“This Place Sucks. I Should Leave. Seriously.”

Most of the time it was probably real bad being stuck down in a torture dungeon. But some days, when there was a bad storm outside, you’d look through the bars of your little window and think, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not out in that.”

–From “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.”

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I remember a time early in my career when I had serious “Fallon McElligott envy.”

Nowadays, of course, there are other kinds of envy – take your pick: Crispin envy; Wieden envy. For me, back in the early ‘80s, it was Fallon envy. This condition made me kind of a pain in the ass to be around, because I would bring up my admiration for that agency at pretty much every opportunity.

It was worst on days when things weren’t going my way. If an ad of mine didn’t sell, I’d whine, “Man, I bet they woulda sold it at Fallon.” If I saw a great Fallon campaign in a magazine, I’d flog my own agency by saying, “Man, there’s no way we coulda sold that ad at this agency.” If I was put on some little low-budget job, this too was cause for keening, “Man, if I was at Fallon I wouldn’t have to work on stupid crap like this.”

It has been said that whining is simply anger coming through a very small hole. As much as I hate to admit it, I was once a whiner. (But I had to, don’t you see? Because everything sucked except me. Clients sucked. Research sucked. Account people sucked. Right? Am I right?)

There are a lot of whiners in the agency business. I’m not sure why this is so but that’s my take on it anyway. Here’s the thing: can you imagine if agency whiners started turning up in other lines of work?

CUT TO WHINER DOING SURGERY IN AN OPERATING ROOM.

“Man, if I were at the Mayo Clinic, I’d be doin’ something besides these stupid fibrosarcomas.”

CUT TO WHINING NUCLEAR PHYSICIST.

“Man, the particle beam accelerator over at MIT is so much better than this piece of crap.”

CUT TO A WHINER AT A SHOE STORE.

“Man, I should get a job over at Foot Locker. Those guys are so good. This place sucks.”

My guess is that if we overheard whiners in other lines of work goin’ on like this, we’d just slap ‘em into next Tuesday. We’d wanna yell, “Then quit, you knucklehead. No one’s holdin’ a gun at your head.”

In my defense, I don’t whine as much these days. Part of what cured me is that eventually I did land a job at Fallon and worked there for ten years. To my horror I discovered there was stupid crap to deal with at Fallon, just like everywhere else. And so it goes. Even today, I have friends at Crispin who, in hushed whispers over the phone, tell me “Man, this place is so screwed up.”

Maybe what makes advertising such a perfect storm for the creation of whining is this: I read somewhere that every company in the world is broken in some way; basic faults run through every company that make working there way harder than it has to be. Which means our problem in advertising is we work in a broken company for another broken company. Like tectonic plates crushing against each other, these pressures result in volcanoes and earthquakes but of the whining variety.

You probably know a whiner. I encourage you to keep your distance because their effect is fairly poisonous. It’s hard enough to keep your spirits up in this business. Having someone draped over the chair in your office whining about how bad things are, it’s not good for the spirit.

(This article sucks. I bet if I wrote for Mashable’s blog I’d be writing really good stuff.)

44 Comments

  1. Another aspect of all this is the way that creatives fall in love with brand names – both agencies and people.

    Back when I threw my book away and reinvented my career in the late 90s, and had the help of lots of good people like yourself, I was so determined to get into a “great” agency that I turned down 9 job offers from good ones. Jobs that would have been really good stepping stones if I had been a little more open-minded.

    And when I finally did get into an agency that was fairly legendary, I discovered to my shock that it wasn’t all that. I treasure the friends made and lessons learned, but the dirty little secret is that I could have learned and grown at all nine of those agencies.

    There’s no doubt that there was a time in my career when I thought working in the same room with Luke Sullivan or Lee Clow would magically imbue me with vast copywriting powers. Oh to touch the hem of the great one’s robe!!!

    The thing that too many young creatives (and older ones) forget is that it’s not how “great” an agency is; it’s how great it can be for you. Will you stand in line for opportunities behinds people who have waited their turn for years? Will your ideas be taken seriously? Will your particular strengths be valued? I might have found a better fit in one of those earlier agencies I turned down.

    Don’t worry so much about landing in an agency that is all over Advertising Age. Try to find the one that will get YOU in there next summer.

