Archive for the ‘small business’ Category

Why I Sucked at Owning an Ad Agency

June 13, 2017

I started my agency before I was 30 years old with no college degree, no real experience other than selling radio time, and a passion for writing. I wanted to exercise my creative muscle, produce commercials, work with clients to make their business better. All lovely notions.

People typically go into business for themselves with their one skill. But they lack the other critical traits it takes to avoid heartache and failure. For example, I had no idea how to read a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement … I figured I had an accountant for that.

I had zero management skills. My old boss used to tell me, “Managing creative people is the hardest thing you will ever do.” How right she was! Your employees are working for completely different reason than you. It’s not a family. It’s a business. I thought if you cared for employees like family members, nurture them and provide what they needed to be successful and do good work, we would all live happily ever after.


My codependent approach to managing staff was my undoing in the end. My naïve, yet well-intentioned method in handling people ended up in several misunderstandings and broken relationships. I trusted too much and trusted the wrong people, leaving my faith in humanity shattered.

After 32 years as an agency owner, I sold the company almost three years ago. I started in a spare room and ended up with Emmy nominations, Telly awards and other recognitions. I made a living, was responsible for livelihoods of 7 other people, and worked with an incredibly diverse roster of clients. Most of the creative now is “cut and paste”, which saddens me, and much of my work is still out there, which is a compliment to my talent and passion that started it all.

Business ownership is not for soft-hearted, pie-in the-sky thinkers. It takes structure, discipline and the ability to “know what you don’t know”.

Lesson learned.


I’m Baaaaaack!

June 12, 2017

I took a little hiatus from the blog.  Since I sold my little agency almost three years ago,  I moved to the family farm, where my nearest neighbor is a mile away and I learned poison ivy is a real scourge.  I missed advertising, though, and my outlet here, where I’ve met some interesting people over the years.

Several months ago, the new owners of my agency asked me to come back and help out a little.  THAT has been an interesting experience, with some moments I’ll share in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, let’s get a new conversation started, one-sided as it may be in the beginning.   AdChick is BACK in the nest!


Chief Cook and Copy Writer

February 4, 2010

Ah….it feels good to be back. Or does it?

My sweetheart had a serious car accident. In a second, priorities shifted. But now that he’s better, reality  has shown its large ass and I’m reminded what the entrepreneurial experience is all about. After 27 years on my own, why am I still surprised how intense a day can be? It’s like the bus pulled up and everyone got off at the same stop. Clients need copy changes. Media needs to be planned.  Staff need a paycheck. In order to give them one, bills must go out. And surely, there’s a Yellow Pages Sales Rep who needs to be cursed.

In a small agency, you don’t have time to bask in gossip, awards, or winning new business. You learn to spin plates, buy time, reason quickly, stash snacks in your desk, keep beer in the fridge, teach clients to work on your time table, not theirs, and do it all with a certain amount of grace. That last part I have yet to master.

Today, I made a dent in the pile, engaged a potentially awesome new client, and planned tomorrow. I left my desk after 12 1/2 hours, numb and brain dead, but thankful that tomorrow I won’t have to answer to some ego crazed Art Director, put up with some annoying intern (no, not YOU Mags!) or a too-familiar office girl. It’s my nest and along with the stress comes the right to surround yourself with cool people who love makin’ the work. No Assholes Allowed.  It’s good to be  back!

Please…take a number!


January 15, 2010

…I watched a 60+ clients eyes glaze over as I showed him TweetDeck and explained Twitter.

…I was polite to a guy named Brad from India who called about Internet Advertising.

…I did not feel sorry for telling a deadbeat client that if he can do his own web updates, then by all means, please do.  But if he wants me to teach him how, there would be a charge.

…I did not toss the postage meter out the window when it said “inspection due”.

…I out-shocked the client who calls me and attempts to shock me with excessive swearing and vulgar, sexual overtones. I actually rather enjoyed it.

…I was patient with the client who, instead of reading what I sent to her BEFORE she called me, she read it to herself while I was on the phone with her.

…I realized I will NEVER be able to write down every thing that’s in my head.

…I counted the minutes until it’s time to load the car and go skiing for a week.

See ya’ January 25th!  I’M ON VACATION!!

Can’t ride the Harley in this weather!

Making a buck the creative way!

November 15, 2009

The creative ingenuity of people never ceases to amaze me. People are finding all sorts of unique ways to make a buck. Like Jason, the guy who Twitters shitmydadsays. I’m quite sure he NEVER thought it would end up in CBS looking at his Twitter Account as the making of a possible Television Show. Then there’s Jason, the shirtwearer, says:  “In this up and down economy I’m outsourcing my wardrobe (namely shirts) to corporate america and you! I’m going to wear a different shirt for 365 days straight in 2009, take multiple pictures throughout my day and blog about it. Days are sold at “face value” so January 1 is $1 and December 31 is $365.” And, its coast to coast.  “Two times the exposure to 2 separate audiences in 2 separate time zones”. Jason in Florida and his pal Evan in LA!  Business is booming too, because Jason is SOLD OUT thru July of 2010. Good for them.

Then there’s says: “As a single parent struggling with the ups and downs of the economy, I have decided to use my free time to read your books. I am going to read one book a week for 2010. That’s books 500 pages or less. IF your book is over 500 pages, I suggest buying 2 weeks back to back. I will read, take pictures, blog daily and use Youtube along with other marketing resources to increase interest in your book.” Bless her heart.  She’s promoting reading!

These people are being quite inventive, capitalizing on the moment, the trends, using their resources and making a living. I like it.

Picture 3Follow Jasons Tweets Here.

Picture 4

Follow Judi’s Tweets here.



