When I graduated College about 5 1/2 years ago, I had two opportunities open to me in terms of my first job. One I really wanted but wasn’t sure I was going to get, which would have been a Marketing Coordinator position at the NFL (I know right!) though I was against a lot of more qualified experience candidates (I was the only non-MBA, non-experienced candidate and made the final two interviews). The other was something I was interested in and was more of a fallback, which was an Assistant Account Executive job at the then-Grey Direct (currently G2 Direct and Digital). Grey Direct is an Advertising Agency that specializes in Direct Marketing (Which is is a form of advertising that reaches its audience directly through multiple channels including email, direct mail, social media, catalogs, online advertising, interactive television, etc.)
I am not going to lie, I definitely wanted that NFL job badly to the point, when Grey had me the offer, I risked waiting a day (faked sick and needed a day to digest the offer) before giving my decision to Grey to find out the NFL’s decision. As you see, I ended up at Grey Direct.
NFL ended up passing me for a Harvard Grad, who worked in the New York Yankees organization for 2 years. By the way, I later found out that person left the NFL after three months and actually became a missionary through the person who referred/recommended me to the opening.
At first, I was deeply disappointed. I mean I was happy to have a job in a field I wanted to be in but that NFL job was perfect for me and my passion.
I started at Grey on the “Freedom” team as an Assistant Account Executive, one of the top long-standing accounts at the Agency. Account people are managers of the creative process and the main communicative conduit to the clients, we also work on strategy though we do have departments catered specifically to that.
“Freedom” was an unique account setting in the sense of team, it’s structure and the work. It was a process-driven (the slightest break in process meant chaos though the process had tons of holes in it), Direct Mail account (which is the offer mailings you receive) though my work eventually led them to receiving Digital work because of amazing work I did with a deck teaching the client about Alternative Media.
The “Freedom” account team was a tough social dynamic for me. It was all 90% girls with the exception of myself, and three other men including the two directors of the account. The core of the team consisted of 4 junior account girls, people in the agency called “Freedom Ladies”
Initially, I got along with the girls who were training me in the processes of the Account especially my supervisor, Cath and an Account Executive, April. Especially since this was my first job and I am painfully shy, I really leaned on them to get used to the agency life and hopefully be friends with them (which was very naive of me and a hard lesson I had to learn). Stan, the head of the account and I were very close initially considering he was someone I could talk too and I felt at least then he could be a mentor to me.
The other teams on our Account especially creative, traffic and production were full of great people especially people who I am still friends with now. They looked out for me a lot on the account.
After my first month, I was in the flow of the account and loved the work but at the same time, I felt really lonely. I didn’t really make any friends and because of that I worked extra hard for the girls on my account including covering for them and picking up their slack when they left early or took lunches, hoping to be their friend, as well.
I also really tried to talk to Stan a lot about my adjustment issues and learn from him but I noticed he always seemed to never have the time for me despite all the work I did especially for him also though he seemed to always make time for April, his personal favorite.
Cath, always had her door opened to me though I always sensed, she was just as much an outsider to me in that “Freedom” world which is probably why she always was good to me whenever I needed to talk to someone.
Few more months in, It didn’t take me too long to realize the following:
1) Those “Freedom Ladies” were Shallow Fakes who took advantage of my kindness and willingness to please so they could do less work without ever making me feel part of the team.
2) Stan was only ever concerned about one person on the account in terms of developing, mentoring and molding, April and it was blatantly obvious.
3) I was never going to grow on the team despite all the work I was doing. That work I did for him, which lead to Digital business, all those late hours I dedicated to not only get ahead but please him so he can be my mentor, he ended up giving that assignment to April, who did nothing.
He also refused to allow me to participate in other New Business opportunities in the Agency other than “Freedom” pitches (A big deal for young account people looking to grow in an agency) despite my availability (there were instances in the account that had lag time which opened up possibilities to participate) and teams who recognized my work though he always accommodated April for opportunities.
4) Cath was eventually going to leave the agency and she was the only person I trusted on the Account team which meant I was going to be on my own on “Freedom”.
Now you are reading this and wondering why I called this “Why I like my job”, let me tell you why 🙂
I eventually had met the best group of friends I encountered in my life since High School. People who got me out of my painfully shy shell. People who looked out for me. People who defended me from those “Freedom Witches” and told me to stand up for myself. People I can talk sports with People who I went to Happy Hours at “Fubar” on Thursday nights (Any four drinks for $12). People I could vent to (and they knew they can always vent to me, as well). People I trust.
