Advertising. And Howe
By Karen Howe
The old saying is true. Be nice to the people you meet on your way up, because you're going to meet them on the way down
It’s a lesson best learned early in your career: don’t burn bridges. A recent situation reminded me of that helpful adage. A creative director I know was looking to hire. He sent a note to a young art director whose work he liked, enquiring if she would care to get together for a coffee to chat. The AD responded with a rather careless note that said something along the lines that a meeting “was not in the cards.”
I could smell the smoke of a bridge being burned. And I couldn’t help but think how foolish she was. Advertising is a small, almost incestuous business. Everyone knows everyone. The faster you figure that out, the longer your career will be.
This is also a remarkably fluid business. Accounts move around. Agencies grow, but they can also downsize – sometimes at shocking speed. All it takes is a re-org. A change in upper management. A global realignment. A recession. A change of government. A change in client.
And while you may be sitting on the top of the heap today, tomorrow you could be cobbling together your resume, hat in hand. That happened to a former colleague of mine. He was a CD in a large shop, and he didn’t treat one of his staff – a writer – particularly kindly. And then one day there was a change in upper management. She became his boss, and he was out on his ear faster than you could say, “Can’t I at least be a creative group head?” At another big shop, a freelance producer trashed an on-staff producer to her boss. A week later it was revealed that the on-staff producer had been promoted to run the department. Needless to say, the freelancer never graced those halls again.
Relationships matter. And loyalty is currency. Decency creates it. Bad blood can do you harm.
So don’t just build relationships with your boss. Do the same with your peers. Your clients. Your staff. Suppliers. Headhunters. And nurture those relationships whenever you can.
Most importantly, when you leave a place, do so gracefully.
Because some day you may need a reference.
Some day you might need freelance.
I once had a client who was extremely difficult, and temporarily made our lives a living hell. He ended up getting fired – repeatedly. Many jobs later, he eventually came to us looking for a reference. It was ironic. You have to be careful, even with the tough ex-clients. Some day they might land at a new company and become your client again. I’ve seen it happen.
A highly placed ad executive ascribes to a different viewpoint for not burning bridges. He quoted Sun Tzu, the Chinese military strategist (who was also quoted by Michael Corleone in The Godfather), “Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer.” A darker spin on the philosophy, but valid nonetheless.
I’m not suggesting you should be a patsy. Far from it. But be mindful to try to treat everyone civilly. When you can avoid burning a bridge, do so. It’s an expression we’ve all heard before, but it bears repeating, “Be nice to people you meet on your way up. You’ll meet them on the way down.” And if you’re still not sure, just ask Neil French.
Karen Howe is senior vice-president, creative director of one. in Toronto.