5 More Things I Miss–and Don’t–About Running an Ad Agency

number fiveAlmost a year ago I wrote a post about my former life as an ad agency head in the 90s titled, 5 Things I Miss (And 5 I Don’t) About Running an Ad Agency. From the feedback I received I must have hit a nerve in many ad agency owners. A year ago, many agencies were coming off the 2009 business year that was their worst ever, so I understandably got a strong vibe that many agency owners had wished they had exited the business before the recession. However, agency heads tend to be optimistic and business for many has now improved, so perhaps they are a bit more chipper today. Nonetheless I wanted to share part two of 5 (More) things I Miss & Don’t about running an ad agency.

5 More Things I Miss:

1. People—Talented creative folk gave me headaches, but I always admired their unique ability to think of the unexpected.

2. (Some) clients—Over the years I worked with clients I liked very much, others not so much, and a small few that were lying thieves. Obviously, I’ll leave the latter to the things I don’t miss. However, there were several clients who I respected, liked their business and enjoyed every moment of our interaction.

3. Banter and silliness—A function of having the right team, it’s nice to have the intellectual playfulness that comes with a creative business. As the saying goes it’s advertising, not brain surgery.

4. Successful marketing—I never got tired of creating smart business ideas that worked (nor humbly have I stopped doing so).

5. A unified sense of purpose—A smart team all rowing in the same direction is a powerful unit

5 More Things I Don’t Miss:

1. Absorbed self-important people–Whether on the agency or client side (unfortunately many on the agency side), I always found it ridiculous how important people thought they were. Please.

2. Little knowledge of real business. A corollary of #1, I often felt the ideas of many were superficial, with no business grounding created by those who felt a snappy ad was the panacea for every business woe.

3. Condescending people. I abhorred those who felt they were superior to others, whether on the agency or client side. They tend to be posers.

4. People who don’t stand up and admit mistakes. We are all human. We all err. But those who always try to blame others and never fess up to their own missteps are the lowest form of business life. Alas, “Integrity in the Moment of Choice” is not a universal trait.

5. Mediocre ideas. Great ideas are hard to come by. Not every ad or marketing program will be a home run. I don’t miss those who think that a fair idea argued strongly is the same thing as a great idea.

The industry I exited in 1999 has changed dramatically. I sense that those in the business today are not enjoying it often enough. No doubt that the harsh economic realities contribute to this. I had been fortunate to work and lead some terrific agencies in my past and I also have been equally fortunate to work with many agencies as a business consultant during the past 12 years. In my current life I get the best of both–I get to partake in the “things I like” without really having to deal with the “things I don’t”.

What I have realized is that I could have used some objective counsel whispering in my ear yesteryear when running agencies. I know I would have made some better and different decisions as a result. It is incredibly hard to be dispassionately objective in the middle of a storm, particularly since most of the issues an agency faces are “people issues”, internal or client relationships. In the ad business (and in life) it is far easier to see situations for what they are when you more objective and are a half-step removed.

As always, I welcome feedback and thoughts.

More Strumings


  1. 5 things I miss (and don’t) about working for Lonny Strum:

    1. Having to pay a fine when arriving late to a meeting (don’t miss; well, maybe a little)
    2. Turning the conference room over to a bunch of 6-year-olds on Take Your Child to Work Day (miss, but pretty much like every other day at the agency)
    3. Amy the receptionist, who knew every client by the sound of their voice on the phone — in the days before Caller ID. (miss)
    4. Billing (don’t miss AT ALL)
    5. Lonny’s fundamental decency in an industry full of sharks (miss)

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I miss many things about EPB in the 90s. People are always at the top of the list. I hope you are getting to meetings on time in your current life or I’ll have to come find you & fine you.

  2. Dan O'Neill says:

    You can’t in a corporate environment suggest cropdusting denver with deer urine because you think it sounds funny like you could at a creative agency. Ah, those were the days.

  3. Strum:
    I always liked you. In a manly way, of course. When are we going to pitch a piece of business together? My website is under construction and has been for the last 6 years.

    • Lonny says:

      Thanks, H–

      Brilliant creative guys like you are among the things I miss. 6 years for a web site? Mmmm…. It’ll be a masterpiece when it’s done (or no one will have them by then)

  4. Don Silver says:

    Hey Lonny. Interesting thoughts. I remember when a bunch of us gathered to hang and counsel the younger versions of ourselves, the advice was easier to give than get. I wonder sometimes whether success is itself a barrier to success.

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