A’s for your Q’s: Why I’ve stayed at the same agency for 20 years

A question from a recent VCU Brandcenter graduate:

What motivated you to stay in one place for 20 years?

I love this question because the concept is so counterintuitive. No one stays anywhere for 20 years anymore. Especially not in advertising. Glenn Cole recently dubbed me, “The Cal Ripken of creative professionals” because I’ve been at Y&L for 23 years.

When I was in art school, we took a tour through Young & Laramore. I met David Young and Jeff Laramore that day. I’d never met anyone like them in my life (still haven’t). David was a philosophy major and Jeff was a painter. David showed us this beautiful pen and ink drawing on the underside of his desk. Apparently he would lie under the table during conference calls and draw. After I started, it took me a while to get used to the fact that he drew constantly- during meetings, presentations, lunches. If he was listening, he was drawing.

When I interviewed for the art director position, David told me the writing in my book sucked. I started to tell him that I was an art director, not a writer, but he interrupted me and said, “You’re responsible for all of it, not just the art direction.” He meant it. And I loved it, because I got to ask about everything- contracts, estimates, pricing, even new business. There wasn’t any topic that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions about. I was never told, “That’s not your department.”

David and Jeff didn’t come from a big agency in a big market, so they invented how they structured and ran the agency. To this day, people still marvel at how we do it.

Truth is, I don’t feel like I’ve stayed in one place for 20+ years. I feel like I’ve had 5 different careers here. Not just because I’ve been an AD, CD and now ECD. But, because the agency did crazy things like start sculpture divisions, make films (long before content was ever a concept), published art books and business books. It was all advertising.

I still never know what I’m going to do when I walk in the door every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take great comfort knowing this place is run like a business, but acts like a creative shop.