It Takes a Village

Picture this: A 21-year-old copywriter graduates from Boston University’s School of Public Communication and heads for the big city. When he arrived in New York in 1981, the world was at his feet. He was a member of AdLab, BU’s excellent student-run ad agency, and he actually had a book with published material!

He knew it would be only a matter of hours before David Ogilvy or a Saatchi or two would be ushering him into their office, bypassing the HR lackeys, and asking him, “How many sugars do you take in your coffee?”

You see, this guy was going to set Madison Avenue on fire. Copywriting was easy, clients were just friends he hadn’t met, and corporate politics could be avoided because he was a nice guy.

Then Reality Hit…

After three months, he found a job editing copy at a legal-publishing company. In half a cubicle. On a floor with no windows. Did I mention that it was legal copy? He earned $11,000 his first year — in New York City. He ate three dinners a week at the Pen & Pencil because it had a limitless buffet from 4 to 7 every night. That’s why he still can’t eat pigs in a blanket to this day.

Then he met someone who would forever change his life. A woman he met at a party offered to listen to his struggles. She made a few phone calls and introduced him to some people, which led to his first job in advertising. One small act of kindness led him to a zigzag ride through the advertising world.

I’m Getting to the Point…

If I (I mean he) hadn’t met someone who took an interest, he might still be editing legal copy or, even worse, working at a credit card company.

Mentoring is something that is sorely lacking in our profession. What follows is what some of us think when it comes to mentoring:

  1. If I help someone, he or she will only be after my job.

  2. With the economy the way it is, I have to watch my own butt first.
  3. Nobody helped me; why the hell should I help someone else?

Why We Should All Be Mentors

  1. It feels good to help someone.

  2. You’re smarter than you think. If you’ve been through the great tech uprising and downfall, you’ve got experience that no school could match.
  3. You have inside information about great companies to work for and companies to avoid. Think about the agencies and companies in your city. Why are some of them always great and some of them always poison? You could spare someone the agony of working in a hellhole.
  4. Even if the person is across the country or across the world, you know people he or she can contact about jobs.
  5. You might need a job some day, and these folks you helped will be the ones hiring.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a lot of mail as a result of these articles and my web site, People write in to ask me, “How do I get in the business?” “Should I use an online portfolio or send it the old way?” “Do I need to know Quark AND Photoshop?” “Is copywriting as exciting as skydiving?”

I really enjoy helping, but it’s a big world, and there are people far better than me to give advice. So here’s my idea:

Let’s Start a Mentoring Program

If you feel queasy about helping Jane, the hotshot MBA know-it-all that your agency just hired, then help someone in Sweden. Or in Oregon. The point is, you’re probably carrying around a tremendous amount of industry knowledge that could really help someone.

On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, you have a million questions, and you’d like some answers. Contacting some industry people would help you in your job search, help you avoid some pitfalls, and give you some inside information about companies and agencies around the world.

I’m making no guarantees about this, other than to introduce people to each other. (I’m a schmoozer, it’s what I do.) Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

If you’re interested in signing up as a mentor, please email me at with:

  • Your professional risumi

  • Your area of interest (e.g., writing, art, production, account management, etc.)
  • The type of person you would feel most comfortable helping (e.g., a man or a woman) or if you have no preference

If you’re interested in finding a mentor, please email me at with:

  • Your risumi

  • The kind of mentor you’re looking for (e.g., someone who has experience in writing, art, production, account management, etc.)
  • The type of person you would feel most comfortable working with (e.g., a man or a woman) or if you have no preference

Is this going to change the world? No, only Sally Struthers can do that. What I would like to see is some experienced people helping some younger folks get into the business. I look forward to hearing from you.

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