I am officially out of the advertising business.
After 32 years, 2 weeks, and 7 hours, I sold my little agency. And while I want to feel good about it, my exit isn’t how I had imagined it would be.
First, some background: This little company has operated far, far away from the Mad Men world of mega-clients. It started before there was ESPN, Facebook, Twitter or digital “anything”. Our business started in a spare bedroom with one client, working with a handful of family-owned retailers, growing to serve the health care industry, colleges and universities, industrial concerns. We became the area’s largest and only full-service agency. And, truth be told, we just made it up as we went along. What I lacked was toughness and business acumen.
Business-and people-seemed simpler, kinder, and less complicated then. Of course, I was younger, a single working mother who needed to survive, so for me it was more than passion, it was necessity. As I review my career, I see all the mistakes I made, the errors in judgement and the naive trust I put in all the wrong people. (I put the “co” in co-dependent.) In spite of all this, I made a living, employed people, made clients successful with some nice work and learned a lot.
It was the last several years that really challenged my faith in human nature. I’m sure it exists in every profession, but there is something about advertising that really brings out the worst in people. I hired a young account manager bursting with talent, then later discovered this person was oozing with deceit. It was a manipulative personality with charisma and I chose to ignore it. After all, this person was promising to buy the business, step into my shoes, and carry on. Instead of firing her for stirring up office drama, outright lying, treating coworkers like dirt, (the list goes on), I kept her. She produced. She handled clients well. She got the job done. But at a huge price. Principles. Ethics. Integrity. Character.
In the end, her true financial situation came into ugly view, and her deception became clear-she wasn’t going to buy the business. So another individual (with a stellar reputation) bought my company and kept her. She is sitting in my old office now, secure, with none of the fear of true ownership, invigorated with the confidence that a fresh start with new people brings. But all I can see is my 32 years of treating people with respect, honesty, and care flying out the window. It may not be my window anymore, but it still pisses me off.