Your ad career might not lead exactly where you think it will – and that’s the best news of all.
Chances are, you had a vision of when, where, and how your advertising career was going to play out. First ad school. Then maybe a small creative hot shop. Later, leading a large office of a mega-agency in a city like NYC or London.
Welcome to 2020. The year when nothing has gone as planned – for anyone. When everyone is navigating the unexpected.
In this time of COVID, many of us are encountering major changes in our career trajectory. They’re scary, disorienting, and perhaps doing more damage to our psyches than we might consciously want to admit.
But plot twists can also be a gift.
Just as copying and pasting a creative brief into a headline is the least compelling way to tell a story, a predictable ad life is the least compelling way to live one.
Every unexpected turn is an opportunity for creativity and growth. How lame would your favorite movie be if everything was fine and everyone was perfectly happy for every minute of the film? The ups and downs of life give it texture. And perspective.
Many of us in the COVID era, especially in large cities like NY, SF, and LA, are stepping back, taking stock, and reevaluating what our lives should be. Are 400 sq ft apartments and crushing taxes really the only way to matter in the advertising business? Or whatever business?
I’m here to tell you, no.
Here in the rest of America, we’re doing great work and having more fun than you think.
Your next detour just might be the happiest plot twist of your life.
Today, after agencies in Atlanta, Boston (where I worked one desk over from Eitan), NY and DC, I lead the creative department at Lewis, an agency headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama.
As I told Communication Arts a few years back, I initially took this job viewing it as a quick pit stop to get some TV. I was certain I belonged somewhere larger, more coastal, and more famous. If you had told me then that this agency in Alabama would be the place where I’d shoot 150 TV commercials on four continents, I would have told you you were flat out crazy.
It turned out, for whatever misconceptions I had about Alabama, I was the one who needed to be more open-minded.
In Lewis, I found an undiscovered gem: a group of people who were incredibly talented, driven and capable of doing great things. And just as importantly, they were genuinely welcoming of me, my diversity and my potential.
Here it is, 16 years later. And I’m surrounded by the best creative team I’ve ever had in my life. And they’re not just nice people; they are truly good people.
So my detour has turned out to be a very happy one.
At the same time, you won’t find me in the “New York is over” crowd that’s posting on Medium every couple of days. FedEx, Amazon and fiber internet aren’t going to make Williamsburg or Tribeca disappear.
But what they have done, is make life in the rest of America a whole lot more possible, and interesting. The gap has narrowed. You can find little pockets of cool in just about every small city across the country, thanks to creative types from the larger cities who are making a change.
Personally, I’ve loved watching what new voices and fresh thinking have brought to each of our three cities.
Nashville is a boom town, propelled by the jet fuel of an Amazon building spree. Mobile is a weird, welcoming, slightly gritty port town, a little sister to New Orleans, with emerald-water Gulf beaches 45 minutes away. And Birmingham, site of so many ugly memories in the 1960s, is having a well-documented renaissance in food, cocktails and creativity. It’s cool, but not in a red-hot, property values doubling kind of way. More of a slow-burn transformation that isn’t going to burn itself out.
All of this to say – maybe a different city is the plot twist you need in your life right now.
And just as importantly – maybe you are the plot twist that city needs. For me, I discovered that cities in the South have grown up and are more welcoming than you think. They don’t just welcome your unique life experience, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation – they need it. Because they understand that diverse voices and new influences make life and work better.
In a small city, you might also find that in a short period of time, you can have a big impact. That’s one thing I particularly like about mid-sized markets: a talented person here doesn’t have to wait years for their turn at bat.
One of the top bartenders in Brooklyn is part of the diaspora. Mixologist Laura Newman just opened her own place, in an old building across the street from my loft in Birmingham. It’s posh, comfortably spacious and serving some of the best cocktails in the country. Her rent? Stupid cheaper than anything she could have found on Bedford Avenue.
Best of all, she’s happy.
In fact, Laura and her husband Mudd are now launching a second venture, just around the corner.
A couple of neighborhoods over, there’s chef John Hall, who used to cook at Momofuku and Per Se. What does he do now? He runs a pizza joint. But it’s the best damn pizza you ever put in your mouth. Plus he has other high-end projects on the horizon. My guess is, he’s pretty happy too.
Here’s to plot twists, with fresh mozzarella and pesto.