Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Job Vs. Vocation

Is your job your vocation? Mine isn't.

I've worked for the past 10 years in advertising as an Account Planner. That's been my job.

The past year I've gotten back to my vocation, playwriting.

I've come to see the difference between a job and a vocation because even though my job title is a Group Planning Director; I now work in scientific communications and promote regulated science and therefore no longer need to entertain the idea that the pseudo-science driving most consumer advertising "insight" is real. I work more as a scientific communications strategist working within strict guidelines and the limits of science rather than the "science" of account planning. See this for an example of said account planning "science".

I've also gotten back to practicing my first vocation, playwriting, by becoming a network playwright at Chicago Dramatists Theater and understand the vast difference between creativity and advertising.

Creativity tries to solve cultural problems that seem apparent.

Consumer advertising (or branding, or changing the conversation, or motivating talk between brands and people, or disrupting category conventions) invents problems to motivate corporate profits.

The former demands introspection, intellectualism, an appreciation for others while concerning oneself with the history of great ideas.

The latter demands jargon often based on ill-defined portmanteau and a pair of hipster eye-glasses.

I was drawn to the field of planning because the guy I worked for during a survival job stint between theater gigs ten years ago at a big Chicago ad agency was smart and kind.

I thought that he represented a job that invited an opportunity for humanism in business.

What I didn't understand was that this boss is what marketing people would call an "outlier".

He offered support when I tired of auditioning and financed my MBA while talking to me of things like Shakespeare and the history of mathematics.

Subsequent planning jobs have put me into situations where similarly smart and humane people in the practice have often longed to do something else.

One boss who hired me primarily because I was a playwright told me during a particularly frustrating day that he was looking to deter his daughter from pursuing advertising and how he wished he still sold skis in Aspen.

Another boss said to me when she was leaving the ad agency where she hired me, "In theory, planning is interesting . . ." (she expressed to me that in reality she probably would enjoy being a Pilates instructor).

The person I know who projects an air of necessity within account planning (and seems to enjoy it in almost a manic way) has admitted to never reading anything other than Good Magazine and likes to collect non-traditional versions of marketing collateral. He also expresses chagrin with a hint of self-deprecating pride when people comment on his combo outfit made up of ironic t-shirts he buys from Target over button down dress shirts.

He also repositioned an agency around a "social media theory" based on what he admitted was bad math to validate his opinion that brands that make friends are successful. When I pointed out to him that his theory seems to enable the post-hoc fallacy (mistaking correlation for causation) he responded by sending me to his slide share deck (because sharing ideas is cool) but didn't realize that the content in the deck validated the reality he enjoys the post-hoc fallacy.

I'd suggest you check out any major ad agency web-site right now and ask yourself if the personalties projected there don't remind you of the Soma-stuffed idiots from Huxley's dystopian vision in "Brave New World" (for those band planners reading this, "Brave New World" is a novel written by a man named Aldous Huxley who looked to understand applied ethics using the genre of science fiction. A novel is a book which is sort of like a trend-report only longer with no pictures. And genre means a type of story, sort of like the intellect's version of an SKU.)

I'm grateful for my job and I like many of the people I work with now that I get to deal with real rather than invented science but have revisited the world of consumer advertising recently, by joining a couple of account planning groups on social media sites, and realize that the joy planners have with their fuzzy reality is something I think is unreal.

I can only hope that those who celebrate the efficacy of account planning will be made to validate their european eye-glasses and show how their trend mining into the social media eco-system actually leads to real results.

I have a feeling however that it will be exposed for the hucksterism it is and be regulated to the world of dousing and homeopathy.

I expect an ironic t-shirt coming to your nearest Target to announce this.


Pat Foltz said...


Notice the correlation between the word *job* and the person *Job*?

I imagine your thinking about all this will lead you to the same place you arrived when you really started questioning Christianity.

My Father once told me (after he told me he would never pay for my college education if I majored in something dumb like Theatre) that if I proceeded to follow my *dreams* that I would make a very interesting gas station attendant. I guess he didn't foresee the demise of that noble profession.

I have studied the correlation of my happiness to money (enough to not worry about it) in my 62 years of life. There was none.

Chuck said...

Good thoughts Pat.

I think it will be interesting where this will lead but I can't pretend anymore to see the wisdom of the leading thinkers in advertising when I don't see any.

I think one can be thoughtful and do marketing well but I just don't think it is essential to be thoughtful and make a lot of money in marketing.

It usually hinges on how superficially pleasing one can be while maintaining a stance that doesn't incite too much deviation from the average.