Lessons learned from a 25-year career in Advertising. When you’ve been in the industry as long as I have, you collect a lot of lessons—some good, some bad. These lessons have shaped my career and it doesn’t seem fair to keep them all to myself. Check out a few below and please, learn from my mistakes.

Lesson: Don’t Throw the Phone 

Story: This actually isn’t about advertising, but about work/life balance.

Those who know me, know I’m fairly tolerant (though I’m getting less tolerant with age). But I, and those who sat near me, will never forget this day.  We laugh about it now, but it was not funny at the time (another lesson, life is short, try and go with the flow).

Let me set the scene. It’s Friday. I’m working on the General Motors (GM) Retail business.  We’re in the middle of launching the latest retail offer and on day 4 of 24/7 mode to activate the offer across all of the US dealer groups.

That morning on my way to work, I dropped my car off at the dealership for service and was planning to pick it up after work. The dealer called me around 3 p.m. to let me know the car was ready.  I blinked and the next thing I knew (after endless copy revisions and legal disclaimers to finalize the offer) it was 7 p.m.—welcome to life in advertising.  I also realized that I had completely forgotten to pick up my car…on a Friday, that I needed all weekend. And here’s a fun fact about Detroit, car dealers are not open on the weekends.

Even though I knew it was futile, I quickly called the dealership only to confirm my worst fear and received the, “We are now closed,” message.  While being faced with the realization that I had no vehicle until Monday, and that all of my weekend plans would suffer… “it” happened.  

I was so mad I could feel my blood boiling—as my anger filtrated my body I couldn’t help myself—I threw the phone against the wall.  Everyone stopped and stared.  I myself was in shock.  The dent in the drywall proved it was, in fact, real.  At that moment I was just so mad at my job, the project, and my life in advertising.  But really, it’s about getting a grip—on priorities and emotions.  And remembering that others are always watching.   

Needless to say I was mortified by my reaction.  The only reason it’s even funny now is because it was so not like me to do that.  Even 10 years later, our print producer, who happened to be walking by my office that day at that exact moment would say, “Remember that day when you threw your phone?”  Lol.  We still laugh about it, but it was a good lesson about keeping your emotions in check.  And, also a reminder of just how big our problems can feel in the moment.  For the record, I stayed home that weekend, got rides from friends…and actually enjoyed not having plans! 

Real Lesson:  Manage your time, your head, and emotions, better.  

Lesson: NEVER send an email with numbered bullet points containing client feedback to the creative team.  Never. 

Story:  Let’s just say, I was young.  We had a big client meeting and I was all proud to return to my office and type up notes to share (and prioritize them based on my interpretation of what the priorities should be) for the creative team. Unfortunately, our Executive Creative Director did not seem to appreciate the bulleted information as I had hoped.  He called me into his office and—to put it lightly—“let me have it” about not only making decisions on what the creative team should or shouldn’t do…but also dictating a certain order of priority!  Thankfully for the creative teams that have followed, this lesson has stuck with me.  

Real Lesson:  Have a conversation. 

Lesson: Don’t drink more than 4 Sunrise Tequila martinis at the Christmas Party (lessons from a friend…for real, I don’t even drink tequila!)

Story:  Where this “story” goes is fairly obvious, but needless to say, there was a lot of “regurgitating”, and a lot of office water-cooler talk the next morning.  Don’t be that guy. 

Real Lesson:  Have fun, but be smart.  Your measurement for fun should be waking up the next morning and not being embarrassed or regretful of the night before.  If you’re having too much fun, you are probably having too much fun. Go home, or take your 2-3 colleague-in-crime and go somewhere else where nobody (you work with) can witness your behavior. We work in an industry that promotes all of us being social, and whether you drink or not, these types of lessons are much harder learned the hard way. 

But now, a moment of seriousness.  Life is short folks—be proud of what you do, and do good work for good clients.  But find your balance.  Find a shop that encourages you to live that balance.  One like I’ve found at Amélie—the first job I have ever loved (it only took me 25 years to find it) with people I consider not just co-workers, but also friends. You will never regret the time spent with family (except for maybe right now, lol).  Take the time to prioritize your family, friends, and the small things that bring you joy. Do that now, and remember what my mom has always told me, “Your gravestone will NEVER read, ‘I wish I had worked more.’”  

Christine Cowan
Managing Director, Account