Published in Mar-Apr 2016
As clichéd as it may sound, I married my job shortly after joining the advertising world and this did not change even after I married a mortal equivalent.
I always thought a modern day Pakistani man could manage two marriages with ease – and I have, very effectively. Partly because my wife is a strong and independent woman with an illustrious career of her own, but primarily because of her amazingly understanding nature... she knew about my love for advertising before she fell in love with me.
Despite all that, I am going to quit advertising. And as much as it pains me to say this, I don’t love it anymore! By June this year, I will find something else to do. Anything…
Even if it pays half of what I am earning – what do I get here anyway?! The highs aren’t that high and the lows are falling to new pits. It’s all a scam. “An elaborate hoax” as Linds Redding (a New Zealand-based art director who worked at BBDO and Saatchi & Saatchi) wrote in his last blog before he died from an inoperable esophageal cancer in 2012. Ever since I first read A Short Lesson in Perspective, I have thought about quitting this industry.
“But it’s like being in an addictive relationship,” I say to myself whenever I become frustrated with my inability to translate this resentment into action. I am not exaggerating; it is a painful obsession to pursue an unhealthy relationship compulsively.
Why else would I still be here? I chose advertising because I wanted to work with gifted people on exciting projects and ideas that would change the world. However, lately the joy of ideation and the sense of accomplishment that comes from being good at it, has been replaced with shallow and diminished creativity (if there is such a thing). The liberating work environment has been overthrown by a new culture of volume and speed. Agency business and profitability is facing unprecedented pressures and the culture appears unlikely to change any time soon. The ad world is growing more competitive with every fraction of a passing second, and until we find a way to more successfully judge productivity and output this is not going to change.
Maybe I am exaggerating a bit. There is good inside the bad. Or maybe I am in denial, defending the addiction again. I might just be over thinking the issue, over analysing it, over-being-a-strategist. Like in those brutal client meetings, when we oversell the simplest, most elegant of ideas in order to justify budgets. Or maybe I’m still genuinely in love… I don’t know!
The thought of quitting the industry is not a new one. It has been there for a few years, but something keeps me going. Something is preventing this thought from turning into action.
"We are not a very healthy industry. Ad folks have always been known to work long hours. If you want to make it in advertising you better be prepared to dedicate a decent portion of your life to your craft."
What is it, I ask myself every day. Outside the hallelujah moments, all relationships take time and work. They require consistency, dedication, compromise and openness – and this includes your relationship with advertising.
I don’t expect this to be a two-way thing: I know I am the giver and the industry is the taker.
I have known many others who came to this point at some stage in their advertising career. We are not a very healthy industry. Ad folks have always been known to work long hours. It might not be a written requirement, but for decades this profound wisdom has been passed down from generation to generation; if you want to make it in advertising you better be prepared to dedicate a decent portion of your life to your craft.
Most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families. It’s just the way it is. In reality this gruelling work schedule is a choice, not a necessity – and most of us deliberately don’t make the right choice. Why? For the love of advertising; for the long lunches and the love of foosball (or table tennis) and those senseless, pointless conversations about a new ad or internet meme. While all this can ultimately benefit the quality of our work and helps to inculcate a spirit of collaboration among the team, we are guilty as charged, every day, whether we confess to it or not.
A friend suggested having an affair... with another industry of course. I have been giving it serious thought. “Are you alright in there?” she asked while knocking on the door. The bathroom door... “You are going to be late now for that big meeting?”
It’s almost 9:45 a.m., I have been here far too long (in the bathroom as well). So is this big meeting a first date with a new industry? Nope. It’s a brand new day in the same old dungeon, but a brand new day indeed, because every day in this profession is a new adventure. And although the monsters causing mayhem are consistently there, for the rest of the day, this man has gotta do what the adman has gotta do.
For many of us, the moment before we decide to seek help for an addiction is when we think we have hit rock bottom. From that moment onwards, anyone going into recovery will be able to move forward. I am not ready to seek help. I guess I haven’t hit rock bottom yet. My relationship with advertising may be addictive, but unlike many who go through their career without any (or very little) crisis, it keeps the flame alive. The addiction prevents a drift into a mediocre existence, which is not exactly a disaster, but certainly not what I signed up for. It is a relationship nonetheless... and a successful one requires falling in love many times, always with the same person, and for lots of different reasons. I guess that is all one can do, keep falling in love! Oh great, its only 10:30 a.m., I made it in time.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. Sometimes I can’t tell the days apart.
I am still going to quit advertising? Probably!
Do I not love it anymore? Probably not!
And about June this year… will I really find something else to do?
And that’s the fun of it. I don’t know!
Umair Saeed is COO, Blitz Advertising.