    Reply
    • Thanks for that great comment. I am a student who just getting started and sometimes I find myself saying that it will all be perfect once I get out of school. What I need to realize is that school is pushing me forward, it is doing for me what needs to be done to make my next (and first) agency my best. Then when I start thinking that agency sucks, hopefully I’ll realize that it is preparing me for the next best agency. And so forth.

      Reply
      • Travis and Stephen: Man, I wish I had the brains YOU guys have back when I was starting. I was such an angry mess. You guys will have a better and LONGER career because of your level-headed attitudes.

        Reply
  2. Love it. So true. Written from a whiner in recovery who worked at Crispin and left after a year, learning that if you can’t be happy at Crispin, maybe it’s not Crispin, it’s you.

    This lecture also works when applied to the concept of marriage. Just sayin’.

    Reply
  3. Didn’t I write this article 4 years ago for CA?

    Reply
    • You may well have! Please send me a link, I’d love to re-read. Where the inspiration from this one came is a paragraph in Hey Whipple. Written in NINETEEN-NINETY-EIGHT. 🙂

      Reply
      • WOW, 35 comments in 1 day – that’s a lot of whiners. Not to mention such a classy group! Ernie Schenck [WOW again!] I whine to myself all the time but never listen to my bull shit complaints. Jeeeez – get real Bruce no other production company would treat you this well.

        Reply
    • By the way, you were probably THE first ad blogger. I can’t think of anyone who came before you, Ernie. You da man. Hope you are well.

      Reply
      • Your reply made me chuckle, heywhipple. Love this article – stuck in a serious whiner rut at the mo and currently planning my escape. Have another good look at the article, Ernie Schenck, it’s about not wingeing, remember Maybe you should re-read your original article and try to practice what you preach .

        Reply
  4. Your reply made me chuckle, heywhipple. Love this article – stuck in a serious whiner rut at the mo and currently planning my escape. Have another good look at the article, Ernie Schenck, it’s about not wingeing, remember. Maybe you should re-read your original article and try to practice what you preach!

    Reply
  5. This was great.
    Thanks for slapping me in the face. I needed that.

    Reply
  6. I’ve never worked somewhere that didn’t start showing its cracks after a few months/years/whatever. And, you’re right — whining about your company is toxic. It sucks away motivation and exacerbates annoyances.

    I found that it helps to remind myself that everything is a choice. If I want to be somewhere else, I better get to it. If I choose to stay where I am, I better get happy. And if I can’t get happy, it’s time to get out.

    Reply
  7. Having received one of those hair pulling, teeth gnashing, computer-out-the-window throwing work emails about halfway through reading this article, I can’t thank you enough. It only took a moment to realize that this job is light years better than my previous, and work is called work for a reason. At the end of the day, just take a deep breath and do the best work your client will let you do. Alright. Off to put out some fires.

    Reply
  8. Man, if I read blogs by others, I bet there’d be one less typo.

    “I [I’m?] not sure why this is so but that’s my take on it anyway.”

    Cheers, Whipple! Love your stuff.

    Martin.

    Reply
    • thanks for spotting that. will fix right away. appreesh!

      Reply
    • ahhh yes,
      This article is well written, that I have no professional training or an army of word hammers to battle that. I whine because “whining is a free therapy for po people,” people who cannot afford to go to a real shrink, better whine than kept it all pent-up inside. After all, have you guys ever seen the show “Snapped” on Oxygen?

      Reply
  9. I was a whiner in my early days too. Then I landed at Fallon. Whined some more. On to Riney. More whining. Then DDB. Still more. Finally, I opened my own agency. Only then did I understand what real whining was all about. Through it all, I learned this: stupid is everywhere. Even in your own house. Do your best no matter where you are. Then enjoy the day and be a great parent, because 99% of what we take so seriously is actively ignored or lost in the clutter of everyone else’s day. Oh, and one more sobering thought, one nanosecond after you are gone, none of it will have mattered one bit.

    Reply
    • Hey George, nice to hear from you. You are so right. And the PARENTING thing you mention, THAT is all that counts. Oh, also, did you know I posted a whole bunch of old Fallon photos. You’re in a couple of them. CLick on my Flickr thing, here on the home page of heywhipple.com and it’ll take you there. Hope you are well, old friend.

