Hi Ho, Silver — I’m Off To New Horizons
Almost four decades ago, I entered the ad business as a young buck who could discern between shit and shinola with 50% accuracy.
I became an ad copywriter because I didn’t have the guts to pursue the hard life of striving to make it as a writer-writer.
The notion of being a starving artist until I published my great American novel had little appeal to this young capitalist. I thought advertising would be an easier route. As a kid, I had always loved smart ads from the glory days of the creative revolution, and it looked like a fun way to make a living.
Off I went pursuing an ad career. Man, it was a lot tougher than I thought.
In my first 17-years, I worked 12 different jobs in Youngstown, Akron, Syracuse, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Atlanta. No, I’m not in the witness protection program.
I worked at everything from a three-person agency to the world’s largest shop under one roof. I worked at B2B joints, CPG agencies, creative hot shops, retail specialty agencies — you name it.
There were no digital agencies back then. We were analog, baby.
Early in my career, I even worked as a circus advance man. It was great training, experiences, and memories. The cotton candy wasn’t half-bad, either.
I was fired three times out of my twelve jobs. That’s batting .750! With numbers like that, you think I’d be in the Advertising Hall of Fame, but, no, I get passed over every year.
The thing is rigged.
Pinging across America as an advertising gypsy, I worked for a couple genuine ad legends, and some insecure, egomaniacal, petty people. Along the way, I learned a hell of a lot.
I learned I wasn’t built to work for others because I wasn’t good at office politics. I’m too much the stubborn Irishman — show me a rock, I’ll pick it up and throw it at the nearest authority figure.
I learned clients can be difficult, but they are not the enemy. The enemy is usually us and our Shakespearean drama of fear and dread.
Difficult clients are usually just frightened people unsure if their agency team understands their problems and daily pressures. For agencies, until you can demonstrate you’re there to help make their lives easier, you are suspect.
Many creative people never understand this, and are doomed to be ‘misunderstood geniuses’ ranting on the peat. “The stupid client rejected my One Show Pencil idea.”
“The chickenshit account team didn’t sell my brilliant work.”
“This agency sucks and doesn’t support great creative.”
These people need an outside hobby — preferably not gun collecting, marksmanship, and dispensing revenge.
Clients pay us money for something they value. Their trust must be earned. And re-earned. If all they want is an echo chamber, or lapdog licking their face, or a punching bag to pummel, you must decide if that’s the job for you.
Prostitution is always hiring.
It took me a lot of jobs, experiences, and travels to finally find myself (I was hiding very well). And what I found was that maybe I’d be happier as an employer than an employee.
So, after two years heading my own business as a freelance ad writer, I joined forces with a couple smart admen, and we become the guys who sign paychecks and worry about running a business.
On January 4, 1997, we started Ames Scullin O’Haire Advertising. The name was chosen because my partners, John Ames and Tony O’Haire didn’t like the sound of “Scullin & A Couple Hangers-On”.
Picky, picky, picky.
We were three veterans of intergalactic ad agencies, each with our area of expertise — marketing strategy, creative, and media. We wanted to get back to what we loved: working directly with clients to solve problems and capitalize on marketing opportunities.
This seemed a more gratifying mission than busting ass to earn profits sent to some distant overlord.
Ralph Watson, my friend and one of the purest talent I know, designed our logo, which doubled as our business plan and employee list.
A logo, business plan, and employee list rolled into one.
We believed in a balanced approach to creating a successful marketing campaign, it required strategy, creative and media working with the client to make it happen.
Absentee clients and corporate toadies were not our targets. Clients had to be in the circle or it wouldn’t work.
Our philosophy proved to be appealing. Although we started with no accounts, we beat the bushes and were met with skepticism.
Either out of pity or curiosity, we were given small assignments to prove ourselves. And we would.
Shebang — soon, we’d receive more assignments, until we proved ourselves worthy to handle the whole account.
We earned our trust by showing clients how to succeed by engaging consumers with work they liked and responded to. Our work was based on empathy and creativity, delivered at the right time in the right place to the right audience.
Thankfully, it worked. No one argues a rising sales curve.
We grew. And grew.
Over the years, we worked with many great companies and smart marketers. And we attracted and nurtured serious talent to help us in our mission.
Without those talented ASO people in all disciplines, absolutely nothing was possible.
In the subsequent years, the entire world changed. Google, Facebook, smartphones — you get the drift. Technology became essential and ingrained in our lives.
People plugged into the matrix, and digital marketing became the new force.
I’ve been railing in this blog about the over-reliance of technology in marketing today, and I’ve made my impassioned pleas for creating humanity in our work.
But the business has changed and is ever-changing, and digital will always be here. It’s a question of how and why it’s done, and I fear we are headed to a world where A.I. will rule and numbers will matter more than emotions.
Maybe I need to pick up the nearest rock and throw it at a damn machine.
Anyway, this old fart adman has decided to hang up his spurs and ride into the sunset.
I’ve enjoyed one hell of a ride, creating things that piqued interest and greased the wheels of capitalism.
But I’m not retiring, I’m getting back to my first love: writing. I’m finally pursuing the dream I had as a young man.
Tony O’Haire and I are selling our equity in ASO Advertising to our partners, Ryan Mikesell and Steve Harding (John retired three years ago). We are confident Ryan and Steve will continue our agency’s legacy of creating fresh, effective work in the brave new world of marketing.
I want to write my own stuff now. Searching for imaginative ways to create worlds from words that engage, amuse, and delight readers.
Filling blank pages without the guidelines of a creative brief.
Like any new adventure, it’s exciting and terrifying. As a grizzled adman, I’ve dealt with rejection on a daily basis. My skin makes a rhino’s skin seem paper thin.
But literary rejection, well, that’s a different story. It’s a new circle of hell, a new level of pain.
I’m trying to find an agent for my first novel called SAWDUST. No, it’s not about lumberjacks (good guess, though). It’s about a young copywriter traveling America promoting a circus while searching for himself. It’s a dark humor coming of age tale, with clowns.
Sound familiar? Write what you know, baby.
I’ve been learning the ropes of the publishing world and so far, I’ve had agents express interest but no contracts.
The rejection has hurt. It’s personal and I take it like a wimp — collapsing to the canvas, assuming the fetal position, and sobbing puddles of self-pity.
Just like I took rejection in my early advertising days.
I’ll build my strength for literary pursuits, and forge ahead.
I’m appreciative and grateful for all the wonderful people I’ve met and worked with throughout my advertising career — coworkers, clients, and production people. It’s been a great experience and I have a warehouse of great memories to draw upon.
And the bastards I’ve met along the way, well, they have been safely vaulted away. Memories diffused.
If you like the blogs, please spread the word. Writers need readers!
My sincere thanks to my partners, and especially my wife Donna, who encouraged me to do my own thing way back when, and has stood by me through it all.
And dear readers, happy trails to you, until we meet again. I will be expecting you to buy copies of SAWDUST when it’s published.
Thanks, and may you avoid saddle burns and leather chaps chafe.
Patrick Scullin is an empathetic adman and founder of ASO Advertising.