59 Days Later

Last week, part one of my #TGAA wrap up was a rather lengthy blog about one of my main takeaways from our journey. Well, as I mentioned, there were plenty of other lessons too. So, here are 8 more crucial things I learned along the way. While I won’t go into as much detail about these, they do carry the same weight in my eyes.

2. The career you have may not be the one you’re destined for.

This lesson comes from Wesley Hoffman at the TreehouseNetworkshop. If you were to look at his LinkedIn page, you’d see that he’s had quite a diverse career. Yet, I think I can safely say that he’s happier now than he’s ever been. Learning about how he came up with, nurtured and executed Treehouse is a lesson all its own—and one he'll happily share. That’s why I shall forever push for him to speak anywhere and everywhere I go. It wasn’t the career he thought he’d have, but it’s the one he certainly fit right into.

3. Don’t horde your talent. Share it.

Get involved with your creative community. Do pro-bono work. Share your insights, knowledge and opinions. The more we collaborate with each other, the better the results. I saw creative communities that seemed more like family than rival businesses; but I also came across creative communities who had shut themselves off from one another. Want to take a guess as to which ones did more impressive work? St. Louis is the prime example of a close-knit creative community. I met people from nearly every agency in town and they were all extremely kind, inviting and willing to talk shop with me. Why? They all shared the same attitude—the better we all do, the better the city does and the better the city does, the better we all do.

4. Don’t be afraid to say no.

This may be the scariest of all the lessons I learned, because no one likes saying “no”, especially to their boss. However, to keep your sanity intact, you have to go out on a limb every now and then. I learned this lesson, when I discovered a co-worker had missed their best friend’s wedding because of a looming deadline. Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, but it’s important to understand that some things need to take precedence over our work—especially things that only happen once in our lifetime. Don’t go hurling “no’s” left and right, but use them when you have to. People will understand. On a side note, I’d also recommend reading David Oakley’s Book, “Why Is Your Name Upside Down”. He talks about a few ‘no’s’ he had to deliver in his career and they're pretty amusing to boot. 

5. If you love something, go after it.

I learned this lesson through the likes of Alex Kocher and Maria Roepke—two individuals who fell in love with a city and went after it. For Alex it was Portland and for Maria it was Austin. They were so passionate about being there that they threw caution to the wind and made a move; and now they’re both happier for it. It can be a bit frightening, but also very worthwhile. Several years ago, I did something similar when I made my move to NYC. I sold my car and left for the Big Apple without so much as a job in mind. But my persistence and hard work paid off in the end. And I wouldn't be surprised if I moved back there one day.  

6. Never stop exploring your city.    

I’ll admit that in a few of my stops, I stayed in the wrong part of town. Not because of crime or anything (well… sometimes), but because there just wasn’t anything going on. Heck, I’ve lived in northeast Ohio for a combined total of about 23 years and I’m still finding new neighborhoods here. What the whole thing made me realize was that a few blocks can make a big difference. You might write off an entire area, without ever finding that art district tucked away down the street. Plus, you might just discover something you fall in love with—a place that can change your entire opinion of where you live. St. Louis, Memphis, Portland and San Francisco were prime examples of this in my case.

7. Create your ideal work environment.

Before I embarked on #TGAA, I pretty much assumed everyone worked at a desk. Boy, was I wrong! Some people work on couches, some stand all day, some work from home, others prefer to relax in a beanbag chair. There are those who need silence when they work and those who blast Arcade Fire into their headphones. I never knew you had so many options or that they’d be so widely accepted. That’s why I bounce around on an exercise ball nowadays. It keeps me moving, which I love, and helps me get the creative juices flowing. I found my ideal work environment and I hope you do too. Try some things out and see what works best for you.

8. Don’t limit your creativity after 5pm.

Don’t limit yourself to the 9-5. If you have passions other than what you do for a living, explore them! Play sports, paint, dance, sing, perform, parent—do whatever it is you love to do. Some days it might be a little difficult to get up the energy, but I promise you it’s worth it. As I mentioned last week, I met people who had put their life on a constant loop—wake up, work, eat, sleep, repeat. You could see they’d lost their passion, because they'd given everything they had to their careers. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your damnedest at what you do, just make sure you leave a little left over for yourself. It’ll make you happier and even help you in the office too.