      Reply
      • Luke, yes, I did see those photos. Thanks for posting. It was definitely Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s funny, I used to get all crazy when the One Show list came out. Twenty five finalists were never enough. Then the next year came and it had to be 30. A weird drug those pencils. Anyway, age will give you perspective and family will give you foundation. Not that I am anti-One Show. in fact, I’m a big supporter and believer. Love the One Show. It’s just that time smooths out even the most jagged stone. Best to you and your family.

        Reply
  10. We’ve all had our “woozie – woozie, woo – woo” moments and it always seems the grass is greener somewhere else, but in truth: Turds show up in any yard. They don’t discriminate.

    Reply
    • Hey Kernie: LOVE hearing from you. I miss you, I miss Richmond.

      Reply
  11. You are so dead-on right — whining is just poison! Your article made me laugh and now I’m going to share it with my whining colleagues. Don’t ever stop sharing, please, heywhipple.

    Reply
  12. Excellent piece, heywhipple!
    But I have to challenge your theory on whining as being some kind of special skill mastered only by people in the ad industry.
    Thru the years I’ve been working in many different lines of work, and I have to say that in Denmark, whining is a skill mastered by people of both sexes and every thinkable trade. Sometimes you get the impression whining is a National sport. I’ve heard dish washers, nurses, students, bartenders, musicians, teachers, plumbers, designers, librarians, athletes and archeologists whine about their career. And none of them stopped until they made a jobchange.
    Still, I don’t believe it’s a Danish thing. Cuz, I’ve met people from all over Europe, China and India as well and they too whine – rich as poor.
    It’s like we’ve all learned that what we don’t have, we need, and to get it we must whine … like little babies … and we don’t stop until somebody like heywhipple comes along and make us shut up!
    I’m grateful for having discovered your blog, heywhipple – keep it coming:^D

    Silas

    Reply
    • Really Silas? Danes whine? I must have been hanging out with all the wrong Danes or actively ignored it because I don’t recall that, however they are the Kings&Queens of ad agency gossip. My god.

      Reply
  13. L.S: Fallon’s incredible — Here’s the creative department floor plan — Genius… Genius… Genius…My Office… Genius… Genius… Genius…

    Rod K: No, Luke. It’s Genius… Genius… Genius… Broom Closet…Your Office… Genius… Genius… Genius…

    Reply
  14. I was whining just last night. It’s like you wrote this article just for me. We’re you in the New England area. Putting the whining aside to write more tonight. Thinking it’s a better strategy. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  15. Was also having one of those hair-pulling teeth-gnashing moments. Thanks for a little perspective. : )
    @HumanBeam

    Reply
  16. I think sometimes we do have to look underneath the epidermis of whiners in the agencies we all work in. I think most creatives have been whiners at one point or another and lord knows I have been guilty of it myself. While I consider myself to be hitting the mid-stride of my creative career I have learned to observe just how different each and every person is that works around me or with me. One could say there are categories of whiners in agencies and some people just fit one type while others tend to be a mix of a few. As Luke pointed out, whining ultimately is not such a good thing, no matter what industry you work in.

    I don’t condone whining in the office however I do understand why it happens sometimes. Personally though, I try to identify the personality of the individual doing the whining and what exactly they are whining about. There was one guy I worked with who genuinely cared about the idea, even if it wasn’t his own. Whining episodes came from him wanting the agency to do better work. I worked with another guy who’s whining episodes came from him missing the fine print on the job application where it said “NOTE: GREAT IDEAS DON’T ALWAYS HAPPEN BETWEEN 9AM AND 5PM”. This guy would only do whatever it would take to ensure he was out the door at 5pm and when he had to work late for the good of the agency, his team, and the brand he would whine about working late, but then would later whine about always being placed on the “crap” projects and never anything he considered “worth his time”. I worked with a girl that I called the “Jedi Whiner”. This chick did not understand that her wining was actually whining. She would try to Jedi-Mind Trick her creative directors by whining about all the things wrong with a project or the agency, in hoping that in some strange twisted way they would see this as her stepping up and being a leader so obviously she was someone they needed to look at for promotion. That backfired.

    In those three cases only the first one I can tolerate. I have patience for the other two. The first one just needs some adjusting. Teach him to turn the negative into a positive. I myself have had to learn that even though I know how “f-ed up” something is, not to always vocalize it everyone in the office, especially junior creatives. If they like you and look up to you, its so easy for your whining to turn a bight-eyed, bushy-tailed, eager to learn creative into a young, cynical, know-it-all and agencies don’t need that when obviously there are plenty of old, cynical, know-it-all’s already there.

