The recession in Adland: Do the bad times have a silver lining?

July 31, 2009

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This recession makes being me less excellent.

Many of us used to relish Donald Trump firing dumbstruck contestants on the Apprentice. Or Simon eviscerating some hapless warbler on American Idol. We take delight in watching the Simpson’s Montgomery Burns humiliate and then extricate his subordinates, often down a secret hole in front of his desk. Nelson, the “Ha-Ha!” bully is another Simpsonian example. There is brutal comedy in the misfortune of others. The Germans have a word for it: Schadenfreude. (To be precise, substitute the word “pleasure” for “comedy.”) Either way, it’s an unfortunate, even barbaric, part of our humanity.

And it often flourishes like mold in the hallways of Adland. If/when one agency hears of another’s misfortune we cheer. In bigger agencies, creative groups on one floor often compete and root against creative groups from another. Internet trolls constantly throw stones at wounded agencies and their people. While most aim at management, the torpedoes invariably end up hurting massive portions of the ship, not just the bridge.

I’ve written about this before. But that was before the recession. With few agencies exempt from its grave fallout, I doubt anyone is gleeful over much of anything right now, let alone another’s misfortune. That tipping point came and went. With people –good people- disappearing from our ranks it is as if a plague were let loose in adland…the whole damn country! Whereas we once morbidly watched as our comrades were marched out the door, thinking “not me, never me” now we cannot help but see ourselves in their shoes.

And yet pain like this can provide our most teachable moments. There is a silver lining. To coin another phrase: the show must go on.

Therefore, those of us who remain pick up our games. If we are good we become great. Considering the alternative, we must. We also count our blessings. We learn humility. We let go our resentments because they feel especially vulgar right now. While veins of meanness run deep on the Internet, not so much in the hallways of Adland. There is less complaining about partners and bosses. Fewer requests for money and titles. Less Me. More We. What we have (peers, clients, job) is far more important than what we don’t.

Guess what folks? It always was! But we forget. Until the pain of others reminds us. Humility. Gratitude. Fortitude. If we acquire even a little grace during these difficult times, something good has come from it.

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9 Responses to “The recession in Adland: Do the bad times have a silver lining?”

  1. excellent perspective… very wise and very true… I’ll be tweeting it ;)

  2. The emotional impact of stressful situations often causes people to react in ways that are not in their best interest.

    “There is less complaining about partners and bosses.”

    I seriously doubt it.

  3. Another take on counting your blessings, this one from comedian Drew Carey:

    “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

  4. SRP said

    Bob-
    Swear to God, we’re getting way less grief about the assorted petty stuff I wrote about. And, by the way, if we were it wouldn’t be tolerated!

  5. Jules said

    Your right about the humility that people have to learn. But I think we all come out stronger as a result of what has happened. This time is certainly going to spurn innovation as people learn what it is to have to work ‘real hard’ for their money.

    Not that some of those who have fallen didn’t work hard – there is always an element of luck in these matters.

  6. Done properly, advertising is mythmaking. For our corporate sponsors, we created the consumption-based myths that dominated the collective consciousness, at least since 1950 or so.

    Though some may perceive me as hopelessly idealistic, I believe we can apply the same skills to create myths that inspire positive change.

    We are observing an emerging re-realization (is that a word?) that humans are not a mass-market, they are small and interconnected tribes.

    When we discover that our target demos are tribes, we’ll realize they always have been tribes. The future of the web will lead humanity back to where we started-tribal societies.

    Outside of our career, and within our career as much as possible, we can create stories that inspire more positive, sustainable, and satisfying lifestyles.

  7. Old ad guy said

    “Fewer requests for money and titles”?

    Who writes this blog? Martin Sorrel? Maurice Levy? Michael Roth?

    I think what the writer was trying to say is that concept of pursuing an actual career, and all that implies, in advertising is dead as a doornail.

    And if I read or hear the phrase ‘teachable moment’ one more time…

  8. SRP said

    Old Ad Guy-

    I don’t understand your question or comment and I don’t agree with your assessment. Please clarify as your POV is important. PS: I learned and have used the phrase “teachable moment” way before the Obama moment. ;-)

  9. Old ad guy said

    Hey SRP,

    First off, let me say that I’m a long-established, currently struggling freelance writer in NYC—no titles or raises for me!

    But that phrase just jumped out as I was reading your interesting post. And rightly or wrongly, I interpreted it to mean ‘just be grateful you’ve still got a job!’Which very well might be darn good piece of advice these days.

    Thanks for introducing me to your blog. I found it reading the comments section in an Adweek article about the future of ad agencies. Between that article and the one about freelancers, I’d say their writers certainly have a keen grasp of the obvious.

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