Does your other half ‘get it’? More to the point, do you?

Here’s a salutary and sobering story from the sharp end of the industry.

I guess there are a couple of points here:

The first is the obsession with the ‘importance’ of advertising. I know exactly how that feels. For years I obsessed over D&AD annuals, knew every piece of work by every half-decent team in town, and could tell you about every director from every production company on the planet. As much as something can be your life, advertising was mine, but what I didn’t know back then was the tighter I held on to the industry and its whistles and bells, the more it slipped out of my grip. I don’t mean that I didn’t do some good ads, or have a comparatively successful career; I mean that I was focussing on the wrong thing. I was, occasionally, a bit of a dick, and I fully believe that that by taking a step back from advertising I’d have been better at it.

But what the hey… I had a good time and no one got (particularly) hurt. Eventually I relaxed, stopped caring so much about the tiny things that really didn’t matter (hello, Creative Circle Bronze!) and focussed on doing proper work whose objective was to solve a client’s problems. I think that by obsessing over those minutiae less and less I gave myself the room to focus on what actually mattered, both inside and outside work.

Ultimately that’s bordering on the inevitable: you can get up a real head of steam when you start something off, but maintaining the same degree of enthusiasm for the following decades is neither easy nor healthy. Continue to do the best work you can, by all means, but I believe that keeping an eye on the context and the rest of the world is essential to making that happen.

The second point is the one about other halves:

I met my wife (we’ve been married 13 years) when I cast her in a commercial. We got engaged after five days and married after six months. Back then she got drawn into my obsession and ended up working in several production companies, eventually becoming an executive producer. So she ‘got it’. The thing was, after about ten years she became disillusioned with the industry and gave up her job to look after the kids. And she’s never been happier, nor have I and nor have the kids.

So what am I saying? That the path to happiness lies outside advertising? Not at all. But the sense of perspective that my wife and I both found around the same time made me better at my job and her better at being a mum. It’s difficult to be sure of something that never happened, but I’m certain that if I had maintained the awards minutiae drive I’d never have got to the point I’m at now, and I love the point I’m at now.

Where are you? Did an obsession leave you in a crappy place? Has your other half suffered through your dedication to something that ultimately didn’t matter? Have you ever stood at the crossroads of a Cannes Gold and a successful marriage?

Comments 23

  1. Gadgie wrote:

    Don’t you think where you are now was dependent on your obsession with awards?

    Certainly in London, CDs don’t even agree to see you unless you’ve got the right awards.

    I think perspective is good but our industry doesn’t value the people who work hard and keep their clients happy.

    The CDs of our biggest client (about 45-50% of the agency) aren’t valued by anyone but the account director. Probably because it’s a pretty mundane account and produces workman like ads. However the client really doesn’t want anything better.

    I’m sure this place would be decimated if it walked out the door but for a little respect, or even a pay rise, when you work on an account like that and you’re stuffed.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 10:28 am
  2. ben wrote:

    Interesting question.

    I think my position now is a direct result of having that obsession, but I think I’m saying that it wasn’t until I shed it that I could really move on.

    Awards are, unfortunately, one of the few ways creativity can measured by those who don’t trust their own opinions.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 10:52 am
  3. Anonymouse wrote:

    I think it’s great that young kids obsess about the industry. Not because it’s important – but because it’s what they’ve chosen to do (and to that degree it is important) and it helps them learn to do their job well more quickly.

    BUT. That is where it ends. Past 33, say, people should be redressing the balance. One’s life and one’s soul need consideration if you are an adult. More so, if you are an artist.

    This business offers an amazing chance to really get the best of both worlds. It’s a fool who doesn’t take that opportunity. But you’ve got to sweat early on to take it. You need to rely on a hard-practised craft.

    Is there anything more pathetic than someone over 40-year-old taking themselves and advertising too seriously?

    Not much.

    Perhaps a full-timer who doesn’t take it seriously at all.

    It’s a business that can easily turn talented young people into old clowns.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 1:13 pm
  4. Jaded. wrote:

    I consider myself lucky to be married to a woman who was never part of our industry. I think it’s helped me keep the business in perspective. We’re making ads – not saving lives. My wife works with the mentally ill and vulnerable adults. The sort of vulnerability that comes with having terminal cancer and no immediate family to help you with your needs. So people like my wife step in. Or they do until Cameron and Osborne finally get around to slashing and burning that particular local authority service. So my wife doesn’t get the industry – but she does get me. And as a result I couldn’t have hoped to to have more love, backing and support as I’ve tried to do the best I can in the ad business. But it means when some dumb fuck client kills one of my campaigns for some stupid asinine reason I do check my seething sense of anger and resentment at the door when I get home.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 2:41 pm
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Nicely put number 3

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 2:52 pm
  6. HB wrote:

    I hear you Anonymouse but don’t entirely agree. Whatever stage of our careers we’re at, we should be the bastions of own integrity.

    There can’t be an assumption that young bucks should have the obsession for success whilst older folk smile, nod and wink knowingly behind their backs.

    Maybe age and experience give a greater perspective on how to define success or, as Mike Howard suggested, how to question an obsession and use our powers more efficiently.

