The Surfer’s Journey, Volume 2

Advertising simply cannot wait to tell you about itself. This I’ve quickly come to realize. It’s a business of prolific boosters and publishers that collectively generate so much unsolicited, inward looking content, you start to infer their paid client work is a little slow. Or that the whole industry is on speed. People with ad careers seem to blog, tweet, speak and podcast at four or five times the rate of humans in general, mostly on issues tied to media and marketing.

For someone like me, keen to self-educate, everything from the basics of advertising to its most arcane nuance is readily available online. There’s Ad Age for news and editorials; PSFK is tops for planning, which is my main interest; agencies run staff blogs to trot out in-house ideas and expertise — the dual currencies of Adland; and loads of professionals regularly post to personal sites with a mix of advice, anecdotes and relevant fodder. In five minutes you can build an RSS feed charged with more potential knowledge than you could ever hope to absorb (unless you land some of that good ad industry speed). And the posts keep piling up every day.

The caveat: this resource wealth threatens to bury you, Khrushchev style. It can fast become too much of a good thing if you’re not careful. My efforts to learn and to keep abreast of key trends and happenings are routinely hijacked by the sheer volume of information on tap. It’s not uncommon I find myself 40 tabs deep at midnight reading the comments thread of a post about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Branded Content. The articles start blending together. The buzzwords buzz louder and louder until they drown out any discernible meaning in the text. This Slideshare has…98 slides?! What the hell, man? And God forbid you stumble across some bloated blogroll with four-score new ad sites you didn’t know about, but that you now can’t resist exploring for fear of missing something crucial.

Clearly, my relationship with the democratization of content is…conflicted.

But as an advertising hopeful, the two real problems with hopping on that information hamster wheel are:

  • You’re not really doing anything. There’s brief and fleeting triumph in emptying Google Reader, but it doesn’t amount to any new skill or experience — and you’ve nothing to show for it. In its own subversive way, reading online can become high-level procrastination dolled up as “research.” Instead, consider creating something or meeting someone new.
  • You’re not sharpening your edge. It’s true what they say about all work and no play — especially for ad people, who win by leveraging their quirks and hobbies and niche-cultural awareness. Diversity is an asset; uniformity of thoughts and influences is poison. If all you do is bend and drink from the same info trough as the rest of the industry, what’s your advantage? What unique value do you bring?

To combat excessive reading and navel gazing, one method I’ve started to employ is to simply make myself too busy with other, more fruitful tasks. More freelance work, more informational interviews, more coffee meetings with generous ad pros around Portland. Being conversant in industry matters is useful, I’ve learned, but the battle to stay ahead is ultimately a losing one.

Previously on AdPulp: The Surfer’s Journey, Volume 1

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