It took me 10 years to recover my confidence

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George Tannenbaum is the Founder, Creative at GeorgeCo, LLC, a Delaware Company. Before this, George spent five years at Ogilvy helping run his dream account: IBM. George has also worked for some of America's most storied agencies, including R/GA, Hal Riney and Partners, Ally & Gargano, and Lowe. He's won a total of 15 Effies, including the Grand Effie and the 5/50 Sustaining Effie. He might be the only person on earth to have done that. George writes a popular advertising blog, Ad Aged.

Biggest fuck up

Back in 1995, I was working at a storied agency that was storied no longer. I needed to get off the ship before it sank.

I was a young father at the time with two daughters in private schools in New York, and I was scared shitless.

I took a job in a hurry. Took a step backward title-wise and tricked myself into working for a boss I didn’t like. I didn’t have one good day at that agency and, after eighteen months, was fired for being “insubordinate.” The fuck up was panicking. Taking a sucky job rather than being patient and working to get something good.

That job, getting fired, and eighteen months of failing to overcome mediocre work set me and my career back. It took me ten full years to recover my reputation and confidence.

I learned never take a job in a hurry. Like you’re not supposed to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, don’t go job hunting when you’re desperate. I took a job because I was scared shitless of losing my job. But it was a shitty job, and I lost it anyhow.


There’s so much that pisses me off, and not just because I’m old and a New Yorker and almost always pissed off.

I get pissed off at theorists in advertising who don’t offer solutions. I get pissed off at talkers who don’t do. I get pissed off at critics who don’t improve things. I get pissed off mostly at blow-hards and bullies, and the industry is teeming with them.

I get pissed off that the industry today is run by people who have never run an ad. Who don’t know anything about advertising and who believe that from a data POV or some technology POV, we can turn advertising into an if-then proposition. As if there’s a set of rules that, if we only followed, everything would be in apple-pie order.

I get pissed off that job security has disappeared, and salaries are lower than they were 30 years ago while holding company heads earn more and more as they destroy the agencies they bought with other people’s money. I get pissed off at the industry’s race to the bottom—that we compete on price rather than on the quality of our work.

I get pissed that agency people probably work 1000 hours a year without pay, nominally because they’re “executives,” but they have no executive privileges or rewards. I get pissed off that everyone goes along with this dirty system and walks around saying, ‘I’m lucky to have a job,’ when they should teach themselves to think, ‘they’re lucky to have me.’

Useful advice

Work hard. Get in early. Organize your work. Do it. Move on.

Keep your head down and work. Put your hand up to ask for more. Write a mantra for yourself, reminding yourself that you’re good. Repeat it every hour until you start believing it. Then repeat it more often.

Also. Practice your craft every day. Write. Write. Write. Write down everything. Keep score. Keep notebooks. Write jokes, songs, stories, rhymes. Write, write, write is practice, practice, practice. That practice has allowed me to be producing work while others are still in the complaining stage.

Also, read.

Also, when people issue a blanket statement like “your spot will get better results if you open with a logo” or “people don’t read anymore,” ask for proof. Ask for data. Don’t accept bushwa.


  1. Very true but the times are a changing and we need to as well, learn something every day, read, watch, listen. One thing overlooked is actual life experience, many ad writers etc can only speak to university peers or same socio economic group, and standardize language, even worse now with IT.- not from real touchable experience. I left formal advertising world many years ago almost like a typewriter nomad and had many great enriching experiences, now doing branding which is better as often relating to the owner directly and writing my own projects, and thoroughly enjoying the process of both. Won’t mention age as is closely guarded secret!

  2. Advertising as an “if-then proposition”– like there’s an algorithm for a successful ad. Just push these buttons and you’ve got a winner. Bushwa is right. No wonder so much advertising looks the same. We live in a world where everybody wants to be daring, but nobody takes any risks.


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