Lessons learned in 25 years of advertising

February 5, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


It pains me greatly to think how fast it has gone, but 2015 will mark my 25th year in advertising. Young Carl Thompson, fresh faced and sporting a sweet off the rack suit from Dillard’s, stepped off the elevator into the formidable lobby of Ogilvy and Mather’s Chicago office. I was full of piss and vinegar, absolutely certain that David himself was going to anoint me “the one.” I remember that I was one of seven people hired that year as part of their 1990 Account Service Class….the last one still working at an agency for what it’s worth.

Twenty-five years in the agency world is a very long time. I remember in my 20s being told by the grizzled veterans (probably in their mid 30s at the time) that this business will chew you up. The pace, the pressure, the lack of job security gets to you eventually and the relative safe harbor of a client side gig starts looking pretty good. That might have been true for a lot of folks, but not for me. Not yet anyway.   The relationship I have now and have always had with this business is akin to the type of relationship one might have with their family. At times frustrating to the point where you want to run away as far and as fast as possible. At other times, filling you with such satisfaction you can’t believe how lucky you are to be part of it.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

I often wonder if a CPA, engineer, or insurance agent experiences the same type of emotional yo-yo with their jobs?

There have been a lot of changes in the industry over the last 25 years. Way too many to count, but here are few that jump out at me.

For example, men dominated the agency world I walked into – probably 95% of senior management at both client and agency was male. Now I would bet it’s probably shifted fairly close to 50/50. What was once the penultimate old boy network has become the most egalitarian industry bar none.

We used to say that a true full service agency was a master of the “The Seven Measured Media.” Now I would say a true full service agency has to concern itself with more than 25 touch points and everything is measured and measured pretty much instantly.

While not celebrated, failure was at least understood and second chances were often extended to an agency when a campaign bombed. Relationships and experience were given a higher order of importance than we see today. The fact that you failed the first time, gave you a higher probability of success the next time. Not many second chances these days for the agency, or our clients.

One thing that has not changed and likely never will is exactly what clients want from an agency. The ability to toe the line in front of the C-suite and point proudly to some quantifiable success that he/she can say without equivocation, “with our marketing budget, we did this!” It takes a lot of guts to trust an agency will help make this happen. I have always had immense respect for our clients who do this.

This is one of the many reasons I think the “Challenger Brand Ethos” of out-thinking not out-spending has resonated these past few years where budgets only seem to shrink and competition only seems to grow. This is not to say that it was not a difficult proposition twenty-five years ago, but I do believe it is a little harder to move the needle today than it used to be when “mass media” ruled. It really is much more about the science and less about the art than it used to be.

So all in all, not too bad of a run so far. I have traded little gray hair and a little less liver function for a lot of great stories, a lot great client friends and the privilege to come work with these guys every day. Two and a half decades later, I would do it all again.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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