What Real World Are You Living In? By Erik Proulx

18 Aug 2009 7:00 AM | Anonymous

What Real World Are You Living In?
By Erik Proulx

Erik Proulx is the founder of Please Feed The Animals,
and writer/co-executive producer of the movie Lemonade.

With every new crop of ad school graduates, you can practically hear the collective moan of creative directors everywhere. “I like it, but that would never fly in the real world.”

This is a post about that real world.

Real is relative. Real for the 25-year old newbie is different than real for the 25-year veteran. Real for an account person is different than real for the brooding creative. But, here’s the thing, with the right environment and minimal toxicity, an agency’s collective real can accommodate all of them.

In fact, an increasing number of advertising agencies are starting to do exactly what portfolio school graduates have been doing all along: Defining their own real by doing work that they want to do.

And I’m not talking about the specfest that plagues our award shows. I’m talking about legitimate work on legitimate projects, but with one important difference. These agencies have an ownership stake in their clients, to the point that many are researching, developing, distributing, and marketing products. The agency is the client and the client is the agency, and they advertise how they see fit.

One shining example is Fat Pig Chocolate, the organic candy bar created by The Brooklyn Brothers, and marketed by -- you guessed it -- The Brooklyn Brothers.  As their new business director Matt Lake said in this interview with AgencySpy, “...marketing your own brands changes the conversation you have with clients. You're no longer an agency trying to sell creative, you're a peer that happens to be very creative. And you get paid too."

What if ad school graduates harvested all their creativity, education and relationships and did something bold, like start a business? Maybe that business is an advertising agency, like good folks from VCU did when they started Agency Nil. Or maybe it’s a coffee roasting company, like my new friend Bob Weeks did after getting laid off.

Either way, the case for leaving ad school and making a bee-line to the first decent agency that hires you gets weaker and weaker with every successful business started by a young entrepreneur. And in the case of creating your own product and being your own agency, you’re able to strategize and market that product by the letter of your own law. Your own ideas. Your own standards. Your own real.

But even in this job drought, being an entrepreneur is infinitely more difficult than finding work as a salaried employee. I have learned firsthand these last many months that building a business from scratch, with no capital, no investors, and no track record is fraught with hardship. So, no sugarcoating there.

But if I want to start a Facebook page for my business, I don’t need to share it with a boss, focus groups, or legal departments. If I want to make a movie to promote my business, by golly, the success or failure of that idea rests on my shoulders alone.

No, being my own client and agency is not an easy thing. But it’s better than contorting to someone else’s values. And this real world -- the good and the bad -- is my own.


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