Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's easier to start at the top and climb down.

         David Brooks, in his book "On Paradise Drive", has this cautionary note for students and parents alike: "The chief temptation these students face is not evil, it is nearsightedness. Parents, teachers, and coaches hone them for the future, but not the distant future. As a result, students know there are hoops to jump through: school, tests, graduation. But the terrain beyond is fuzzy. They are rarely asked to apply their imagination to the far-off horizon --- to envision some glorious errand for themselves, then to think backwards from that goal."

        I agree; but that's nothing new. About a year after I started working for a living, another writer asked me what my professional goal was. I told him I wanted to be a copywriter. He said that I already was a copywriter, so what did I ultimately want to become?  I asked him what he wanted to become and he quickly answered "creative director".  I filed that for future reference.

        A few years ago I told this story to an editor of Adweek magazine, and she asked me to write it out and bring it up to date for her. 

        The up-dated story was that I soon realized that, as happy as I was as copywriter, I was unhappy about my copy supervisor who had to okay my work. So I had to become a copy supervisor. 

        It quickly became apparent that the copy supervisor has a boss that could override him. The associate creative director. So I became one of those. Of course, the creative director was his boss and had the last word. So I became one of those. In large agencies, though, there's often someone even higher, the Director of Creative Services. So I became one of these, and an Executive V. P. as well. Only to realize that then I reported directly to the President of the agency, who had different values than I did.

       I was determined to leave and was offered a partnership in another agency. Guess what. I had more bosses than ever. My employees had to be happy, and weren't always. My partners had to be in sync and that took a lot of work  And most important of all, clients were the ultimate bosses, and had to be nourished with new ideas regularly.

       When this appeared in Adweek, I got a dozen letters of appreciation from ad agency heads who said they wished they had known this going in.

        That's why I always tell my students to think bigger and plan, not for the middle, but for the top jobs. That's where they might very well end up, and they'll want to be prepared.


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