5 Things I Miss (and 5 I Don’t) About Running an Ad Agency

FiveSculptureI entered the ad business on the tail end of the “Mad Men” era and it’s been 11 years since I ran two of the largest Philadelphia area ad agencies, and even longer for the many years I spent in NY.  I’ve been asked during the recent  past whether I miss running ad agencies (no), and do I yearn to return to doing so (hell, no). Truth of the matter, the business has changed dramatically since I started the Strum Consulting Group in 1999. The business I left is far different from the communications agency business of today—and in many ways far less rewarding.

But to be fair, there are things I miss—here are 5 of them:

1. Winning new business—there’s nothing like competition and victory. I liked the camaraderie created by winning a heated competition for a major account along with the associated smug feeling of mental superiority. On the flip side,  I hated losing. New business is the ultimate pass/fail course—nothing inbetween. Winning rocks. Losing stinks.  

2. As a corollary to #1, I miss “game day”, the new business pitch. I loved the “show” particularly when you know you are really on (if you are brutally honest you know when are..and when you aren’t)

3. Smart co-workers—there were many smart people I worked with over the years. I enjoyed the daily mental banter. I still try to maintain the relationships with the smart people I really liked and respected.

4. Creating powerful ideas that drive business—While I still do this, I do it in a  different, more personal way

5. Having the work we created recognized by industry peers. There are those who scoff at industry awards as nonsense. I never viewed it that way. I enjoyed others recognizing the creativity and effectiveness of our agency’s work

However, there are many things that I am glad are in the rear view mirror (actually many more than 5). Here are the top 5: 

1. Clients who were not vested in your success. I never understood clients who secretly wanted the agency to fail.

2. Whiners—no explanation needed.

3. People you couldn’t depend on. I hated people who never came through on what they promised, and yet always had an “excuse”, as if I was supposed to think an excuse and a result were one and the same.

4. Companies who don’t pay their bills. The business world is laden with companies who plead poverty and try to skunk vendors for legitimate payments.

5. Tardiness –Those who are constantly late are saying their time and their issues are more important than anyone else’s.

In the end the marketing business is about ideas, big ones that make a difference. I’ve never seceded from that part of the business.

Agency owners: which ones did I miss?  Would enjoy your 2 cents.

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  1. Love the “Strumings” Lonny and glad I snuck in to play a small part in the things you miss (hopefully).


  2. Lonny Strum says:

    Yup Steve. Good talented people like you are on the “miss” list. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Top 5 agency things I don’t miss:

    1. Waste of any sort- time, money, effort. I.e. $300 bottles of wine charged back as a production expense. $1200. gourmet dinner expenses for internal, non-client “production” meetings. Limo rides to client presentations.
    2. The “s#%t rolls downhill” agency scenarios where the worker-bees take the beatings.
    3. Clients that are “ecstatic” over the work until their superiors fire their torpedos because they were never brought into the loop.
    4. The ever-popular, non-existent, phantom “billable hours”.
    5. Stiffing vendors. (Lonny’s #4). The good ole “we won’t pay you until we’ve been paid” line. Problem is, vendors never know if or when the stiffer was paid.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Really good stuff. You da man, Ben. You are definitely in the “things I miss” collumn.

  4. The business has changed. So have people. A real estate broker friend of mine who relies on a junior broker told me that the junior broker just didn’t show up for work one day. No call, no email. Nothing. When my friend called, the junior said, “I didn’t know I had to call you.” And therein lies the problem with all business today. No one cares. And as these juniors get older, it will become worse.

    Most of all, I hate clients and others who don’t respect my time.

  5. Milan Martin says:

    I’m with you Lon but I’ll say this… For all the brutality, lack of respect, zero-sum efforts and heartbreak, most days, I can’t imagine working in any other business. And if you didn’t take a chance on me 15 years back, maybe I’d have gone into the insurance sales game. Less “lows” but far less “highs”. I’ll take the high highs and the low lows any day. Make for a much more interesting life.

  6. Diana says:

    Ah, the memories! Miss, miss, miss the people. When our agency was in it’s hey day, the place hummed with bright, creative people. Don’t miss the pressure to be perfect, poor creative briefs, unresponsive clients or those who consistantly gave their feedback at 4 pm on Friday expecting full revisions by Monday, covering up for others who couldn’t/didn’t carry the load, the egos – both inside and outside the agency.

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