The Agency Business Is A Circus…The Circus Employs Lion Tamers

People who makes ads for a living are sometimes a bit too hot headed for their own good. Just like engineers, architects, dramatists, Steve Jobs and all the rest who put everything they have into an idea and then work hard to steer it through seemingly endless checkpoints and committees.
According to some of the performance reviews (and dismissals) I’ve received in my ad career, I can be difficult, aggressive, insubordinate, contentious and a bunch of other not so nice things. I made the decision to work on it, to not be so damn attached to the work.
Now I find Ernie Schenck’s latest essay in CA and I have to pause and wonder if I was wrong to mellow with age, after all I’m not a $60 bottle of wine, I’m a writer.

I miss the lunatics. I miss the whack jobs and the incendiaries, all full of passion and madness, wild-eyed, hearts on fire, willing to fall on their swords for an idea. I miss the art director I once knew who threw a cigar at a client.
I miss the yellers and the screamers. The immature, belligerent little bastards who refused to let mediocrity suck them down into the cage of mediocrity.
I don’t know George Lois but I think about him. What a wild man he must have been in the early years. What a nut case. What a Claymore mine just begging you to trip his wire. Go ahead. Just pull my chain. I dare you. What a genius.

It’s important to note the huge difference between fighting for the work and fighting for control. I’ve had to fight plenty of people inside the agency for control and that process has been a real bitch. The thing is, you can’t fight for the work in a culture that doesn’t place a priority on the work, and expect good things to come from it.
Ernie misses the lunatics. I’d modify that sentiment to “I miss the characters.” Lunatics frighten me. Characters entertain me. I might also add that “I miss being a character.” But that’s easy enough to fix.



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 head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.