The Ebb and Flow of Agency Life

by Kelly Pyper
kelly@pyperyoung.com

I suppose as a Pisces, I’ve always naturally been drawn to the water. And so I have often pondered and pontificated about the ebb and the flow of the tide and how it relates to my life. But most recently it occurred to me that this same ebb and flow may also be felt in my work life. I’m not talking about cash flow here. Or even projects starting and ending. But rather people – and our relationships – and how they come into our agency and how they may leave.  

Six years ago as the ebb was pulling me away from PP+K, the sun and moon eloquently aligned so that I quickly reached the shore and found myself launching a new venture with a new partner. Tracy Young and I prepared for the flow of business to come our way. In flowed new clients as well as former clients. But like the ocean will also ebb, so have some clients. In a business where budgets get cut and creative work is subjective, it becomes most challenging to anticipate the changes. Some clients stay with us, some have left, some continue to ebb from and flow back to us. And to our clients who have ebbed away, I always wish them the best (with the exception of one, who clearly violated our beloved “no assholes” policy) for one must appreciate the happiness found in the flow over the disappointment felt in the ebb.

Our team of focused, fresh, and fierce professionals has also ebbed and flowed over the years. A few of our employees were fresh out of school or new to the market. Some we worked with in prior lives and others we sought out. But like the tide, change is inevitable. Some leave to pursue new opportunities or are lured by the almighty dollar. One employee left and bought a nut farm. Yes, an actual nut farm – I could not make this shit up.  I consider myself incredibly lucky to have worked with so many smart and talented people.

The ebb is more often feared than the flow. We tend to resist something or someone being pulled away from us. So in 2016, when Tracy needed to take some personal time away from PY, I suppose it was natural for me to resist the idea that she needed to retreat. But with time came acceptance for me and an opportunity for her to return to media management. The ebb and the flow can be dangerous if not properly navigated, so I am eternally grateful to her for founding PY with me and maneuvering through those waters together. And I will certainly miss having her as my partner, as well as her ridiculously funny, but also a bit warped, sense of humor on a daily basis.

Bruce Barton, the late politician who spent most of his career in advertising, said, “Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our overconfidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.” So we look forward to progressing into 2018.

Thank you to my fabulous PY team – you make me incredibly proud, excitedly optimistic, and extremely grateful for the talent and commitment you provide to our valued clients. And to our clients, thank you for flowing our way and for your confidence and appreciation.

We are excited to introduce our new name and identity in the next few weeks, so don’t ebb away!  

 

If These walls Could Talk

by Lindsay Petty
lindsay@pyperyoung.com

Every day as I approach the office I feel transported to the French Quarter. The wrought iron balconies, old brick facades, ornate window casings hold secrets from a century ago. First Block, as it’s affectionately called, is indeed one of the oldest blocks of our great St. Petersburg, and its charm remains through the decades of growth and change in this city.

When people visit our office, they frequently comment on the beautiful exposed brick walls. But what they often miss are the remnants of paint adorning parts of the brick wall along the staircase upon entry. Not much remains of the imagery–the end of a blue arrow is the only element that is recognizable. Upon closer inspection, near the floor at the base of the stairs, usually obscured by an open door, is a painted tag reading Thos. Cusack Co., Chicago.

Asking a few questions to some colleagues, they tell me it’s an old billboard. Well that’s cool. An ad agency with an old billboard on the office wall has a certain synchronicity to it. “Go downstairs to Mastry’s and take a look. They uncovered the rest!” I was told. So I did, and sure enough the majority of their wall below our stairs is a well-preserved billboard for Coca-Cola. Apparently the arrow on our stairs used to direct people where to get their ice cold Coke, but the details of that reprieve from the heat have since worn away. The point of the arrow above our staircase suggests something great around the corner, but the faded artwork leaves a story untold. I had to know more about the billboard on the inside of our building.

I quickly learned that Thomas Cusack, orphaned as a young child, taught himself to paint and began painting billboards as a teenager in 1875 in Chicago. Over the next 50 years he built a commercial empire decorating blank, and often ugly, sides of buildings with beautiful advertisements. According to a 1924 Time article, he had offices in almost one hundred cities, controlled over 40 million square feet of wall surface and over 1.8 million square feet of billboards. He sold the company and while the sale price is unknown, the last known balance sheet showed annual business over $23 million.

Learning about Thomas Cusack is fascinating, but didn’t answer my question about how old the billboard actually is. On to the St. Petersburg Museum of History where I spent an afternoon with Marta in their archives perusing the old City Directories from 1908, 1914 and 1925. We learned that advertising has definitely changed over the last 100 years. I had as much fun looking at the illustrations and copy of 1925 hotel advertisements as I tried to figure out who occupied our building and when it was constructed. (Pretty sure our office was a furnished boarding house called The Portage in 1925.) While I learned that the famous, old Detroit (then a hotel) changed addresses from 200 to 215 at some point in the early part of the century, I wasn’t able to determine when our building was constructed exactly.