    Ultimately it’s about growing up and not growing bored. And treating people well along the way.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 4:59 pm
  7. Les McQueen wrote:

    My ex is a medic and loathed what I did for a living. Then she saw how relatively little I earned and threw me out because adfolk were supposed to be rich and therefore I clearly wasn’t any good at it.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 5:21 pm
  8. Anonymouse wrote:

    I won’t disagree with you HB.

    I meant more that you can focus on life more when you’ve put the hard hours in at the front end. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give a fuck at the back end. You should give a fuck about everything you do. It’s that you want to get to a stage where your work can, to an extent, take care of itself, freeing your mental energies up for other things too.

    I suppose it all depends on the extent to which you’ve scratched your itches. I guess there are 50 year olds who are still determined to win Cannes Gold or be an ECD. Whereas others who have been there may have moved on.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 5:29 pm
  9. Tilly wrote:


    I think you’re being harsh… the bit about sad over 40’s being obsessive.

    Some people stay obsessive forever… look at Mark Denton, Dave Dye and Paul Belford…

    Those guys love the art of what we all do and have thriving agencies / prod company and are always in D&AD year on year, i think Dave’s been in for 19 years running.

    I think they all have wives and families so they must be doing something right.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 5:45 pm
  10. Cynical wrote:

    I got into it late (29) which I think helped. Betwixt us, I now go through the motions at work (always professional, but never stressing too much) and pour my creative energies into out-of-work creative projects.

    Posted 27 Jan 2014 at 9:13 pm
  11. Jaded. wrote:

    Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being obsessive. It’s absolutely right that we do the very best we can to be the very best we can. But perspective and distance is valuable, and it probably comes with a few years under your belt. Awards are great and further our careers within the sphere of being advertising creatives – but beyond that they are meaningless. But it takes a while to realise that. And oddly, there’s a freedom to it once you do. Once that fact is realised you might just do your best, most honest work – because your motives are different. Because you realise, there are more important things, and that informs how you approach that new brief that lands on your desk.

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 12:29 am
  12. ben wrote:


    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 7:24 am
  13. john p woods wrote:

    How can you have a life in Advertising, if you don’t have a life? Study life. Not ads.

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 10:23 am
  14. Anonymouse wrote:

    Tilly. Again, I yield.

    If you are a Dave Dye or a Paul Belford, or any of the greats, of course you are right to obsess. You owe it to your remarkable talent.

    But most people aren’t Dave Dye or Paul Belford. Post 45, most creatives are more like Smashy and Nicey.

    Imagine working as hard as Dave Dye and not being nearly as good as Dave Dye. What a waste of a life.

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 11:27 am
  15. HB wrote:

    Nicely put Anonymouse & Jaded. *Digitally pats backs*

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 12:24 pm
  16. Sell! Sell! wrote:

    What is a greater waste of a life, never achieving, or never trying?

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 1:08 pm
  17. ben wrote:

    Um… Let’s see:

    I am the world’s most gifted footballer. I barely ever put any effort in yet I singlehandedly drive my teams to victory in every game, winning all major trophies many years running.


    I try really fucking hard to be a footballer. Try, try, try, try, try, but I’m a crappy donkey who never makes it past my pub team.

    I’ll go with never achieving. Lots of pointless trying looks like a waste to me.

    Did I get it right?

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 2:18 pm
  18. Sell! Sell! wrote:

    Who knows?
    Not me.

    I tend to go by the old saying
    “The greatest waste of a life is to not enjoy it”.

    I guess if striving for something makes you happy, gives you reward, go for it. If not, do something else. I agree with the people who say balance and objectivity is important in this game.

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 2:30 pm
  19. Mark Wright wrote:

    The questions at the end of your blog posts make them sounds like an LBC phone-in. In a good way.

    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 10:43 pm
  20. ben wrote:


    Posted 28 Jan 2014 at 11:18 pm
  21. AdamT wrote:

    Great post Ben. Perspective is a good thing. But if you haven’t got it that’s ok too. The mad people who keep going in their 40s exactly how they did in their 20s, are very likely to make the stuff that we admire and try and emulate.

    Of course, there is a chance that they will end up alone and friendless, but, on the other hand, look at Mr Dye; great work, great wife.

    I rather arrogantly found that my perspective increased with the amount of awards I won. A taste of success doesn’t half quieten that inner demon. I think it probably made me nicer to work with too.

    Posted 29 Jan 2014 at 8:02 am
  22. The Daddy wrote:

    Be under no illusion that there is nothing more off putting to an ECD or client than a person whom doesn’t seem to give a shit anymore. Pretend like you still give a shit but deep down you don’t? Great. Be prepared to live a life full of lies, self loathing and awkward social niceties. If you don’t care about being the best anymore. If you don’t care about winning anymore. If you don’t care about beating the guy or team competing against you then please do us all a massive favour and quit this business. We already have far too much shit work being made without having a bunch of people walking around wanting to “rebalance” their work and personal life. If you don’t have the drive to want to be the best then fuck off.

    Posted 31 Jan 2014 at 3:39 pm
  23. ben wrote:

    Sorry, The Daddy, but in reality the only thing that puts off a CD of any kind is shit work. I don’t care if creatives look like they’d rather be wanking off a monkey; if the work is great they get a pass.

    Posted 31 Jan 2014 at 7:27 pm

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