Twenty-nine Years. Three Jobs.

08.17.16 / Brian Kelley / Advertising

I’ve had three jobs in advertising.

To be clear, I’ve worked at six agencies and spent a long stint as a freelancer, but I’ve basically had just three jobs in advertising. My first was saying “no.” My second was saying “yes.” My third job is my current job. It’s a combination of the first two.

Job #1 Saying “No.”

As a young creative, I saw it as my job to say “no.” In fact, I didn’t just see it. I was taught it. I was trained to believe that “no” was how the best work got done. “No” kept the copy tight, the logo small and the radio from being corny. The thing was, I didn’t like it. And it didn’t really work. Eventually, “No. No. No. No,” gave way to “Fine! OK! I’ll change it!” Some good work came from it, but mostly just a stomachache.

I had watched my creative mentors successfully say “no.” But I think I missed something. They said it differently than I did. They said it with more confidence, less panic and almost no trace of guilt. And, they backed it up with a lot of talent. I don’t think they got a stomachache. For me, it wasn’t working. The answer wasn’t “no.”

Job #2 – Saying “Yes.”

I eventually went freelance and discovered that this fixed everything. As a freelancer, I saw it as my job to say “yes!” I became a better problem solver, a more resourceful thinker and a brighter part of the days of the people around me. I loved saying “yes” to everything!

But I was saying “yes” to everything.

You want a radio spot for internet security, and you want the voice to have a Maine accent because the client’s grandfather was a lobster fisherman? Yes!

You like the headline, but you’re wondering if it can be rewritten as a knock-knock joke? Yes!

I should have said “no” to the Maine accent. I should have said “no” to the knock-knock joke, for the client’s sake. I should have smiled and said, “Can we try this,” which is a nicer version of “no.”

Job #3 – Saying “Yes” and “Um, maybe we shouldn’t.”

I probably could have stayed freelance and figured it out eventually, but coming back on staff was the key to helping me finally find the balance. I had learned the power of “yes.” I had practiced the discipline of “no.” Now, I could appreciate more than ever how the two worked together. Most of the time, I say “yes” and help my teammates solve problems. Sometimes I say “no” and help my teammates…solve problems! And if the answer’s not quite “no,” it’s something gentle and constructive, like “maybe not” or “can we discuss this” or “here’s an idea, what if we didn’t?”

I feel collaborative. I feel creative. I feel energetic. But wasn’t I always?

Well, yes and no.

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