the mystery of kittens”? It’s up to you. It’s not easy, of course, but then neither is doing work you hate, over and over again.
  2. You may be more cost-effective – Business, of course, is always about making money. In this economy, however, it may actually be about how to lose less. Going out on your own instantly makes you more cost-effective, to your future clients sure, but also to your old employer – who is suddenly no longer saddled with paying your social security, withholding and healthcare (note to self – you now have to pay your own social security, withholding and healthcare). Admittedly, this is short term reason, but careers – and agencies – have been started on less.
  3. There’s no where else to go – just because the economy sucks doesn’t mean that brick wall (or, if you prefer, glass ceiling) that you’re banging your head against is any less real. Sometimes your career demands that you step out for a while. Especially if you have an insight into the business that your current employer can’t take advantage of. Remember – all the stuff that Jobs and Wozniak brought out under the Apple name was stuff that HP had and didn’t know what to do with. If you’re in the same boat, you’d be a fool to stick around – no matter what the economy says.

Either way, it’s up to you. And it always is. The trouble is, we forget that because we’re usually up to our, ahem, necks, in work. And we don’t learn it again until the next time the economy heads downtown.


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[Note: This essay ran in a slightly different form in Advertising Age on December 02, 2008. It has appeared in countless blogs since then. It appears here now for the first time]

They teach you how to design. They teach you how to write. They teach you how to take a client to lunch and they even teach you how to get a job. But no one ever teaches you how to be fired.

So in these perilous times, if you are one of the folks recently employment-free, let me be among the first to welcome you to your new life. Or at least, to your new life for a while.

And while I’m not going to lie to you that there’s anything I can say which will make if enjoyable, I can offer some advice on how to survive it with a minimal amount of therapy.

So here are six simple tips on how to be fired. Take them for what they’re worth. And tell me if they make sense to you. (Hey, it ain’t like you got anything else to do…)

Step one – Get fired.

You’d be surprised how many people walk around for a couple of weeks acting like they’ve been fired before they are actually let go. Freaking out that they’re gonna be laid off, moping around the office, and then it doesn’t happen, and they’ve wasted all that time when they could’ve been, I dunno, working maybe. Or looking for a new job. Or drinking. Or anything. So don’t sweat being fired until it happens. It won’t do you any good.

Step two – Freak out

Okay, you’ve been fired. Congratulations. The axe has fallen and it’s got your neck all over it. Well, at least that’s over. And while eventually it may all work out for the best, right now, it sucks. So freak out. Grieve. Scream. Yell. Throw things. Cry. Drink. Whatever. But get it out of your system. You absolutely, positively have to deal with it now, otherwise you’ll carry it around with you for the next thirty years. Which is okay if you don’t mind it rearing its ugly head when you least want it to. And it will.

Step three – Make a story

“He who controls the story controls their destiny.” I think C.J. Cregg said that. But it’s true, and you have to assume that once you get an interview, the first thing they’re going to ask you (or maybe the second, after, “Would you please stop shaking my hand”) is “Why did you leave your last job?” How you answer this will reveal worlds about who you are. Do you say “I got fired and I have no idea why?” That seems frighteningly uncurious and rather disingenuous – neither of which are qualities anyone wants to hire. Do you say “I got fired and I hate those bastards and I will spend all my free time hunting them down like the dogs they are”. Hey, at least it shows passion. Either of these are better, however, than just standing there stammering. Some come up with something. And then stick to it.

Step four – Be the Brand

We are in the business of selling brands. Or at the very least, bringing them to life. We – of all people – should know how hard it is to be convincing about something that is ill-defined. So why would you go into the job market without a clear brand for yourself? I don’t know. And yet, everyone does it.

So after you’ve figured out what you’re going to say about why you’re suddenly so damn available, figure out why they should hire you. What’s unique about you. Or said another way – figure out they should hire you and not the ten thousand other yahoos who’ve recently been sacked because the economy is in the toilet.

Wanna be really smart? Take it a step further. Customize your brand to the people you’re talking to. You know, like you always told your clients they should do. For exactly the same reasons.

Step Five – Eliminate what you hate

There will be a part of being fired that you really hate. (I don’t mean the being broke part. Everyone hates that – everyone with any brains at least.) So figure out what it is and figure out a way to get over it. Maybe you hate not having people to hang out with. Then go to Starbucks. I’m serious. Or maybe you hate not having a routine. Make one – get up, walk the dogs, read your mail, write something, whatever. Or maybe it’s explaining to your nosy neighbors why suddenly you’re wondering around the neighborhood in your pajamas at eleven a.m. I don’t know. But figger it out and get around it. Otherwise you’re gonna add another level of stress to the stress of being out of work. And who needs that?

Step Six – Embrace Repetition

Face this fact: You’re gonna be saying the same things over and over again. You’re gonna have your elevator pitch. Or you’re gonna have the thing you tell your neighbor. Or the spiel you make in an interview. Work it, polish it, refine it – but for God’s sake whatever you do, don’t get bored with it.

Usually when we’re presenting to a client, we only have to do it once or twice – maybe three times. We’re just not used to bringing the same enthusiasm the tenth or fifteenth time that we brought the first two times. And that’s exactly what you’re gonna be faced with when you’re interviewing.

Our natural instinct, of course, is to adjust what we’re presenting. Not necessarily make it better, just make it fresher so we can keep the passion in it, because otherwise we’ll feel bored by it. But look – even though this may be the tenth time you’ve said this exact same stuff, it’s probably the first time this particular person has heard it. It’s new to them. Make it sound like it’s new to you too.

Because the sooner you learn how, the less you may have to.

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