Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken

John the copywriter’s recipe for surviving agency life

I definitely learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut when I thought an injustice had been done to me. It makes me cringe and my skin crawl with embarrassment when I recall some things I said in anger and haste.

These memories sometimes come back suddenly to haunt me when I’m walking down the street. The thought hits me out of the blue from the past, like an invisible yet embarrassing wave. I cringe and my upper body visibly shrinks like a retracting tortoise.

Luckily my great friend and writer Terry Howard gave me three tips that have kept me from getting into even deeper water on many occasions.

1. Write the memo, but don’t sent it.

Without doubt the single most useful tip in my career to date. I cannot begin to tell you how many emails  I’ve misread and replied to with great haste and anger. Luckily I always remember this advice and put them temporality in the drafts folder. Then I reread them the next day and wonder what would have happened if I sent them: a lost friend or even worse a lost client? If you do nothing else but take this onboard you will save face more times than I care to mention. And possibly your job.

2. Don’t dip your quill in company ink.

Advertising attracts the talented and the beautiful. It’s not surprising that relationships start in the office, but beware of the consequences.  If a CD for example sleeps with a female account director and she messes up, she will inevitably not only be protected, but some innocent party may get the blame. It’s happened to me and countless other colleagues. You have no idea what five-headed monster you are unleashing when you dip your quill in company ink. So be very, very careful.  And watch your back.

3. Be nice to everybody.

Advertising is a very, very small world. You’re also walking on very thin ice. It’s also full of hubris and ego and difficult personalities. Thankfully, it has its far share of nice people. And these people get promoted, fired and hired on a regular basis. That’s just the way it is in advertising. So be nice to that kid in the postal room or that junior copywriter. Because one day they might be your boss. Or in a position to offer you work.


Extra thought:


4. Make yourself useful.

A surprising amount of advertising people wait to be told what to do rather than proactively engage in making themselves useful. If you want to stand out and noticed try to be more proactive and engage in the game.

That’s right. Stop staring at this screen and go and ask someone if you can help. You’ll be surprised at the results.