Many people are surprised that I have been in the same industry – advertising – for 40 years. In fact, most are fascinated by the fact that I continue to be so passionate about what I do. I will certainly confess that this has been a great ride so far, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

The other day, when I was chatting with an employee who was just starting their career, they asked if I had “wisdom” to share from all these years? Hmmm, not really a list. I often share with staff and client’s alike things I have carried with me from peers and mentors, but never put it down on paper. So, I decided to give it a shot. I am sure the list below is not an exhaustive one, but it is what I could come up with during the past hour.

Here goes, in no order of significance…

  • YES, the logo and the font should be bigger! It’s about the audience, not the graphic designer.
  • Culture does matter! Walk into most ad agencies today and you see individuals in their office looking at the computer with ear buds plugged in for music. So, how do we define culture today versus yesterday? I think “culture” will continue to be a moving target with each generation. Bottom line, get to know the people you work with.
  • You will always have someone in your agency that doesn’t like you and who will be trying to trip you up – it’s just the way it is. You must learn how to deal with it, work through it, or work around it.
  • Sad to say, but you cannot stop people from gossiping – I’ve tried for 40 years. Unhappy people simply gossip. It’s just the way it is. Why do they gossip? They want you to feel just as miserable as they are. Here is a tip – you want to rise to the top? Stay away from gossip. Management abhors it and will do anything and everything they can to weed it out.
  • IT’S TRUE…in the day, advertising people did drink as much as they depicted on Mad Men. I was there…Fortunately I lived to talk about it. CHEERS. Today, drinking is not as much of the advertising agency culture, but indeed, still part of the business.
  • No matter what technology might suggest, if you can’t write well, you will not make it in the advertising agency business long-term. If you can’t write a strategic brief, a marketing plan, an RFP, find a way to learn.
  • Successful people ask better questions. It’s True. Do your homework. Ask good questions. Don’t ask questions just to ask questions. And the adage “there are no dumb questions”, not true. There are dumb questions. Try to avoid them.
  • Expertise is typically overrated. Sometimes you must rely on feedback to grow. Yup, no matter how brilliant you are, you ultimately must listen to others to succeed.
  • Always, always, always tell the truth…Clients will always, eventually, find out about a lie you’ve been hiding. Mistakes happen. How you handle it matters. Don’t BS people – just say I’m sorry, I blew it…AND MEAN IT. Trust me, clients can live with that…they will have your back if you are truthful.
  • The best innovators are almost uniformly good strategists. Always ask yourself, what is the strategy?
  • Work hard, always. Give it your all. Listen, there may be people who have more talent than you, but there is no excuse for anyone to work harder than you. I’m a living testament to that.
  • If you don’t have a burning passion to be in this business, then you will likely not succeed long-term. Yes, people who love this business are a different breed of characters, and we like it that way.
  • If you have not figured it out yet, we are in a business of storytelling. You should relentlessly obsess about your story. Know what your story is. In our business, emotional communication is more effective than rational communication – its why creatives want to focus on storytelling rather than product attributes.
  • You never know who can help you in your career, so you better assume everyone can. Over the past 40 years, the most unlikely people were incredibly valuable to my growth and success.
  • If you’re checking for new email every five minutes, that’s 24,000 times a year. Responding is critical – but not at the expense of being focused.
  • Getting things done is not the same as making things happen. People who make things happen tend to establish long lasting relationships – at work, in their personal life, with clients.
  • Embrace silence. In a time of instant gratification, we all feel compelled to answer now; don’t. Instead pause, think, and be calculated in your response.
  • There will be fat times and lean times, learn to manage them both.
  • “People will forget what you said; will forget what you did; but will never forget how you made them feel” – I don’t remember who made that quote, but it is a good one. Be that person who makes your peers and team members feel good – make them feel like they are part of the action.
  • It is more forgivable to sell a bad idea well than it is to sell a good idea badly.
  • “Focus. Most Important.” Who said that? Mr. Miyagi. More is not necessarily better. Focus on what’s important…to you…to your company…to your clients.
  • There is still no silver bullet that will allow clients to save money and yet broadly impact consumers in the marketplace. Make sure they know that. Manage expectations, always.
  • In today’s marketing mix, understanding technology, and having the capacity to use technology to unleash creativity, has become critical. Embrace it.
  • Has technology been good for our business? Of course. But there is a danger to our overall connectivity. More megaphones don’t equal a better dialogue. We’ve become slaves to our mobile devices and the glow of our screens. We walk the streets with our heads down staring into 3-inch screens while the world whisks by doing the same. And yet we’re convinced we are more connected to each other than ever before. We are not. Figure out how to integrate face-to-face (or even phone) conversations into your daily life. Real conversations matter – particularly in our industry.
  • Transparency seems to be the rage, but authenticity matters more. The average consumer doesn’t care how you made the toothpaste…they just want to know that it gets their teeth clean.
  • Always remain true to who you are as an individual. Don’t morph into someone else to get the biscuit. In the end, you’ll find it to be an empty pursuit.
  • Advertising agencies have one big advantage – ignorance. In other words, objectivity. Clients tend to be too close to their company/products. There is a pure, humanly relevant essence to every business…the soul of the company. This is where the ignition points for business and marketing live. Always strive to intimately learn the soul of each of your clients.
  • People will never admit that they like advertising…they watch it, use it, talk about it…and tell you they hate it. Don’t buy it.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect brief. Just smart, hardworking teams blurring the lines between account, strategy, creative, production, technology, and everything in between.
  • Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good. Try to live each day as if it were your last.
  • Ask yourself, in 5 years will this ad, campaign, conversation, strategy matter. Hopefully it will.
  • Be compassionate to everyone no matter the level of connection. Make compassion a core business value of yours.
  • Advertising can be a fun, challenging, fulfilling career if you want it to be.

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison is a full-service marketing communications firm – advertising agency – headquartered in Winter Springs, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. Have questions? Email us at

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