But Judi, use a different photo…this one isn’t “Literary” enough.

Tricky, but very legal.

August 20, 2009

Another great example of just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

You get to deal with him personally.  “We are able to get your add brought up when your customers are looking for your competitors site.”

 Please… someone buy this fellow a dictionary.

Picture 2

Tricky, but very legal.         


Small might just be the new big

June 3, 2009

It must be nice at those big agencies, I think.  To have teams of writers, planners,  executives, designers, divisions, groups, juniors, seniors, vice-presidents, CFO’s, CEO’s, COO’s, principals and the like.  But I think smaller shops have become increasingly popular in the era of the Big Dumb Agencies, as dear George Parker describes them. I have a few suspicions why:

1.  Nimble.  Because we don’t have a lot of people to get in the way of progress, we can turn on a dime for a client. They like that.

2. Loyal. Genuinely and to a fault. We need our precious clients to be successful, or else we’ll cease to exist. So we tend to act like we’re their partner.  And really, we are.

3. Honest. Maybe too much at times. The rest of my team jokes about how “blunt” I can be with a client. Hey, if their hours suck, their staff is surly, the inventory dated, or the prices too high, someone needs to tell them…might as well be a “partner”.  I care.  (See Number 2.)

4. Efficient. Time is money.  We’re small and don’t have the luxury of waxing poetic about a piece of creative for months.  We study the issues and then work hard to sell something. Isn’t that what advertising is supposed to do, after all?

5. Hungry.  We don’t eat till someone sells something. And we all know it, so we take nothing for granted.

6. Cost-conscious. Small agencies “feel the pain” of our small clients.  We have to make money, but we don’t nickle and dime a client for every breath we take on their behalf.

7. Ego-less. Well, somewhat. If you think you’re the smartest one in the group, then you can’t work in a small shop.  Arrogance just doesn’t work.  Collaboration does.

There is no corner on creativity and problem solving. The layoffs are many in big agencies, and sadly, some iconic firms are closing their doors. All the while, here in Hooterville, we are busy, enjoying the creative process, raising our families in a sweet small town, designing, writing, producing and living.  Sure, we endure the same client crap, just on a smaller scale. And true, we’re not creating the image for a big national brand where there is so much at stake, but I do believe we could have developed a better Pepsi Logo…and for a lot less money.


Small Town Tweeting

May 13, 2009
images-4Twitter has finally made it to Hooterville
and the content is scintillating!   Just listen!
…I really wish I hated Rod Stewart more.

…man, I just got a huge craving for Chicken McNuggets…where’d that come from?

….Why hello there weekend…we meet again…and I see you are wearing your stretchy pants…well played.

…me thinks its sleepy time.

…can’t tell if my dog just farted or burped…we’ll all know in moments.

…Yard is mowed and I’m ready to chill.

….Dude! Your grilling is the shit.

Even our noon Rotary is all Twittery about Twitter.  Hey, it’s a new toy to play with when you likely should be WORKING!   I’ll play along, when I can tear myself away from PAYING WORK, because I want to understand it.  Josh Klein had some interesting thoughts on Twitter  and I was flattered that The Ad Contrarian would not only follow my Tweets, but send me an email to thank me for following him.  Hell, I’d pick up his dry cleaning.

But so far, Tweeting here in Tiny Town is mostly  used for bullshit, as you can see. It’s hard to see a bigger picture when a keyboard gives you the power to be a legend in your own mind.  Using it as email is incredibly stupid, as no one CARES if your dog farted or you hate Rod Stewart.  These people must be lonely.  There have been some worthy tweets that took me to an interesting article or video. Maybe if users were offering more viable and noteworthy information, I could find some redeeming value in it all.  I believe Adscam feels the same way…not to mention there is no way (yet) it’s gonna make any money.  Jane Sample has found a way for advertisers to use it….hmmm.  But I agree…this could fast turn into spam/telemarketing.

Follow me at adchick22 and I’ll try to be worthy of your attention. (someone else took adchick…squatter)

The Day the Camera Crashed

April 1, 2009

Our methods of video production are far and away quite different from those of the great big production houses in great big cities.  We have no sound guy, no best boy, no craft service (unless there’s a vending machine nearby).  Just my amazing camera guy, me and sometimes we drag an intern along.  And lemme tell you, we do a LOT with VERY little.

So earlier this week, we were shooting in a grocery store with mom’s and kids. It’s the very last shot. Camera Guy is getting a microphone on little Abbie. I’m checking my notes…or something. Three year old Max sees the knob on the tri-pod and can’t resist the urge to twist it.  $23,000 worth of camera slaps to the floor.  Camera Guy turns white.  My adreaneline surge is so strong I think I might pass out.

I tell you this story because I want you to understand how deeply the entreprenuerial spirit runs in a shop like ours.  I own the place, but Camera Guy knows his craft, his industry and the technology so well its like HE owns the place. He reads every trade journal, listens to blogs, attends webinars, emails and communicates with other videographers…and so, he knew exactly what to do when the camera went crashing.  Within minutes, he had a loaner. Within 12 hours, he had a variety of options for us. He kept the business rolling. 

Same holds true with our Designer Guy.  By necessity, he has turned into our IT department. He doesn’t really like it, but he does it, saving us precious time and money.  Oh yeah, he’s a great designer with strong mechanical skills,  is kind and patient with clients (I’m not usually) who appreciate his sincere and pragmatic approach.  He owns the place, too.

The beauty of working in Hooterville is I don’t have to work with egotistical schmucks. Rather, talented, creative, hardworking people who enjoy small town living and never, ever say “That’s not my job.”     How cool is that?

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