Out with the Old…

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.

20 comments

  1. Darryl Duncan

    Sounds like my life/business story only from the perspective of a different skill set. As you said, their loss. I don’t believe one in my field (music production) will ever convince a general market executive that he can produce anything other than urban, hip hop or rap music, despite having won numerous industry awards for a variety of musical genre.

    Then when you utter the “R” word you are accused of simply being bitter, well I guess I am when you are not even afforded the courtesy of a return call or email reply to your inquiries about a contract you have services for years before it was awarded to the new agency. What I have to offer as a composer is something I am certain they have never experienced, so onece again I say their loss. It once again echos what Edye said, if we want to be a part of this industry no matter what age we are or what our talents are, we have to make our own opportunities, just like Dale, Morris, Burrell and other have done. That has always been the case and always will be. Because if they had their was the multicultural agencies would be a relic of the past and they have already made great strides to that goal. But we also have to be willing as so called successful black agencies to turn from the “clicks” we have created within our own black agencies and know that we cannot claim to be about our people unless we learn to turn to “our people” instead of “our person” I.e. Bring integrity back to how black agencies share the opportunities and turn away from these clicks created to exclude instead of include. If we cannot count on opportunities from the general market agencies, who on earth can we count on, and when I say we I don’t just mean music vendors but all of the multicultural talents, producers, copywriters, editors and creatives out there fighting to remain relevant in an industry that needs their skills more that it realizes.

    That’s my 2 cents

    Darryl Duncan
    http://www.gamebeatstudios.com
    708-283-8860

    • eldhughes

      I hear ya, Darryl. I figure, make the contacts without counting on the call-backs. It keeps anxiety at a minimum. Somehow, we gotta make a way out of no way – our OWN way.

  2. skip b

    Hey E,

    I like black. I am black. But I think that that Black Copy is too black, so to speak. I love your ideas and the way that you develop them. But for these times, please don’t hate me, I think that this format plays into the mindset of doomers & gloomers. e.g. the tea party, repubs, Foxers, and Quran burners.

    Todays environment of pads and pods and reality shows (as bad as most of them are) suggest brightness and fun and hope and faith and love. Maybe Black Copy taps into that in spirit, and I’m missing it. If so I apologize. Love and happiness to you and your family. skip

    • Darryl H

      Sorry Skip, I can’t agree, I think the problem is that we don’t want to admit that there is a problem. We want to believe everything is, shall I say it “Honkey Dorey” when it’s not. We are afraid to support each other because what other races may think or say. All the time they are supporting and using each others talents in every phase of business. Working together and being financially successful in life. As we still cling to the small crumbs they are willing to give us, as we continue fight over those.

      So Edye, continue to write about the truth whether it’s good or bad maybe at some point we as African Americans will get the message. As Darryl mentioned “Right Own My Brother” I feel your pain as a business man as well. We need to create our own circle of commerce and financial freedom.

      That’s my $10.00 because I’m worth that!

      That’s my baby…keep writing

  3. Marion

    A great read, well written….Have you considered submitting this to a magazine? So many can relate.

    Keep it coming……

  4. Lucy

    I feel your pain sister.

    It is interesting that Boomers are told that they need to work longer, because they are living longer, are more youthful and more skilled than the previous generation. Yet, the tendency for several years now, is not to hire people over 45 years old. We get an extra 5 or 10, ’cause black don’t crack.’ It is not an easy form of discrimination to prove.

    Just know that most people hire people who they believe they could ‘hang’ with. If you are seen as ‘other’ your chances get slimmer.

    For African American professionals the situation is grave, but our fore fathers and mothers went through a lot worse and yet they were able to pave the way for us.

    Don’t forget who you are and keep writing.

    You go girl!

    • eldhughes

      @Lucy, thank you for your comment. I won’t forget who I am. The one thing I can say is I’m keeping up with changing trends. Sometimes when you’re too comfortable, it breeds complacency. I don’t intend to let weeds grow under my feet.

      @Marion:I might try that. Thanks for the suggestion.

      @Skip: Too Black? LOL! Some wonder if I’m black enough! Funny how perceptions work. True, my story is not bright and fun, but it is a story of hope and perseverance.

  5. Linda Fisher

    Excellent read. I feel your pain. But you have always been a great writer. You were also the shiny new penny before. Re-invent yourself. Most of us have no choice in today’s world. Submit to utube.

  6. Francesca

    It IS an excellent read, I agree. I personally believe your talent was wasted in the Advertising world. Nothing against the world–but so many people in addition to “consumers” could gain a lot from your talent. What about the people who want to read just for the sheer pleasure? There are many of us left. I also vote for re-inventing yourself! 🙂

    • eldhughes

      @Linda, Thank you for your words. Yeah, I was a shiny penny then, but now I’m a soft 100 dollar bill, been passed around a few times (LOL) but my value is so much greater!

      @Francesca: I will make my talent known that’s for sure. Thanks for that vote of confidence. Actually advertising wasn’t a waste for me. Through the challenges, I actually had a lot of fun. But like you said, folks could gain a lot from my talents. I will make it so.

      @All: Please follow my posts. I appreciate your support

  7. Jim Accurso

    Edye:
    What a great blog…well written and very thought provoking. I knew you were talented, knew the ad agency ropes and were a force to be reckoned with, and the experiences you write of tell all that and a lot more!
    Keep the faith and keepin’on…you will find work rewarding and interesting again….I just don’t know how soon. The world is changing so much that even those making the changes can barely keep a handle on what they’re doing.
    Stay in touch and Peace to you and yours.

    • eldhughes

      Thank you so much, Jim. You gave me some real insight about our changing world and how even the people who are changing it can’t keep up with themselves. Ha! But they expect other folks to do so. That’s cool though. Like I said, I’m moving forward. Peace be to you and yours as well!

  8. janice

    You are a powerful writer. Your words put me in the room with you as I read the story….captivating. It is me – different career but same situation. You have a gift…

    • eldhughes

      Thank you Janice. I guess we’re all going through it. I hope you continue to read my posts. I’m trying to build a following.

  9. cliff

    class, creativity, and talent are never obsolete we just need a new battle plan love you sis my brother and nephews are truely Blessed to have you in their lives

    • eldhughes

      Hey Cliff, thank you so much for reading my blo! I’m working on my game plan now. Keep reading my posts and pass it along. Blessings…

  10. Ian Simmons

    I feel you. Your fear of obsolescence extends beyond the world of unemployment. With technology and values mutating so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up, even if one has a steady job.

    There’s always younger, savvier talent coming up through the ranks, with all the free time in the world to learn the latest programs and stay on top of trends; while the rest of us are just trying to stay awake enough to enjoy a couple hours of family time when we get home.

    I’m not even that old, but I sometimes feel like a dinosaur catching his first glimpse of meteors in the sky.

    Stay strong. Stay you. The universe will do the rest.

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