It’s been said that you spend the first part of your career trying to break into the advertising business and then most of it trying to get out. After all, for how many years can you endure eighty-hour weeks, extended trips away from home, weekends at the office, cancelled vacations and difficult clients.
In my case, 35 years.
However I managed to get out without getting out, becoming (some would say masquerading as) a professor of advertising at Boston University’s highly acclaimed College of Communication. What a gift. I get to teach strategy and creativity to bright, eager, ambitious students who will bring energy, technology and much needed change to our industry. And they can work 80 hours a week while I toil a mere 60 as a teacher.
How did I get here? Well I did pay my dues as a partner for 30-plus years at Mullen, an award-winning, Ad-Age A-List agency I helped lead and build as creative director, chief creative officer and ultimately chief innovation officer. It was a good ride. Not all my clients were annoying and I got to work on Google, Monster.com, Timberland, Smartfood, General Motors, Lending Tree, Nextel, Swiss Army and dozens of other brands I could actually believe in. At different times, One Show, Cannes, NY Art Directors, Andy’s, Communication Arts and others said the work was actually good.
I was lucky. At Mullen, I had great partners. Together we built an enduring agency. In addition to working with noteworthy brands, I got to launch Internet and high-tech startups; collaborate with world famous directors, photographers and editors; co-write spots with Ellen DeGeneres; present to Oprah; and jumpstart a social media practice.
In an earlier life I tried my hand at other aspects of communication, getting paid to be a newspaper reporter, speechwriter, and public relations counsel. They, too, were great gigs.
Best of all, I’ve had the chance to constantly embrace change and try new things. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we can’t accomplish anything alone. We need to be as good at collaboration as we are at our specific craft. I’ve also come to believe that taking chances and staying scared are a good way to grow. I don’t pretend to know all the answers. In fact, I’m more interested in asking new questions.
Finally, this all began because I saw Citizen Kane my sophomore year in high school and fell in love with film, then all things media. Of course, all I ever really wanted to do was direct. But there’s plenty of time for that.