9. Know that learning isn’t limited to students. 

There will always be people who refuse to learn and you shouldn’t be one of them. They’re the ones who still see social media as a “fad” and still insist overheads are the best way to give a presentation—the late adopters. The problem is, as things change, these individuals get pushed further and further out until one day, their skill set is completely outdated. While I didn’t see many of these situations along the way, I did come across a few. If you have an opportunity to learn something new—take it. It may come in handy one day and if you’re passionate enough about it, it might lead to some rather interesting opportunities.

10. Give others a chance.

Something that surprised me was the individuals who'd write me off for one reason of another. Some immediately assumed I was an intern and treated me as such. Others were hostile from the get-go, worried that I’d be taking work from them. Thankfully, both sets of people were in the minority. I met so many passionate individuals, who constantly inspired me and I shall be forever grateful to them, But every now and then, someone would come along and belittle me before even getting to know me. While I expressed my frustrations about the whole “intern” thing during the project (again, I’ve been in the industry for 7 years), a few of those situations still linger with me. It was like biting into an apple and finding you sunk your teeth into that one rotten spot. It immediately put a bad taste in my mouth about the agency. Especially the few who took it upon themselves to try and sabotage the project. So, I encourage everyone out there to just give people a chance. Listen to their stories, figure out who they are and then pass judgment—never begin with step #3. 

-Steve-

 

52 Days Later

For the past couple weeks, I’ve constantly been asked, “What’s the one thing you learned from #TGAA now that it’s over and done with?” To be honest, I don’t think I can ever sum it up into one lesson. But, now that the dust has settled, I’ve finally had some time to kick back and reflect on all of the things I learned in 14 months on the road. And along the way, there was definitely one constant that followed me through the entire journey:

A love of where you live can greatly improve your love of what you do.

What does that mean exactly? It means in order to sustain your highest level of creativity, you have to be able to leave the office everyday and enjoy wherever it is you’re going. Obviously, you should also love where you work, but I think I spoke to that enough throughout the project.

The most inspiring people I met along my route, were the ones who have an unbridled love for the place they call home; people like Wes from TreehouseNetworkshop or the boys of the Creative Memphis podcast. These are people who could take their talents anywhere and make an impact. Yet, they are where they are not by circumstance, but by choice. These are individuals who act as unofficial ambassadors for their cities, no matter where they are in the world. They’ve built a network of likeminded entrepreneurs, creatives and students, who are working together to spread the good graces of the place they call home and build plenty of new ones. They’re actively involved in the community and always do their damnedest to win over outsiders. To put it simply—they connect people. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a native of said city to have a deep seeded passion for it. Take Alex Kocher for instance. He fell in love with Portland before he moved there and now that he’s planted his roots in the city, it’s as if he’d been there his entire life. In only two year's time, he’s already become fluent in the culture, nightlife and concert calendar. He’s constantly seeking out new ways to become involved and that comes from an unrivaled devotion—one you cannot manufacture, fake or buy.

I’m sure many of you are saying, “that’s all well and good but what does any of that have to do with my creative work?” Well, it’s simple. When you’re happy outside of the office, your enthusiasm has a much better chance of carrying over into the things you do during the 9-5. After all, what better way to tout your love of a city than to help put it on the map with great creative, new clients—and of course—awards?

Hands down, the most impressive shops I came across were the ones filled with these passionate individuals. They teach at local colleges; attend creative showcases; know the latest stats of young professionals in the area; and never make excuses for the place they call home. They all know their cities aren't perfect, but rather than dwell on the blemishes, they focus on the stepping-stones. 

On the flip side, the most unimpressive places I visited were filled with individuals who simply do their job, go home and put life on repeat. They never interact with co-workers outside of the office and many of them don't even live within the city’s limits. They see it as a job and nothing more. I found these locations to be absolutely disheartening, because you could see how much talent is within their walls, yet it's being wasted because the people there simply aren’t happy. I know, because I was in a similar situation not that long ago.

There was a time in my life when I dreaded leaving the office because I wasn’t happy with the place I called home. It was fine for awhile, but little by little it began to follow me through the office doors and then the workdays started to drag and feel like a chore instead of an outlet. The same goes for the city of Cleveland. There was a time when I hated being here. I had believed so many of the talking points that I started buying into them—to me the city looked like the death throws of a once magnificent creature.

