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My Biggest Lesson: What I Learned from the Worst Job in Advertising

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Boudreau Advertising's Wil Boudreau on learning to be humble, tenacious, quick witted and above all else, grateful

My Biggest Lesson: What I Learned from the Worst Job in Advertising

Back in my early days, I was sitting in a college classroom when I happened upon the word 'copywriter' in a communications textbook. “I could do that,” I said to my far skinnier and stupider self.  

After graduating, one Sunday morning on July Fourth weekend, an ad caught my eye in the New York Times classifieds (Yes, job searches were absurdly analog then). The tiny ad declared cheerily, “While everyone’s partying this weekend, you’re looking for an opportunity.”  The job opening was for a copywriter at something called a recruitment ad agency.  So I put on the itchy wool suit that my parents insisted people wore to job interviews and headed to the city.

It turned out that recruitment ad agencies created exactly the kind of classified ad I had responded to.  Literally one inch by one half inch-sized, all copy ads, advertising jobs of all kinds.    

I interviewed with a young guy named Cliff. He liked me, but he wanted to give me a test.  So, he sent me home with an assignment.  Write an ad for Lilco, the Long Island based power company, looking for IT professionals. Twenty-four hours later, I turned in my submission. A masterpiece in my opinion.  “Light Up Your Career!” screamed the headline. I was hired immediately. I soon arrived for work on the thirty-ninth floor of the Empire State Building. I was twenty-one years old. And I was on my way.

To hell, I was on my way to hell. The job sucked. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the worst copywriting job available in advertising at that time. Cliff quit about a month after I got there. The only thing even remotely cool about it was that it was in the Empire State Building.  

So, what did I learn?  

The first thing I learned was humility. Every other job I’ve had since that one has seemed like my advertising dream job, including the one where I wrote live announcer radio for a laxative and had to use the word constipation in the first five seconds. “I’m going to play one of those word association games with you. Ready? Constipation.” 

When I made it to BBDO New York four years later, I felt like I had been chosen to be an astronaut. After seeing only the lobbies of every major agency in NYC, I was actually allowed to walk those hallowed hallways.  

Which leads me to the second thing I learned. Tenacity.  It took me three horrible jobs to claw my way up from the advertising sewer pipe.  Sometimes, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank, you gotta dig through a mile of shit before you reach the promised land.   

Sometimes they’d call me in my tiny office and say they needed a headline in five minutes.  This taught me to think quickly.   I came to like the energy of these emergency headline assignments.   I’d later learn to apply this quick thinking to meetings.  Thinking of something interesting to say quickly is what makes you stand out in a meeting.  That, and eating the fruit when there’s pastry.  Nobody ever eats the fruit.

The final thing I learned is that I should’ve been less proud. That’s right, I took that soul-sucking gig because at least I would have the title 'Copywriter'.  I should’ve taken a job as what was then referred to as a “secretary” in the creative department at any ad agency in New York.  I would’ve been promoted in six months and would’ve saved myself four years of slogging away down in the advertising minor leagues. I saw it happen time and time again at BBDO to many deserving young creative wanna be’s.  Some of them are advertising luminaries now.

Eventually I managed to get titles like ECD and CCO.  And I got to live out most of my advertising dreams. New biz wins, Super Bowl spots, exotic shoots, doormen at fancy LA hotels who knew my name. I’m still doing it and still having fun against all odds.

- Be humble.

- Be tenacious.

- Be quick witted.

- Don’t let your ego get in the way.  

- And above all else, be grateful.  

We’re not astronauts and despite what every single advertising job posting says, we’re not rock stars. But we are amazingly lucky to do what we do for a living. Even if you’ve got the worst job in advertising, you’re likely having way more fun than all your friends who went to law school.  

And you never ever have to wear an itchy wool suit.


Wil Boudreau is Founder/CCO of Boudreau Advertising

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Elvove Associates, Thu, 20 Jan 2022 13:10:42 GMT