I’ve been in contemplation these past three years since my last real ad job. It’s been a challenge detecting gold in this dusty barren land called Advertising. This new frontier is one of isolation, amidst opportunity.
How have I been faring since I wrote my first blog two years ago? Buzzards have circled around me. But I ain’t dead and don’t plan to be. The searing heat has beaten down my back – namely the bills, mortgage, sons’ college tuitions, medical expenses, car, and just recently a flood. A frustrated spouse does “quadrahustles” (I made that term up) meaning working four gigs to make ends meet.
I sit day in and day out at the computer searching the web for opportunities. I’m a client of Indeed, Creative Circle, Aquent, Buzz, NPO, Jobfox, Career Builder, Monster, Talent Zoo and more. I stumble upon what looks like opportunities, rippling in the heat. I send out resumes, write compelling covers, and forward samples. No response. However, my journey has included detours too, one of them being gainful employment – not in the ad world, but as a Fed with the U.S. government for a year and a half – badge and all! But that is stuff for another blog. It’s been an expedition full of self-discovery.
One sunny day in 2008 I got a call from my recruiter. It was urgent. A job opp came up. A big well-known agency needed a writer for a major beauty care account ASAP! Yeah, baby! I took a swig of my proverbial water and got to gettin’. I hauled my behind downtown. It is an account I am most familiar. They run a campaign I absolutely love. It speaks to me, not only as a writer but a woman. It is an account I can easily write to, backwards, forwards, upside down, because the target is moi. Will I now be given a shot? Is this oasis real? I walked toward the rippled image of a possible job, one that looked so good I could taste its quenching liquid. I dressed up like the women in the ads, casually chic, artsy, cool, a free spirit vibe without pretension. That is me. I’ll show them who I am, what I can do. They’ll relate.
I walked into the agency. Ahhh, I hadn’t set foot in the coolness of über minimalism in ages. It is so – so “Agency”. The breeze of the central air wrapped smoothly around my bare arms like chilled Chablis. I plopped down on the clean-lined cushion with portfolio and DVD in hand. I looked around and observed the women dotting in and out of the lobby. Mid 20s –early 30s, thin, blond, brunette, wearing pencil thin skirts and Jimmy Choo shoes. I looked at my flowing turquoise skirt and turquoise studded sandals. Very cute, real leather, but they spoke no known name brand. Personally, I don’t care about designer brands. I care about the client’s brand. I care about my own brand. ME. Was I a good fit? ‘Eh, don’t get your panties in a wedgy’, I told myself.
I was called in by another Jimmy Choo-ite. She gave me a chipper forced smile and whisked me to her office. She looked over my work. I realized I didn’t have any current hair care. I’ve done beauty ads and spots out the wazoo. At one point, I was afraid of being labeled a “hair care hoe”, a term that was thrown around by my small circle of hair care creatives. So I made it my business to change all that so that I could become more marketable in both the general and multicultural markets. But that was quite awhile ago, when my frontier was fertile with health and beauty opportunities albeit the African-American market. White folks weren’t hiring black folks to do hair care, or anything else at the time I was starting my career. Thank God for the Black hair care boon of the late 70s and 80s. It gave black ad hopefuls an opportunity, though it was within the “chittlin’ circuit” of advertising.
My strategy paid off. The stuff I created though prolific was old now. Not just old school, just plain old. However, my knowledge and insight of health and beauty for all women was forever entrenched in my mind. Understanding women – especially the target market I was part of, was a cinch for me. The young lady before me didn’t doubt that fact, but it was my traditional background and work style that concerned her. “We don’t do things traditionally here.” She said. “No one has titles. We don’t present our work in a traditional way. You do the concepts, mount them on a wall and the AE’s planners, researchers etc. take a look and give their comments. You have to make sure the concepts are clear without having to explain it. Have you worked in this way?” Uhhh….nope (I said to myself). BUT! Though my previous agencies were more traditional, I was very open and could easily adapt to new ways of getting stuff done. That was true. I relished the idea of being part of a new process. I didn’t care about titles. I cared about the work.
She looked at me skeptically. Just then a woman with short auburn dreads, close to my age came into the office and gave the interviewer some documents. Her skirt looked similar to mine. She presented herself as an admin. I looked out into the waiting area. Another Jimmy Choo-ite waited patiently for her turn to be interviewed. An air of confidence settled on her face as our eyes met. She flashed me that chipper smile. When the admin left, the interviewer turned to me and gave me another chipper smile. I felt like I was in a Stepford ad agency. What was with the phony smiles?
I asked what she thought of my work. “It’s really good” she said nodding convincingly. “But we need to see more of your hair care stuff. Can you fax it to me ASAP”?
Sure! I said, biting my inner fingernails. Drats! I needed to go to my basement and pull out that stuff. I hadn’t seen it in years. But I can do that. I asked her, and maybe I shouldn’t have – I don’t know, what image she felt I gave. She said I came off as a nurturer. Hummm. I could see that. As in Mama? Teacher? Mentor? Gardener? You know, I was all of that, but I didn’t think that was what she was looking for. But I was okay with it (kinda), because that’s really who and what I was. If people can’t get with that, well, their loss. When I came home to dig up my hair care stuff, it reeked of Fresh Prince and old shoulder pads – Geez. I sifted out the more timeless looking ads and sent them on their way.
I got an email back thanking me for coming down, but they were looking for someone more my junior. That’s when it hit me. I was considered obsolete. I knew in my soul, my cup still runneth over with mad creativity. However, other’s perception of me had become my reality. How could I possibly change that? It inspired me to write Black Copy.
Now it’s 2010, and after a few temporary employment detours to make ends meet, I’m still asking myself, ‘What is the headline of my life? What is my tagline? What am I evolving into?’ Maybe instead of trying to find my way through this frontier, I should create my own.