Beware the ad agency tyrant! He’s an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

October 19, 2009


Does your office have a tyrant? You know the guy. He has to have his way. Is driven by a desire to be right. Can’t stand the notion he might be wrong. Right or wrong, he always acts the same: defensive, emotional and cruel. He likes to call meetings if only to get mad in them. During his frequent protests, he is compelled to stand because that is the posture of righteousness. Weak men sit. Maybe they can suffer a wrong turn but not the tyrant. His time is too important for a point of view different from his own. It’s wrong, dammit, and needs to be corrected. He knows the client better than anyone and he already knows your idea won’t wash. Why go on? He can and does make every meeting you’re in with him a living hell.

The tyrant may be an ass but he’s no fool. He wouldn’t have gotten this far if he wasn’t capable. He did not get his title being defensive, emotional and cruel. Right?

Not necessarily. Early on he was more discreet, choosing his fights carefully, picking only the battles he knew he could win. He worked hard, staying late and traveling often. His superiors found him driven, passionate, a real go-getter. And he was.

Maybe a few complaints had been levied against him but clients loved the guy. His upside was worth more to the agency than his darker, thankfully sporadic downside. He brought in new business. He made his numbers. If he stepped on a few sensitive creative people, or made an assistant cry, so what? Advertising is a tough game. Some people can’t take the heat in the kitchen.

Eventually the tyrant’s bad behavior became more predictable. Every meeting was now a confrontation. Surrounded by fearful underlings the tyrant became imperious. He had clients now, uncaring (ignorant?) of his treachery. If they knew he was a hard ass they didn’t mind. After all, he was fighting for them. When he cracked the whip it was for them. Clients like knowing they had a pit bull in their corner.

And so the company puts up with him, its management rolling their eyes at each new horror story. What can you do? He works harder than anyone. Clients love him. Maybe management redirects him or tries surrounding him with people who can take it. Executive training is always an option.

Is your tyrant a Creative Director? This guy picks his favorites and everyone else can go to hell. He loves to take credit for your work. He is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. Maybe your tyrant is the agency’s chief marketing officer or its president. These fellows are power mad. It’s their way or the highway. Everyone else in the agency needs to catch up. Sometimes he is a she. I’ve encountered all of the above and then some.

Tyrants exist on the client side, too. Boy, do they ever. But that’s another story…

This tyrant is on Twitter!

The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon


5 Responses to “Beware the ad agency tyrant! He’s an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.”

  1. Scott M said

    I hadn’t thought of that guy in a while Steff. Thanks for that. We always called him The Little Man.

  2. Peace In said

    I’ve actually had a much different experience with tyrants. The three I’ve worked with in my career were really incompetent/lazy and only retained their jobs for internal political reasons. Such as that management did not want to admit they made a mistake by hiring them.

    Eventually they all “resigned.” But it really put a dent in morale and confidence in management to see such useless people able to get away with murder.

  3. tyrants are never fun, but the one’s with talent in our biz–hal riney and ed mccabe are two who come to mind–can be tolerated. now as for the tyrants without talent, well, why anyone puts up with them is beyond me. here in chicago there have been a number of famous stories about creative directors actually hitting people–one was at burnett steff, perhaps you remember? and, in both cases, the agency let it go. sad stuff.

    • Peace In said

      Wow. Hitting?

      If that happened to me, there would be a blur composed of me running out of the room to the nearest employment lawyer. Chaching!

  4. SRP said

    I think I know who you’re talking about but, if I remember correctly, he was more bi-polar than anything else. Maybe a little drunk, too. In general, I recall vividly two world class jackasses, who will absolutely have to remain nameless.
    All comments, Thanks you.
    May your worlds be pain free!

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