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Monday, November 24, 2003

Exile On Work Street

“Ain't nobody slowing down no way,
Ev'rybody's stepping on their accelerator,
Don't matter where you are,
Ev'rybody's gonna need a ventilator.”

from “Ventilator Blues” – Album: “Exile On Main Street.” The Rolling Stones, 1972


OK, so I’ve decided that I need to get back into the money chase. Simple, right? Just dust off my rolodex and go back to the consulting that I was doing before I retired.

Wrong.

The work I was doing since the mid-90’s was wholly dependent—to be fully honest about it—not on my brilliance or hard work—but on there being a plethora of small start-ups needing promotion—fledgling entrepreneurs who were having a devil of a time finding agencies to take them on because everyone’s client rosters were filled to the brim.

For the first time in memory, clients were beating a path to agency doors rather than the other way around. Small agencies, eager to cash in on the feeding frenzy, were stymied by their inability to attract qualified personnel (another first—agencies desperate for talent instead of the usual horde of brilliant youngsters begging to get a foot in the presumed magic door of advertising.

All this was a perfect recipe for a guy like me—having earned my stripes on the street of hard knocks, nearing retirement, wanting to call the shots on projects I would accept and hours I would work. It’s just desserts, not the bubble, I tried to reassure myself. Fruits of age. This was the way it supposed to be.

Amazing. We’re talking here about the immediate past, yet it seems like a distant memory. Sort of like waking up in a barely coherent haze after an extended string of wild parties, wondering if some of the things you think you remember happening actually did so, because they were so divergent from your normal experience.

Lest I need remind anyone, those market conditions are long gone. That’s not the story here. The memory that remains vivid is the suddenness with which it all changed.

There was the sharply dressed VC (venture capitalist) with his start-up client in tow, barking like a junkyard dog: “We’ve got to have these marketing materials in three weeks for the trade show. Name your price. Just get it done!”

“Fine. It’s a stretch, but we can do it. But before any work can be undertaken, we’ve got to have a check for ten thousand, cleared and in the bank.”

“Understood. As soon as I get back to the office, I’ll have the bookkeeper cut the check and send it over by courier.”

Two days later, no courier and no check. Phone calls not returned. Call the bookkeeper. “We have a freeze on all non-essential spending.” Click.

Over the next two to three weeks, the VC’s and their eager-eyed entrepreneurs, who had been lining up like hopeful kids trying to get into a hot night club, simply vanished into thin air. It was amazing.

The traffic in the fax machines and email in-boxes took a sudden, dramatic shift from dreamy business proposals and entreaties for marketing help to crème-de-la-crème resumes (Ivy League master’s degrees; five years elite Madison Ave. agency experience; still-in-twenties; will work for college loan payments).

You would be correct if you guessed that your humble writer became a dinosaur overnight. The perfect excuse to hang it up. A matter of good timing, actually.

So, there’s nothing for me to go back to in that arena. And even if there were, I’ve lost interest. It didn’t take long. In this sphere, absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

(Next installment to follow, hopefully before the upcoming holiday. But with frantic preparations underway for an invasion of out-of-town family, I may not make it).

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