MJHB For the old in Advertising

For the old in advertising


Originally published on Medium.

I must admit that I am a little surprised by the amount of attention “for the young” has been receiving, and it would be ungrateful and impolite not to say a quick word of thanks to all those who have shared, liked and recommended the post: thank you all.

Here, however, is a post for the senior branch of the advertising, marketing and PR industry; a gentle reminder that a place of business is a double edged sword and that we, the old ones, make many mistakes too.


Listen to your direct reports.

Sure when they join the business they don’t know the ropes, and as I mentioned in “for the young” they have a lack of respect for the industry and probably for the work, but you hired them for a reason. They must know something or have that special something that made you or your agency hire them in the first place. Things are getting a little too expensive just to put bums on seats nowadays so they must be good at something and, of course, they are. We need to listen to what they have to say, have a good look at that new “thing” that’s “like, totally, cool” and try and work out why they’re so interested in it. We ask junior staff to become and stay curios but so should we because it is not enough to know about Number 2ism and that bloody Tango advert. Yes, it is critical to know where we’ve come from but surely it’s more important to know where we’re going and that’s something we can only really discover by listening to our younger colleagues. We need to respect what they do know and help them find what they don’t.

Stop talking about your awesome campaign.

That campaign of yours? You know, the impressive campaign from five years ago that you keep talking about? Stop talking about it for heaven’s sake.

Male? Leave your midlife crisis at home.

One of the rather odd things about contemporary agency life is the fact that you become senior and old around the age of thirty-five. This means that you will inevitably stumble unceremoniously through the gaping door of a midlife crisis. Your life will spiral out of control, and you will eventually find yourself in the hellscape of tattoo parlours, vintage record shops and nightclubs. The magnet pull of amusing t-shirts, longboards and baseball caps will become irresistible. This is a phase that you will have to work through, we all do at some point, but make sure you leave your midlife crisis at home. Stay classy.

You are not their friend.

Mutual respect and a shared desire to do something exciting, interesting and hopefully profitable with your time coupled with a parental urge to see them grow and shine and a cheeky desire on their side to prove you wrong; that should be the basis of your relationship. Keep it that way.

You are responsible for the livelihoods of other people.

Your responsibility should never be to the shareholder. This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but you are responsible for the livelihoods of other people — your staff, your direct reports and your colleagues; it is your responsibility that the hours they spend at work are as happy and fulfilling as they possibly can be. The higher you go within the organisation, the more critical, the more vital this fact becomes. That’s a huge responsibility and something that you need to remind yourself of every single day.

Get them out of the door.

Long days and late nights can happen from time to time, but when the “last one out of the agency” mentality creeps into your agency, then you’re in trouble. Get your staff out of the door, make sure they go home, go out, see their family and friends. Keep them fresh. Tired staff do terrible work and make mistakes. Continued overtime is unnecessary and a sign of poor management. You’re the person who unlocks the door in the morning and turns out the lights at night, not them.

Do what it says you do on your business card.

You are being paid to do what it says you do on your business card. You are not being paid extra to do what it used to say on your old business card. You are being asked to lead, to take upon yourself the responsibility of guiding young people through the tricky everyday minefield that has become agency life. You are not being asked to do their work for them, to take the wind out of their sails and snatch the PowerPoint out of their sweaty little hands. If they get it wrong, show them where they’ve gone wrong. If they get it wrong again, show them again. Keep showing them, helping and guiding them until they get it right by themselves. You are not being paid to do your old job (for considerably more money). Because…

… your job is to help young people take your job away from you.

As a senior member of staff, it is your responsibility to (eventually) make yourself redundant by training, guiding and nurturing staff to such a degree of competence that (eventually) you’ll find one of them sitting behind your desk one day with a grim look on their face. That’s something you should aim for, and you should be ridiculously satisfied with yourself should it ever happen. Hire people who are better than you. Make people better than you.

Accept the fact that people resign.

It is particularly difficult for privately owned businesses to accept the fact that staff will eventually quit. I can still remember how hurt I felt when my first employee handed in his notice. This painful truth is something that you should be aware of right from the outset. They’ll move on, find new things to get excited about or want to earn more money. It’s tempting to get angry about the amount of time and energy you’ve put into training that person, but that is actually your responsibility. Robert Campbell has been banging on about this for years, and he’s right: it is our duty to make sure that our staff leave more competent and accomplished than when they joined.

Defend the rate card to the bitter end.

Defend it. Fight for it. Call in the Knights Templar or whatever superhero currently decorates the t-shirt you’re currently wearing but just uphold the integrity of your rate card. I know that we often need to make “strategic” decisions around pricing but, seriously guys, fight for your damn rate card. Walk away from business that doesn’t respect it. Creativity, customer service and excellence of execution maybe the moral air that we breathe but cash is a mortal thing: it’s the water that keeps our businesses hydrated.

Be the person your staff will want to work for.

I can’t remember whether it was Russell Davies or if it was Richard Huntington that advised young planners to be “the planner clients want to work with”, but it’s bloody good advice and applies to all aspects of our business. This doesn’t mean that you pamper to the whims and fancies of your direct reports, it just means that you give them the tools they need to become glorious: respect, knowledge, mentorship and a hunger for the job at hand as well as a vision for what a possible future could be.

Get help.

Things go wrong. They always do. Sometimes things become overwhelming and challenging. Sometimes it feels like we can’t take the strain of the responsibility anymore. Get external help. Get yourself sorted. Take care of yourself.

Arrogance is something you have to earn. Continually.

I mentioned to the young folk that arrogance is something that you have to earn. Let this be a gentle reminder that arrogance is something that we have to earn continually. No resting on laurels. No boasting about the past.


If things go well, congratulate your team for they have done magnificent work. If things go wrong apologise for you have failed them.

Be nice to people who don’t work in the industry.

Be nice to your neighbours, the person at the corner shop, and the barman at the pub. Be nice to your mum and dad, your girl or boyfriend and the people you share your flat with and your old friends because, at some point down the line, when your life goes pear shaped you’re going to need them. Don’t be an arrogant idiot while things are going well; otherwise, you will find yourself one very lonely person.

Be nice to the people who love you.