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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Moonlighting: How To Be A Successful Suit And A Brilliant Creative On The Sly


Moonlighting: How To Be A Successful Suit And A Brilliant Creative On The Sly

Posted on March 31, 2005 and read 6,328 times

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I never wanted to be a suit.

After a tourist’s education, which began in psychology and resulted in a degree in English, a stint in interior design, a diploma in creative advertising and an insatiable desire for knowledge – I set out, finally knowing exactly what I was meant to do in life. I would work in advertising, the greatest industry in the world, as a top writer.

Somehow, five months later, I found myself in a small advertising and design agency as their account manager.

The world over, there is no more demanding a job than that of an advertising account executive. To be successful in this field requires the discipline of a kamikaze pilot, the sincerity of an evangelist, the versatility of a chameleon and the ability to seamlessly meld all these characteristics into one, clean cut, cucumber cool package.

I stepped into this position, like a deer into a clearing, with equal parts of doubt, mistrust and fear. I could only hope that the confidence and charisma I had channeled to get the job in the first place, would come to my rescue when it came to putting it to practice. Ultimately, hard work, on-your-feet thinking, charm, and some shmoozability, got me through the learning period with few mishaps and even, the occasional accolade.

For months I learned all I could and my days were at once, demanding and fruitful. But, when the work day was over, I felt unfulfilled. I was first and foremost a creative writer and strategies and briefs just weren’t cutting it. Then one day it happened. I was researching a client’s product, dreaming up concepts for my own private pleasure, when suddenly the solution became obvious. We are a small shop who outsources freelance writers for all of our projects – why on earth, was I sending out all of this glorious work to anonymous freelancers? It was I, who knew the client’s business; I, who had researched and devised their strategies; I, who wrote with passion and fervent dedication and I, who was already on the payroll.

And so began my secret life. I started small with the little jobs like banner ads and worked my way up to print. I’d manage multinational accounts by day and – every night – quietly drag home mountains of research, then write, write, write.

Every job has a bright facade and a dark underbelly – two jobs, exponentially so. As beneficial as it can be to see behind the curtain, several conflicts arise when you are both Dorothy and the Wizard.

1. It’s up to you to grant your own wishes.

When you are the account exec and the creative party, you can’t pass the ball. You are the boss of the entire project from beginning until end. This means that if ANYTHING goes wrong, at ANY point of the process – there is only one person to blame and nowhere to hide. Ultimately, you are responsible for the prep, the action, the inspection, the revision and the presentation. Good luck.

2. Clicking your heels three times won’t get you out of anything.

Making concessions to the client when selling your creative team’s work is a given. Compromising on something you’ve given birth to, something you’ve loved and nurtured into maturity, is hell. No ruby slippers are going to get you out of this – you just have to grin and act like you like it. You can cry yourself to sleep between 5 and 7am, when the day’s work is done.

3. Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

Ultimately, you are your own worst enemy. “Creative You” knows your idea is bright, attractive, sexy and fresh. This side of you also suspects your idea could possibly solve world hunger, keep down gas prices and, best of all – clean up at Cannes. On the other hand, “Suit You” knows that the idea must satisfy your client’s agenda, that it must be sell-able and profitable, completely on strategy, follow branding guidelines and have a huge logo, smack dab in the middle of the page. The dark side suspects that legal always knows best (after momma) and, what’s worse, knows deep down that sometimes your “big idea” belongs in the garbage. Every day you wage war on yourself, and every day you walk away nursing a wound.

No doubt about it – leading a double life is tough, ask Peter Parker. You constantly have to choose between love and duty. The process is unforgiving and cruel at times, but also infinitely rewarding. At worst you go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong, at best you are inspired to create again. In either instance, you learn to bridge the gap between your role as an account person and your role as a creative, and ultimately become better – way better – at both.

So, having overcome the perils of professional multiplicity, the dream of becoming a full-time copywriter grows ever closer to becoming a reality. In the meantime, I continue to insist on a tight strategy from myself, expect my creative work to be on-target every time and maintain love and respect for both teams. I am following in the tradition of the superheroes: Suit by day, creative by night.

I’d always heard that advertising was an industry of egos. For some of us, it has evolved into an industry of alter egos.


Lonelle Selbo is the account manager and copywriter for a small ad and design agency. Her creative outlets include writing articles and reviews for select magazines, commissioned portrait art, interior design and exploring different forms of writing.






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