    Reply
  17. Boy. Any blog post that starts off with a Jack Handey quote, well, is going to be DEEP.

    Reply
  18. I, too, was a whiner. And work with lots of other whiners. At which point, I just want to tell them to shut up and do something worth not whining about. Which, I wish people would have told me when I was starting. Instead they just fired me. Talk about a ego killer.

    Reply
  19. You know, it was whining like you describe that pushed me to leave my job as a college English prof and apply to advertising school. Go figure. 🙂

    Reply
  20. Dude, you just outed Crispin.

    Reply
  21. You make some very valid points, Mr. Sullivan. So do many of the people who have commented on your post.

    But some of us simply don’t have the luxury of walking away from a lousy job, especially not in this economy.

    Not that I really have much of a job to speak of. I went from being the only full-time copywriter on the staff at a very small, deservedly obscure agency to working for them on a freelance basis. And now that the workflow has slowed to a trickle, I’m doing — and making — even less.

    And yet I am unable to get work as a writer anywhere else because, even though I have had the misfortune of being in this industry for more years than I care to remember, I literally don’t have a single piece of produced work that I feel proud enough of to put in a portfolio. Not one newspaper ad, not one brochure, not one TV commercial, nothing.

    There are many reasons for that. Some are my fault, most are not.

    The point is, you can’t get into a good agency until you do good work. But you can’t do good work until you get into a good agency.

    Once upon a time, I did take a leap of faith. I quit an agency where I felt overworked and underappreciated. I tried to hold out for something better. I didn’t expect to get into Goodby or Weiden, mind you. Just someplace where I would at least have a shot of doing the occasional good ad.

    Needless to say, it didn’t quite pan out. After many, many moons, I had to settle for a shop that was no better than the one I had left.

    Yeah, I suppose I’ve done my share of whining over the years. I’ve “whined” about not having enough time or input to do a good job. I’ve “whined” when creative directors or clients have rewritten my copy or simply tossed it aside.

    But is that necessarily a bad thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. One could make the argument that I should have “whined” more, that I should have fought louder and harder against the forces that were weakening if not outright killing the work. But, even though most of the people I have worked for were generally nice, decent folk, they were not at all receptive to opinions that didn’t square with their own. No matter how civil or reasonable I attempted to be in my dissent, it ultimately amounted to nothing. The powers that be would just get annoyed, I would get frustrated — and the work never got any better.

    In the end, no matter how bitterly I may disagreed with their changes, I always — always — did whatever I was asked to do. I never complained about the projects I was assigned to do, no matter how demeaning or trivial they were, and I never tried to fob them off on someone else (not that there was anyone else to do them).

    I also helped out others wherever I could, even going so far as to answer phones when the agency’s receptionist/office manager left.

    And while I regret that my lack of enthusiasm may not always have made me a joy to work with, I tried to cheer up my colleagues when they were having a bad day or feeling particularly low.

    I have given my all to a string of fourth- and fifth-rate agencies until I have nothing left to give. My reward for all the time, toil and tears I have spent is to be making less than I was when I started out in this business. I am bummed out and burned out, dispirited and disgruntled. Whatever little talent I ever possessed has atrophied. My spirit, my self-confidence have shriveled up like Napoleon’s severed penis.

    I would love to leave advertising but it’s the only thing I know how to do. I’m not even qualified to work the late shift at the local McDonald’s. I’m too old and too tired to go back to school.

    I have truly reached the end of the line. There’s nowhere for me to go from here. I am beyond hope and beyond caring. All I can do now is just run out the clock.

    I apologize to you, Mr. Sullivan, and your readers for such a self-indulgent display. If my comment were any longer, Scott Rudin would option the movie rights.

    But clearly your article touched what for me is a particularly sore nerve. It’s all too easy for people like you to tell people to quit their whining and get a better job. If you left GSD&M tomorrow, I have no doubt you’d have enough job offers to choke a rabid hippopotamus.

    And, yes, I fully realize the irony of me commenting on a post about whining by doing exactly that.

