Compromise Kills

There’s evil in our midst. An evil I, and most of my peers in this business, know all too well.

Compromise is the way of the world, and totally unavoidable in many circumstances. Begrudingly, I’ve learned to accept this fact of life. But I also know what a destructive force it can become. If you let it, compromise will eat you alive, cell-by-cell until there’s no you left, just a vacant shell that looks like you.

In the political arena, Bill Clinton gave compromise a decent name. He had to get things done, one way or another. So he moved his party to a centrist position in an already stifling corporate atmosphere. The nation may, or may not, recover from his practical approach.

On the environmental front, compromise leads to all sorts of compound problems. For instance, otherwise sane people are currently arguing for more nuclear power and the use of clean coal (an oxymoron, if there ever was one). I don’t believe we can stand much more compromise when it comes to the health of our planet.

In the ad industry, where client-service–not content, nor concept–is king, we eat compromise for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And snack on it too. We are so full of compromise that it’s no longer separate from us, it is us.

So what’s the solution? The best answer is don’t do it. Don’t compromise. Stick to your guns at all costs, even if it means pissing people off and being labeled “hard to work with.” I’ve been stuck with that label from the beginning of my ad career and I don’t imagine it’s going to vanish anytime soon. Not because I like the label. I don’t. But I live with it because it’s better than the self-inflicted punishment that comes with compromise.

Fact is, I need to take my own advice, for I compromise way more often than I’m comfortable with. Which is what leads me to air this out in a post. I don’t want to lose my creative soul to this business. I don’t want to diminish my vision or sacrifice the work, just because that’s the path of least resistance. I feel weak when that happens. And I don’t want to feel that way.

I’d love to hear from you on this. What have you compromised in order to make a paycheck? And what do you do to rid the toxic residue from your psyche?

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.