A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with a prospective client. As soon as we all sat down around their boardroom table the senior client in the room asked me to tell them about myself. As I took them through my various jobs and experiences I realized something:
I always talk about how lucky I am to have worked for the global ad agencies I worked for, on the blue chip accounts I worked on, all the smart and talented people I was exposed to — the ‘bigness’ of everything.
But what I tend to overlook are the small agencies where I also worked. Where I cut my teeth. Where I had no real defined job. Where each and every member of the staff, all four or five or eight or ten of us, had a myriad of jobs we had to do.
We didn’t have the luxury of broadcast producers or multiple layers of account service people, or media experts or assistants doing our typing and fetching our laundry and lunch. Nor did we have anyone there to teach us. We had to figure it out for ourselves, and quickly, too. Sort of like being tossed into the ocean and either drowning or learning how to swim.
We did a little bit of everything. I remember one tiny agency in Montreal that specialized in the fur industry. One day I was writing a press release and the next I was styling a photo shoot. One day I was writing a brochure or producing a fashion show and the next I was traveling throughout the U.S. selling fur retailers on a shared-cost advertising program my boss dreamed up in a desperate attempt to get some business in the door and avoid bankruptcy. And the day after that I was making lunch for a client after which I found myself typing a presentation.
When I worked in the fashion industry, for a manufacturer and importer of high-priced women’s clothing, I was virtually a one-man band: In effect I was the client, strategist, media buyer, creative director, writer, art director, art buyer, production manager, publicist, stylist, video producer, promotions expert, traffic manager, negotiator and chief cook and bottle washer.
And I loved every crazed and wonderful minute of it. I learned an absolute ton and had a blast. It suited my curious, want-to-know-something-about-everything personality to a “T”. It gave me a chance to get an up-close-and-personal view of the entire industry, not just one portion of it. I was involved up to my eyeballs. I had to figure things out for myself. I had to stand on my own two feet, get comfortable making decisions in isolation and live with the consequences of those decisions.
It was thrilling, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. And with no disrespect to the great and successful ad agencies out there, many of whom I gratefully worked for, I got a better education in those ‘little’ jobs than I could ever have received at either the finest Universities in the world or the best ad agencies where, by virtue of how they’re set up, you’re forced to specialize in something. You can’t get a Masters of Jack of All Trades Degree and you won’t find many such jobs at major agencies, either.
But it sure made for a very interesting start to a very fulfilling career for me. And, over the years, I even got to master some.