    Reply
    • Wow. I am going to think on your response for awhile before I respond. Until then, hang in there dude. Sorry you’re feelin’ so shitty.

      Reply
    • It sounds like you have had one bad break after another and I do not blame you for being so down. If my post made it sound like I was to quick to say, hop to another job, well that wasn’t necessarily where I was goin’.

      In any case, let’s first talk about the industry. Are you SURE advertising is in your blood? Creativity may be. And perhaps advertising was ONCE in your blood but the flame may not burn as hot anymore because of the long crappy road you’ve been down. So, one thing I would suggest is thinking outside of the box of advertising. There are a hundred ways to be creative. I encourage you to look at a cool movie (very short one) called “Lemonade.” It was written by an ad guy who got fired and then realized, fuck, I didn’t wanna be in advertising anyway. This guy then went around and found that lots of people felt the same way he did and found better careers in other industries. Seriously, check it out. I think it plays for free on Hulu.

      Okay, so you wanna stay in advertising? That’s cool too. Sounds like you’ve been at a lot of places, and that you have tried very very hard and towed the company line. One possibility is that you simply have not landed at the right place. Also, I disagree that you have to be at a good agency to do great work. Totally disagree. There are probably over 15,000, maybe 20,000 agencies in America. I refuse to believe that you cannot find one that would fit you like a glove, where your talents would flower a bit and your spirits rejuvenate.

      We may simply have here a problem of a winless record. I would not want to be on the Detroit Lions last year. Winless. 0-16. But the day will come when they will win a game. And that will be the turnaround.

      Shit, did I just do a sports analogy?

      Anyway, hang in there my friend.

      And check that movie “Lemonade” out. I’m serious.

      Reply
  22. Yes, I was a whiner. Most creative people I’ve known have been whiners. I called it ‘the misunderstood genius’ syndrome. We all think lightning bolts come out our asses and it’s the stupid idiots around us who can’t see or appreciate our brilliance.

    But the worst thing is to whine and stay at a job you hate. Grow a pair and get out. Grow a huge pair and do your own thing (the whining will go away quickly).

    We’re all on the same train in this business and there are only three destinations.
    1. Be a cog in the machinery of a big agency.
    2. Be a leader at a smaller place.
    3. Head-up your own place.

    Pick your destination, work your ass off and shut up!

    Reply
  23. luke,

    nice post from a reformed whiner. especially one who always whined about not being at fallon…or carmicheal…or clarity…goodby…mullen…

    when i opened my own place, then later worked for another agency, it really puts the whining into perspective. as george states above, there’s trouble in everybody’s house.

    btw: i’m teaching college advertising design this fall (i’m a copywriter, but they wanted me!) and i’m using “hey, whipple” as my textbook.

    Reply
    • Kevin: thanx for post. Where u teachin’?

      Reply
  24. Hello, im from germany so my english knowledge isnt that goodish. Please dont blame me. I try to read online journals to make my english better and i have to say that your blog was perfect readable for me, because the english is really clear-thinking and all the posts are perfect readable. I will come back, to improve my english even more. Thanks a lot 🙂

    Reply
  25. I work for such a small agency that I don’t even feel like I have the right to comment here, but I am because I want to say thank you. I needed to hear this today, because I’m feeling bruised and beaten…but not broken.

    You’re right. You don’t have to be at a big, or even a particularly good agency, to do good work. You just have to want it. Bad. And keep throwing yourself on the sharp knives of indifference until one gets through.

    To the guy up there who has nothing good in his portfolio, I just wonder…has he tried putting things in there that didn’t live? A good idea is a good idea even if it doesn’t see the light of day (as my portfolio clearly shows).

    Now, back to writing the damn brochure I don’t feel I should have to write…no whining allowed.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you are getting a little run down there, my dear. I know it is a scary time to look for a job, but have you thought of doing that? It IS a big world out there.

      Reply
      • It’s that obvious, huh?
        I have thought long and hard (and put together a portfolio site to boot). It’s only a matter of the stars aligning and all heavens opening and all that jazz.

        Reply
  26. My name is Jim C Web Marketing Consultant. Ive greatly enjoyed looking through your site digihedo.de and I was wondering if you’d be interested in exchanging links with my website, which has a related subject. I can

    Reply
    • I totally agree. I do not hate the medium. Just the way it is so poorly used.

      Reply

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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.

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