A friend connected me with David at USF St. Petersburg’s Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, and I learned that our building is often referred to as the old St. James Hotel. Turns out the building has had many occupants over the decades, but St. Pete’s memory seems to recall the St. James as the primary 20th century resident. David pulled together bits from the archives, revealing old photographs as well as a report filed by St. Pete Preservation with the City Council to preserve First Block, with details about each building around the courtyard, including our “Michigan Building,” claiming it was built in 1909. The same report lists the “Ramsey Addition” next door, to our west, as constructed in 1908. This is an addition to the commonly remembered St. Charles Hotel, just further west, constructed in 1904.

By this report, the Coca Cola billboard that adorns Mastry’s wall, trickling into our entryway, will be celebrating its 110th birthday this coming year.

I have an affinity for the past, the history, the feeling an old building houses of encompassing people of the past. It’s a feeling many in our city share as we work to maintain the charm and character of its early days by preserving and maintaining the structures that truly make St. Pete unique. There is something inspiring about coming to work every day and seeing evidence of your industry that dates back over 100 years to remind you of where we’ve come from. I am grateful to architect Edward Tonnelier who designed Michigan Building that he allowed the Ramsey addition’s exterior to become our interior, thus preserving this sneak peek into our city’s history. Had new walls been constructed for our building, that art would be concealed in a dark place and forgotten, maybe never to be discovered again. Makes me wonder what clues we’ll unintentionally leave behind that will peak someone’s curiosity 110 years from now.

Thos. Cusack Co., Chicago Billboard circa 1908

 

The Research

https://tatteredandlostphotographs.blogspot.com/2011/08/thos-cusack-co-signs.html

https://chicagology.com/advertising/

https://www.stpetepreservation.org/resources/Documents/Jannus%20Landing%20Block3490599.pdf

25 Years Later

by Kelly Pyper
kelly@pyperyoung.com

The Dalai Lama once said, “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” This became easy to understand as I reflect on my career in advertising over the past 25 years. An advertising agency was the very last place I envisioned myself working but when you graduate college during a recession, you take what you can get, which was a temp job at an advertising agency. And what a stroke of luck that was to be inducted into this inspiring, innovative, albeit crazy, business. Like the mafia (hey, I’m from NJ), it pulled me in, and I could never get out.

Sadly I joined the industry post-Mad Men days, never imbibing the three martini lunches. Clearly things are always changing in the advertising world and here a few of the biggest changes that I’ve seen since my beginnings…

Parties: Where did these go? Agencies used to have killer shindigs; ad club events were the hottest ticket in town, and the media – their bashes were over the top. In the mid-90’s we were rubbing elbows with TV stars at the legendary premiere parties at Trump Plaza – even the Donald was there. I mean, it was huge! I think when they started limiting two drink coupons on Addy award night, it was all downhill.

Assholes: Unfortunately, they did not fade away like the parties. In fact, they have multiplied. I’ve met way too many charlatans over the years. Nowadays I try to abide by a “no assholes” policy – not employees, not vendors and not clients. No time for that.  While we’re at it, we also need to bring more honesty back in advertising – maybe not quite as literal as “Crazy People” – remember “Volvo: they’re boxy, but they’re good”?

Technology: When I began in 1991, the World Wide Web was only in infancy, so I would actually have to talk with people. Yes, talk. On the phone. A lot. Sometimes in person! Eventually email, software, and cell phones (I’m skipping right over pagers) made our jobs easier. Now in the 21st century, technology has infiltrated the way we market as well. We’re running advertising that targets demographically, geographically, behaviorally, and contextually. If that doesn’t work, then we can retarget them or reach them with non-skippable pre-roll or maybe with big fat mobile rich-media interstitials. Don’t even get me started on native and cross-device tactics.

People: Aside from the aforementioned a-holes, there really are some remarkable and exciting people in the ad world. Over the years I’ve been lucky to work with them as my co-workers, clients, agency partners, industry peers – you know who you are! And while the faces may change, it will always be a client-focused, team-collaborating, people-driving results industry where there is no simple formula, digital equation, or cookie-cutter solution. Despite all of the technology we encounter, it’s still people coming up with outstanding ideas.

So while fate may have chosen the agency life for me, I’ll continue to embrace it and do my best to enhance it where I can, even if that’s just by throwing some damn fine parties.

You Used To Call Me On My Cell Phone

by Andy Angstadt
andy@pyperyoung.com

Four months ago I was plagued with the grim misfortune of losing my iPhone. This is a catastrophe every millennial fears. The phone was dead so the Find My iPhone app was rendered useless. I retraced my steps and searched the city but alas, I was forced to face the fact my phone had fallen victim to the Friday celebrations of my mid-twenty self reveling in late night libations. Due to only purchasing the minimum insurance and still owing money on the abandoned Apple, I was unable to replace it immediately. Then, before I knew it, days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and now four long months have gone by.

