Late Bloomer

The very first ad you did won a gold Lion at Cannes. Your One Show pencils are fighting with your Clios on the special trophy case you built specifically for all your honors. And let’s not even get started on the stack of Emmys you took home for those universe-altering TV commercials.

Aren’t you fabulous?

You can stop reading. This article is not for you. It is for people like me.

Before freelancing became my way of life, I worked at a variety of super-huge-and-bureaucratic, midsized and so-small-people-would-say-“Where?” agencies.

When I worked at a great place, I always ended up in the crappiest group. (“Hey, that’s a hot agency. Did you work on that great new campaign for … ?” “Why, no. No, I didn’t.”) When I did find myself in a good group, the only person who got anything produced had a title like senior executive vice president of the known creative universe. (Wait, I take that back. I believe that was the year I produced all those coupon ads.)

When I finally got the great, career-making assignment I had been waiting for, I was partnered with the advertising-hating art director whose dream job was to work for UPS because, “I’d get to drive around all day, drink coffee, and people would be glad to see me since I was bringing them stuff.”

Need I say that my best work always found its way to the drawer (after a while it was several drawers), and what did get produced was not worth the postage it would take to mail it in to an awards show.

Not to give the impression that I’ve never been acknowledged. I once won some in-house thing that included a monetary prize (they took taxes out); a radio spot of mine for a wine cooler account was given first prize by some vineyard growers association (I believe they were drunk at the time); and I was honored by a client that liked to give out its own awards to the agencies on its roster (on the engraved plaque, they spelled “copywriter” as two words).

Then, after more than a decade of always being “this close,” I started to freelance. By focusing on the type of accounts I wanted to work on and contacting the clients directly, I started to get assignments I never could have gotten at the agencies where I worked. And in fact, I have just won a silver Broadcast Design Award for HBO.

Award? HBO? In the same sentence with my name? Yes, it’s true.

There is, of course, something to be said for the cachet of being a young, hot star. But I won’t complain if my glory days are not behind me but right here and now, as well as ahead of me.

It can happen for you, too.

I am not saying that the only way you’ll find your place is through freelancing. That’s what worked for me. You might be in a big place and need a small place to shine. You might be in a small place and need a big place and a lot of competition to push you to excel.

Just keep doing your best work (put it in your book, not the drawer) and continue to look for the place that will appreciate it.

Better late than never.

See you at the awards show.