Food For Thought: An Agency Life

An advertising agency is one of life’s peculiar things. Some outfits overflow with optimism and soar to stratospheric, fiscal heights.  Others languish in a sea of struggle – year after year — customers are few and far between. The thought of closing of shop is always one breath away. The process goes this way: “I love being creative, but I ain’t got nothing to create.” The last part is a surefire path to rage, or being eternally pissed off. Agency life should be one where the highest creative achievement is realized. In truth, it is an existence where a creative director is beset by WTF moments.


I read recently that advertising agencies are considered by members of the public to be less trustworthy than used car salesmen. But hey! We are still one level above politicians…but that’s another story.


Face it, we hawk products like carnival barkers. We promise to lead you to the woman with a third breast – only to reveal it is only an extra roll of fat hanging from her chin. We are asked to speak the truth, and we should. When I sit down with a new client, I tell them I feel obligated to always tell them the truth. (I may unfold it in segments over a few days, but it will be the truth.) New clients plead to know your speculative prognostication regarding how their products will perform after they hire you.

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Clients want to know whether they have exhausted their capital with a group of consumers, a how impactful it will be on their revenue. They want the truth. The client is saying regardless of the forecast of product performance, they can handle it. We shouldn’t be reluctant to engage in that dialogue. We’re being paid for our expertise and insight. The honest ad agency will tell them if their perceptions are real or imagined. There is an abiding truth – when you think you’ve tapped out, find new markets.


CDM clients have mostly been small and mid-sized businesses. You know – bookstores –insurance agencies — retail stores, car dealerships, restaurants, spas, computer stores and even software companies. In other words, Mom and Pop of all ethnic gradations. Small business – the engine of the American economic machine. Those are the people who built their business from nothing. Despite their courage in stepping forward to get a hand up, there is a lot of uncertainty among them. It affects business because it causes reluctance to commit to paying an agency to help them to market their company. This isn’t advanced insight into anything. It is the truth.


Why is it that as we go through WTF in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, small agencies will continue to deal with customers and use effective strategies to market products. Sometimes, we use a combination of blended marketing tactics with public relations.  It’s advertising because the goal is to grow sales.


Agency life has taught me that no matter what the circumstances may be, there is one truth. The customer needs our ability to navigate their issues. To me, this is the fuel that allows me to breathe and be good at what I do.  


Bernard Alexander McNealy, President/Creative Director

Bernard Alexander McNealy

Bernard Alexander McNealy

Advertising agency owner and creative director. Married and published writer of mystery novels.