Pandas and Penguins and Hummingbirds Oh My!

Deborah Fisher



hummingbirdSome would argue that those of us in advertising have a sick fascination with instability — and 100 percent of them would be right. I’ve had a cush job with a nice office, nicer hours and excellent benefits, but I was bored out of my skull for the six months I could tolerate it. I couldn’t move fast enough back into an agency. I have no idea what normal people do on Fridays when they don’t have some sort of deadline to make. They probably do things like rest, leave early or spend time with family and friends. I just didn’t get it; there was always something missing for me.

I have spent the majority of my career in agencies. I’ve been laid off many times. Each time it was a crushing blow. Each time I could see it coming like a super-storm cloud well in advance, and each time, I stayed believing that the next big client was going to come in the door, and we would all be saved. I also believed that loyalty was a reciprocal characteristic. It may be between friends and families but not between companies and employees.

When I was laid off two years ago, I actually had my chance to go “client-side.” My agency friends were cheering me on and living vicariously through my opportunity for freedom. I interviewed with many companies on both the client and agency sides. I knew better than to work for another agency when I had the chance to escape, but still I chose an agency. Who needs stability when you can have chaos? I love agencies. Let me count the ways.

1. Change:

The weathermen say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours and it will change.” This is what agency life is like. Clients change, projects change, people change and rules change. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Agencies, as a rule, are process and procedure neophytes no matter how many project managers we hire. But it’s this change that keeps us excited, engaged and brilliant.

In my career, I’ve done millions of pieces of direct mail, TV and radio, I’ve built websites for companies big and small and I’ve bought millions upon millions of dollars of digital media. I’ve worked for airlines, hotels, casinos, HVAC manufacturers, retail companies and The Navy, and the list goes on and on. I can do an analysis on thousands of keywords while approving data dumps for 250 segment direct-mail campaigns and simultaneously review a website for usability and SEO best practices.

You would never have the chance to do all of that working as a mid-level manager for XYZ company. Change is good, and it certainly keeps things fresh. I still learn something new almost every day working in an agency.

2. Deadlines:

Most would say deadlines are evil. I kind of like them. They give us purpose, they provide guardrails for knowing what to deliver and they certainly keep things moving. Here are a couple of secrets about deadlines that folks outside of the agency world may not know:

  • We always pad the dates.
  • We don’t really need all the time, but given how bad we are at process, we just need to feel like we have more time.
  • We know that you will be late with your deliverables to us.
  • Final is never final until after it’s produced, and then it’s only tentatively final, especially online.
  • The characteristics of any agency project are quality, time and price. You may only pick two!

3. Brain power/energy:

I have had the great fortune of working with some of the most brilliant people in the world in my agency career. None are famous (yet). Actually, one is the co-founder of Vine, but that’s another story. Anyway, these unsung talents are creative, analytical and strategic geniuses. What’s even more amazing is that they are also kind and generous, regular folks. Whether in media, creative, development or account planning, most agencies have really smart people on the payroll. And let me assure you: they are not in it for the dough. Agencies generally pay much less than a corporate title with the same years of experience. Clients: Sometimes you have no idea how lucky you are to have such unbridled talent on your teams.

Believe me: Agency life is not for everyone. I struggle each and every time someone gets laid off due to a normal business downturn. That never gets easier, especially if it’s me. It’s just business, right? And yes, it is chaotic, and yes, we do have to deal with things like pandas and penguins and hummingbirds being thrown at us like a Google zookeeper cleaning out cages. But even with all of its inherent chaos, with lower pay and longer hours, I still love it.

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