A story of my AD-hawk romance and why it never worked out

[TLTR ALERT]

For some time I was surrounded by so many “enthusiastic” people working in that industry, it always made me feel as if I should beat myself up for not being able to enjoy it as much as they supposedly do. However, it took couple of years to realise that it was never me. Also, it wasn’t the people, nor the companies I worked for. There is simply no need to point fingers, because our Worlds, expectations and mindsets differ in so many ways. Still, I had a good excuse for staying in “my own hell”.

Having in mind that by the time I started ‘swimming in these seas’ I was already skilled in many fields – finding a full-time job, was always a piece of cake. Staying in it however… was one of the greatest professional battles I have ever battled. In that battle I won and nobody really lost. 

If I wanted to live abroad, staying in advertising agencies was the fastest option to get Visa approved, for every decision there is a consequence. But being aware of it didn’t change the fact that I had to break some parts of my brain body in order to submit to certain rules of the way this industry is forced to operate under and the reason I make this sound so harsh, is because for me staying was sort of painful, for one big reason:

I simply started out my career as something that is popular today and wasn’t so popular back then:

Freelancing.
Back in the 2005, freelancing was another name for “probably not being able to find a job”. We came out of a generation of parents who got full-time job after finishing their universities, and that was expected from us as well. Luckily, my parents had no issues of me exploring the work field, they were worried I could see that, but knew I’d get along just fine, and I thank them for that.
I got my first paid project at the age of 16, and by 17 I was already booked each month for some job. Quickly after that my portfolio grew, getting me more work, even worldwide. It was good small amount of monthly cashflow at that age.  By the age of 19 I won an award for the best poster for Music Festival organised by my city and realised I could really live off my career, without sitting in an office. After I finished one of biggest jobs at that time, I got hired for 2 more festivals, where I was the only creative, so everything depended on me, which is really bad for your cortisol levels, but good for your teenage self-confidence.

Naturally – making a living out of something I always loved, brought an adrenaline rush, but also I started to love the lifestyle around it. Living in an organised mess for me was like a drug. I would wait for the meeting on workdays and watch people rush to work/from work/to lunch/from lunch – while I had a cup of coffee in my hand and I was super happy I wasn’t part of that 9-5 World.  Sometimes my days looked all the same, but it was always in my power to change that.
By the age of 20 I was already hired to do apps for USA market (startups), then app games came in… Back then when there was not so many app designers, not so much info available on the internet,  I was accepting jobs I don’t even know how to do (yes, fuck it, but I finished it all).  If I had a trend word – it was definitely: “working”. I enjoyed using it so much, I was taking so much pride in being busy 24/7 that today when I hear someone above 30 say that – I feel sorry for him/her because I know that when you do work this much, there’s no time to live. Which is very much different when you’re in your 20’s and when you’re in your 30’s state of mind. 

My first touch with the advertising, was in 2012, it was the agency in Vienna my husband Dusan was working at. As with every client, it was a challenge, but the agency was pretty relaxed about the way things are done as long as they are delivered at great quality and on time. My false thinking that this is the way every ad agency works everywhere, made me sure I wanna give it a chance. Without even realising it, I soon became that 9-5 running person myself and I was that person until 2017.

By the time I reached my fourth agency…I was ticking bomb ready to go off. All of them had a pattern.

Nine to five 

or even nine to six in the Czech Republic (wtf)…But it’s fine when you haven’t started out as a freelancer and been it for 5 years before that. It’s fine when you get out of the University where you’re sitting all the time, which was not the case with the schools I went to. It’s fine if you grew up influenced by the thought you should get a full time job, bank loan, kids, car, steady income and all that social pressure shit I failed to please so far. It’s perfectly fine if you just wanna work and go home, get money, shut the door and be with your family. Not fine for me, simply it isn’t. We’re all different.

Filling in the timesheet – 

having scheduled “brainstorming” for two hours in a certain office called “Bahamas” – I really don’t know what’s more ironic, the fact that someone has planned out the time to “shoot the awesome idea out of your ass within these two hours”, or the four walls named after the country in Lucayan Archipelago. Both things make you wanna laugh and cry.

Getting up to 5 different brands per day 

to handle micro-jobs for. Three fine… but five, meant zero time to nicely dedicate getting to know each brand. Half-assing the shit out of everything because there’s no time to spend on a brand, I understand how and why this business model works, but – no.

Working in teams with talented people 

yes, big plus. But it was not the case in every agency, there were agencies everyone was sitting at their desk and that’s about well…it. That was really weird.

The Award Engine 

I call it an engine because it works like an engine. Always starts the same – ends the same way. Wherever you live, advertising is doing the same thing. Half of the people who have barely touched the project with their asses, get signed on that same project sent for an award. Same goes for Behance projects. People didn’t even have my work file on their computer, but nevertheless they signed themselves, because they’re enTitled (literally). But why complain, it’s not the worse unfair thing in the world. Plus not a reason to stress, since at the end of the day – people know who did what. Or eventually find out.

