Advertising. And Howe
By Karen Howe
Falling flat on your face is brutal. But it provides the most profound and indelible learning of your life
Very early in my career my partner and I had what we thought was a pretty cool TV idea. It was for the launch of an instant-dissolving bouillon, versus those tedious cubes you had to stir. The concept was that the spokesman who was demonstrating it didn’t realize the product was instant and was stuck trying to fill the remaining 27 seconds of the spot.
A funny idea but execution was everything. And our boss did not agree with our choice of director. We petitioned our cause. Heavily. The spot utterly bombed. It just wasn’t funny. In hindsight, it was death by a thousand paper cuts: the wrong director, wrong talent and junior creative team. We ended up reshooting. Fortunately our boss didn’t kill us. But I learned a hard lesson. We should have heeded the voice of a seasoned pro.
Falling flat on your face is brutal. But it provides the most profound and indelible learning of your life. I have found that failure forced me to pull back and analyze where I went wrong. Success, not so much. We all tend to take it for granted.
When you talk to people who have been fired, laid off or pulled off an account, there’s a recurring theme: on a gut level they knew it was the wrong job for them, but they had hoped it would work out anyway.
Early in my career I was offered a position at an agency that was considered the proverbial “hot shop.” In our business, some places simply mystically acquire this status for no apparent reason. Even in the first interview it just didn’t feel right. I can’t explain it any better than that. Add to that, I was also happy with my current job. I waffled when they made the offer. Everyone thought I was seriously crazy, so I took the job.
What a mistake. The first day I took a cold, hard look at the agency reel, and it wasn’t deserving of the place’s reputation. It was wildly uneven. My bosses were quietly at war with one another. The agency had a highly dysfunctional culture, and affairs were rampant. When my partner and I started working on our first assignment together, I knew then I had big trouble. It wasn’t a good fit. After 14 months, I walked out of there without a single addition for my book.
Hard lessons? Gosh, there were so many. Make sure the place is a good fit. Take a close look at all the agency’s work, not just the one campaign on whose coattails they are riding. Make sure you know your partner. Don’t fall for the “hot shop” baloney. Peek behind the curtain. Don’t leave a job you’re happy with. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
It’s vital to be someplace where you can learn, grow and do great creative. I think it’s really important to work with people you like and admire. Especially when it comes to your boss. It’s critical to work at a place with a healthy corporate culture. If you find that place with all those things, then stay put. You don’t need to bounce around. You’ll grow and do amazing work right there.
I have learned, by failing, to trust my instincts. When you interview at a place, it’s like a first date: You know within seconds, somewhere deep in your gut, if something has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. So pay attention to those instincts.
I think Malcolm Forbes had it absolutely right when he said, “Failure is success, if we learn from it.”
Karen Howe is senior vice-president, creative director of
Due North Communications in Toronto. Email her at email@example.com.
January 23, 2012 03:02 PM
if one learns from one's mistakes I must be a genius
February 01, 2012 11:53 AM
great points, Karen. I'd like to add to what's impt: respect. You need to feel respect for the people you're working with/for, and they need to respect you. I certainly don't admire ... or even like ... my current president, but I respect what he's been able to accomplish and the agency he's built, so I keep working here.