Then #TGAA happened and it opened my eyes.

There wasn’t a single city on the journey that lacked a Wes, an Alex, an Andrew or a Billy. I could listen for hours on end as these individuals told me of great restaurants, bourgeoning industries and revitalized art districts; of the entrepreneurs retraining the city's disenfranchised; of business owners buying up land to repurpose it; of activists working tirelessly to save landmarks and buildings. They spoke with such passion and enthusiasm, I couldn’t help but be won over. I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to pick a ‘favorite city’. I was introduced to the special wonders each one held and in a way; they’re all my favorite.

As the months passed by and I continued to listen to these individuals speak, I began to reflect on my own hometown. It made me wonder if perhaps there was more to it than what the news was telling me. So, I did some research and began to uncover a new world I never knew existed. I read up on the revitalization of the Flats and Playhouse Square, I learned about the growing medical industry and the resurgence of the downtown area. I found theater groups, networking events, creative workshops, advertising meet-ups and festivals abound. I started to get the feeling that perhaps Cleveland was the place I loved all along. As time went on, I found myself defending the city more and more. I was quick to share its strengths and happy to invite others to see it first hand. 

I had finally found the passion that I so admired in others. That’s one reason I’ve decided to stay here for now (the others being too personal to share). I want to put my newfound passion to good use and help establish Cleveland as a creative powerhouse. I want to be more involved in the community and make a mark that I simply could not make anywhere else. Will I always call Cleveland home? I doubt it. But, I have a feeling this is where my heart will always remain.

That's it for part 1 of my recap. Part 2 will be posted next week, I believe. 

-Steve-

 

 

 

Day 383

I’ve always known that like the ocean, the ad industry is defined by its never-ending movement. Yet, over the past year, I’ve come to learn just how much things can change in a year’s time. Some things come about unexpectedly and others are welcomed with open arms. There have even been times they've caused more than a handful of hiccups for the project. I chalk it up as a learning experience and think you’ll agree much of what’s happened spells good things for the industry as a whole—or at the very least that many of the agencies I’ve visited are on the fast track to greater success.

Way back in the planning process, whenever a new agency would join the project, I was always given a point of contact to speak with prior to my impending arrival—that’s 14 different people in 14 different offices. The interesting thing about it all is that of those 14 people, only seven of them were still working at the agency on my first day.

What I learned over time was that a majority of them went on to higher-paying jobs or other industries entirely. Of course, the people still at the agencies had nothing but positive things to say about these folks, so I consider it as good things happening to good people. It's also an uplifting sign about the current state of hiring within the industry too. That’s always welcomed news, if you ask me.

A number of agencies also rebranded at some point during the project—TRISECT (who dropped their '3') in Chicago, Campbell Mithun (now just Mithun) in Minneapolis and Y&R Group (formally Wunderman) in Seattle. Whether it’s through an acquisition or the result of changes within the agency, you can’t deny that every once in awhile a new coat of paint can do wonders.

It could've all been spurred by a change in management, location or focus, but they all know you have to keep up with current trends if you hope to continually find success. The same goes for people working within the industry. That’s why a lot of creatives end up going back to school, attending monthly seminars or furthering their education in some shape or form. Relevancy is a magical thing.

The final change I’ve come to notice has to do with location. Three agencies have since relocated their office since my departure (97 Degrees West, Mithun and We Are Social) and Evolution Bureau is actually moving their office from San Francisco to Oakland next month. On top of that, Recess Creative added more space, Red Tettemer opened a west coast branch (stop #14) and I wouldn’t be shocked if Pollinate and Boxing Clever relocate within the next year, because they’re bursting at the seams with growth. It’s exciting to watch these agencies succeed, especially as I now consider many of them to be friends. 

What it all comes down to is that this is not an industry for procrastinators, dilly-dallyers or lazy asses. Everything moves at such a rapid pace, if you close your eyes for too long it will pass you by. In the end, I think it’s safe to say that determination and hard work really do pay off in the ad world. I’ve seen far too many instances of it across this country for it to be a coincidence. Do your very best, keep up with current trends and never be afraid to try something new. Those are the lessons I’ve learned and that’s what keeps me moving forward in this crazy, crazy business.

-Steve-