I am truly, even today, admiring people who stay in this. I don’t believe anyone is more or less creative for doing so. To me, most of the times these agencies felt like Emergency Health Centres, where absolutely nothing is allowed to go the other direction then the one they’re used to. Seeing the same people happy on instagram sharing a photo from few days ago hashtag #advertisinglife, while at the same I see them sitting and resizing 100 banners a day, as senior art directors. But again, who am I to judge…? Maybe that’s what ‘enjoying’ work means to them, or it’s that feeling of ‘belonging to the group’. Naturally I cannot feel that, since I go for the feeling of ‘belonging to myself’ and the only thing that arouses me is when I sell my shit to the client directly, set the creative direction, finish project and write an invoice myself – those are my standards. I believe all of us have our own bars so, I don’t judge anyone, we all have a role in this life.

But again for this job I get visa, and if I ever learned something in my life, it’s that timing is important. Not to complain, I found a way to position myself as a senior digital art director primary focused on web design, a field I knew very good, a field client still does not fully understand, and a field that offered other weaknesses of the market which I previously carefully explored. Plus I really loved web design. That being said, I never believed in luck, I believe in getting shit done. And if something is not right, I find a way to change/leave/numb it. Along the way I learned that many people choose to complicate it.

At the end of the day for me – those agencies were no advertising, rather a dtp + production companies with no previously set standards. They knew how to position the client, but not themselves when it comes to quality. Which is also ok, not my circus, not my monkeys.

But throughout all of this time I was never creatively blocked. By the time I was “stuck” in this industry, I worked on really various projects and learned game design, UX design, character design, strategy writing, pushed my branding skills a bit further…etc. I just placed that negative energy in working on side projects for various clients, working on getting the papers in line and getting me out of the EU visa system, so I can stop complaining on the inside and do what I do best – mind my own business. I was “cursed” in a way that I don’t starve for making new friends at work, meeting people is very nice but it’s not why I’m in. I don’t believe team-buildings connect people, good teamwork with big responsibilities and less micro-managing does. I don’t drink/do drugs – long past that phase (try growing up on Balkan). I never had a problem pricing my work, but I really want to enjoy it while working and I don’t believe one has to compromise another so…

Some time passed and in December 2016, EU papers came in – I could have shut the doors of advertising with my ass, but did I mention timing is everything? Now, there was a big positive change in a way I would negotiate my position. I could choose slowly and wisely the company I am about to sign contract with. But before all that, I made a strategy with only one aim – make my bed comfy and only then lay in it. I opened my own company Fuchs+Dachs, employed myself there and then hired a lawyer who drafted an unique contract for me with all the details of  what my work for another company means. Good beginning of an ending…  well you learn from your mistakes.

Signing collaboration with Ogilvy One was one of the most beautiful and elegant decisions in my life. I thought I am going to stay there for 6 months…After a year and a half of our collaboration, I exited advertising through the front door, with a big project behind myself,  a smile on my face and no negative feelings about advertising whatsoever. And I left it because Dusan & I worked so hard on those ‘side projects’, our studio was now able to support both of us.

On the bright side, this industry taught me some of the most valuable life and business lessons, I wouldn’t learn anywhere else.  These lessons were prefix to all decisions we made for our business. So even if it fails, I know I didn’t sit with my legs crossed in a glass office 8+ hours per day, wondering what if I had it my way. . And having your way is not easy, but how priceless is to feel like that 19 year old kid at the age of 30? 

That’s the thing with the opportunity, you don’t just get it, you build each one for yourself through hard work and failures after which you still keep pushing forward. And as I have mentioned before, we are not all the same. Thanks to advertising, I was finally able to do some insight of myself:

1| I am simply not into titles. They mean shit to me if I ain’t doing the work I love and I constantly had to please the client, regardless of their expertise on the subject. I’ve been that senior art director who  gets to do the banner, I say “Nope.” and I have to explain why? No, thanks. It’s not being proud and not being “team player”, it’s what being a professional means and I am past that (10 yrs at least).

2| Not into awards, if I know it wasn’t my idea at the end of the day that won.

3| Tapping on the shoulder by an authority, doesn’t arouse me. Especially not if I know I broke myself into mental pieces to deliver the project and in the end it looks like thousand people worked on it and I am not fully happy with an outlook.

4| I have an ego and advertising in combination with heavy introspection helped me tame it, know when to use it and when to slap it…but never diminish it. I think all professional creatives have it, as it helps them set clear boundaries when it comes to their work and positioning.

5| Competition and comparison among people were never the fuel that starts up my engine. I lived to see people block themselves by comparing to someone else. I also lived to see people who had 2 years of experience comparing themselves to me or my salary. Toxic behaviour and self-rape is not my thing and it’s very common for this place.

6| I am no longer into beating myself for feeling and saying all this out loud, because all that industry makeup set in a way to break you into a certain system, creatively – for me, this is equal to having sex for hours without ever reaching an orgasm, well ‘fuck that’.

My romance with Advertising world was always, ironically said, “AD-hawk” and since there were always reservations from my side, I was able to act and see stuff with less emotions. I was able to have a stoic approach to it at all times. It made a bigger damage on daily basis, but it pushed me very far at a very early age. I am too old to explain myself on everyday basis and these circles somehow expect that shit all the time. I just came to do good work, if you’re unable to provide that, I’ll provide it for myself. The End.

Thanks for reading.

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