Early in my career I worked as a freelance designer in Richmond, Virginia. Contrary to what you might think, Richmond has long been a hub of the advertising business, primarily because Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University, has been churning out art, design, and advertising graduates since the 1930s.
I worked for a bunch of advertising agencies, among them, Brand Edmonds Bolio (when Lu Matthews was an art director), Siddall (when Stan Matus and Peter Coughter still had their names on the door), Webb & Athey (for Dee Webb and the irascible Dick Athey), and The Martin Agency (when Harry Jacobs was the creative head and Mike Hughes was still an up-and-comer).
Haha… as Dickens said, “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” I spent countless days and nights creating storyboards, comping ads for presentations, building those signature presentation boxes (that Diane Cook Tench and Chris Overholser dreamt up for Siddall), and pasting-up and produced literally hundreds of print pieces.
I’m reminiscing because it was reported locally today that The Martin Agency, now a big force in advertising (Walmart, GEICO, Moen, PING, Pizza Hut) and it’s Creative Director John Norman, are parting ways after just two years.
I don’t have the slightest idea what happened, I lost track of local agency goings-on soon after the web caught my eye. It just reminded me of how volatile a business advertising was then and is today.
From whatever angle you view it, the design and agency business is a feature-length soap opera that tells idealized tales of falling in love, courting, marriage, and the divorce of clients, agencies, and the people who populate them. It is a business that, by its nature, builds great expectations, reaches exhilarating heights, then—sometimes graciously, sometimes rudely—steps aside and watches witlessly as these players or those, either crash and burn or somehow fade away.
What’s the point? I love it—the whole mess—design and marketing and the relationships between clients, agencies, business people, and creatives. It’s high-theatre, artistry, commerce, and psychology all rolled into one. If you have a penchant for drama (and a strong stomach) you won’t find a more interesting, exciting, and unpredictable way of making a living.
“Like sands through the hourglass so are the Days of our Lives”…