The main reaction I get these days when people discover I have been living phoneless for months is “how the hell do you do it!” Being part of a generation of early adapters to the internet-age, constant connection seems to be the common thread among people of my relative demographic. The most ironic part of all of this is that I run social media accounts for work. So it’s no surprise my recent unplugged lifestyle tends to be a shock. Therefore I’ve decided to answer, “How do you do it?”

How I do it:

  • Communication. Facebook messenger has been my main form of contact. I constantly check my computer whenever possible to see if I have messages. Occasionally, I borrow people’s phones to send a quick message or make a call.
  • Social Media. My personal accounts have been reduced primarily to Facebook. Being an avid Instagrammer, I live in a constant state of awareness of missed Insta-opportunities. If the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” is to be taken seriously, then I have done almost absolutely nothing for almost a third of 2015.
  • Managing Social Media Accounts. This has been challenging, yet not impossible. Scheduling has been key here: being aware of current promotions and campaigns, then establishing strategic schedules around that. Responding to consumers is a team effort, which makes engagement manageable.
  • Directions. I am historically awful at directions. Now I have been forced to thoroughly understand St. Petersburg’s grid system. If I know I am going somewhere I won’t know how to get to, I literally Google map it, print out the directions and check my map en-route like some sort of modern day metropolitan explorer.
  • Making Plans. This has also been a struggle. I use to just walk around with the key to my friend list right in my pocket. Making plans was in the moment and only a click or swipe away. In the No Phone Zone however, my plans are made in advance. If there is a meet-up area, I have to carefully estimate the time it will take to get there and then the party I am meeting just has to trust that I’ll show up.
  • Day-to-Day Knowledge. I’ve discovered probably the strangest feeling in all of this is that I do not know everything all the time. With a smartphone, literally any thought that pops into my head I have the ability to find an answer. In conversation, if all parties present disagree on a topic, it’s second nature to whip out your cellular of choice and search it right then and there. I now have to rely on my knowledge and experiences or web browsing from an hour ago when I was by a computer. If things come up throughout the day I have to write them down and/or remember to look it up later. By the way, does anybody know the time?

My point is that it’s been challenging, especially since I’ve had a smartphone for years doing a lot of heavy lifting even in areas I was generally unaware. However, all things considered, it wasn’t the end of my world. I’ve learned that surviving without my iPhone is possible, I just have to think different.

Is Advertising Still Fun?

By Tracy Young
tracy@pyperyoung.com

It seemed like every time I changed jobs in the advertising world I would hear how fun it used to be before I got there. How many times have we heard about the “good ol’ days?”

I would always end up feeling like I missed the best of everything. Looking back, I remember my experiences of “back in the day” and there were great times.

There is so much pressure on us as an industry to be hip, fun, cool, trendy. Some agencies definitely do a good job of making it look that way, but is it really that great once you get there? I’m going to give it to you straight.

Yes! Advertising is still fun! It is not the same as it was 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. But then again, what is? In a lot of ways things have evolved for the better. I spent many years in corporate America and here’s what I can tell you makes advertising fun. We get to wear jeans. We get to brainstorm ideas. We usually have cool offices. We use Mac computers at work. We work with artistic, fun and crazy individuals like us that make us laugh. We roll into work between 9 and 10. Did I mention jeans?

No, we are not like the characters in Mad Men. We do not drink all day, snort lines, and sleep with each other. If that is what you are looking for, I’ll bet you can find it at a local strip club.

We work hard. Harder than anyone in advertising ever has. The world has changed–for every industry. We are still the lucky ones. We are the ones who do what we love every day. And that, my friends, is fulfillment. How many people do you know that can say that about what they do?

An Open Letter to Job Hunting Creatives

By Tracy Young
tracy@pyperyoung.com

At least once a day I get resumes in my inbox from all sorts of creatives in the industry. So often, I am just simply appalled at their lack of attention to detail and follow up when addressing my firm and myself. Yesterday, I got one addressed to “HR manager.” Hey–dipshit–thanks for not bothering to customize your form letter. I’ve been hiring people for a long time and that is not how to show me you have a real interest in working here.

I’d like to give some advice to those who want to have a glamorous career in the advertising world–walk the walk. If you are a copywriter, write me a bit of copy about why you should work here and how you can help make us famous. Then, follow up with a voicemail. YES, pick up the phone and CALL ME. I listen to my messages. I might not call you back but I’ll know that you’ve called me. ASK ME to come in. So many people just send a resume and never follow through at all.

You have to humanize the process. Use technology to SHOW me your worth, not as a crutch to do the minimum. What does your resume look like? Is it unique? Does it communicate who you are in a fun and interesting way? Don’t use the cliché words or phrases.

Go to my firm’s website. Google information about us and use it in your intro to demonstrate that you are familiar with our work and the people that are here. Follow our social media. Pay attention. If you show interest in us, you are way more likely to get interest in return.

You know, this advice is really for anyone in any industry. Except maybe banking–that is still very boring. But seriously, increase your chances of getting in front of people by networking, showing interest, and following through.