It always starts with “one”. About 2 weeks in when I started, I had to go to an Agency mandated breakfast with the CEO of the Agency for all the new people in the agency. I was clearly nervous, stumbling with my fruit plate. A girl came up to me. She was slightly older than me, Latina, beautiful (and still is), amazing smile, and had really long black hair then. I had seen her around the agency, she worked on the Pharmaceutical side on Account and she always smiled at me when I passed her by her desk which was in the art studio for some weird reason, I didn’t know her then but I knew immediately from my observations, she was the coolest person in the agency.
She introduced herself to me, “Hi, I am Liz”. Honestly, I was surprised. At the agency, there were very weird sense of dividing lines drawn. You didn’t talk to the other teams, period. It was never said but implied especially on “Freedom” no matter what anyone in Management or HR says (it’s still like that over there).
I was also surprised she wanted to talk to me, she was very cool and I was this very, shy nervous person who just dropped my orange and pineapple slices on the floor in front of the CEO when she greeted me. I introduced myself (I might have stammered, actually I probably did) and we talked very briefly before the breakfast.
We didn’t really talked that much after that for about a few weeks other than passing by “Hi’s” and her always smiling at me though she worked a lot (very hard to smile a lot in agency life especially in our jobs) I wanted to but I was very guarded and shy until…
All the first-year employees at Grey, experienced or not had to participate in a “Grey Training Program” which thought all the employees all the different disciplines at the agency. The students were split into diverse teams with the end goal being for the teams to participate in a competition to develop an Ad Campaign with the winner getting bragging rights. It was very competitive
I was on Liz’s team and everyone on the team (especially me) were drawn to her as the leader. She and I did a lot of the legwork on the team. One night, about a week after my birthday, we stood at the agency late night working on the presentation deck, which was very tedious. I was hungry and asked her if she wanted to grab some food. She agreed. We ended up at Zip Burger, a great burger place nearby.
I finally felt comfortable with opening up to Liz and talking to her, in fact I talked so much she reminded me, my Swiss Cheese burger with BBQ sauce and fries were getting cooled. I learned that she was from Miami but traveled everywhere, her family, her nickname, etc. It really felt like I knew her for years in that hour long conversation. When we parted ways that night, I knew I made a friend. A friend who eventually became my “big sister” and was there for me through a very hard time in my life.
Through her I met two other friends, also girls. Leah (who through her I met Carly another great friend of mine) and LJ (who were also very nice to me from the beginning though I was too shy to ever talk too) and I started to be more friendly with others outside of “Freedom”, whether it was the Met Fan IT Guy who played video games and others and really had a great support system of friends at the agency who looked out for each other, vented to another, hung out outside of the office, and had insane Chrismuawannukah parties.
I knew for a fact, my “Freedom” team openly resented and even punished me for being part of that group of friends though I couldn’t careless how they felt especially those hypocritical “Freedom Witches”. These were not only friendly co-workers to me, they were people who cared about me and believed in me.
Sure we had our ups and downs in that group of friends, but that will always happen with friendships.
Eventually, some of us did grow apart by circumstances (marriage, new jobs, babies etc.) but to this day I still feel close to all of them.
I miss many of them, especially Leah who’s old Upper East Side apartment was kind’ve like a 2nd home to me where we all watched movies, ate junk food, watch The OC, and did South Park impersonations. I passed by the apartment, a few weeks ago, and just had a big smile on my face. Leah is now a mom to a beautiful newborn son and a great husband living in London. I visited her a couple of years ago, my first trip overseas and had fun again in the time I got to hang with her and her husband.
The agency I am at currently now, is a much better environment for me than what “Freedom” at Grey was and I feel like I am having that support system of friends again whether it is my amazing boss, who is the “Anti-Stan” who is protective of me as I am for her, the cheery copywriter with the lovely voice and the great poker face, my friends in Traffic who always look out for me more than they probably should, The blonde AD who always smiles at me and always asks how I am doing, The person I can trade “The Office” quotes with, The Cowboys fan who I talk smack with, etc.
These people make the long days seem worth it. They will always provide words of encouragement to you especially when you feel lost, hard on yourself and confused. They will help you out when you’re in a bind. They make you feel part of something. They will root you to go for that girl in the bar and talk to her. That’s why I love my job.
Sure, I am going through some confidence issues in terms of “finding a voice” in the agency in order to further my career but I know I have a great family, a “cubana big sister”, and a group of great friends close, kinda close or far away but still close who believe in me.
Not getting the NFL job actually turned out alright.
If you are one of my friends from G2 or H4B and are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for accepting this shy, awkward person into your lives. You make the 12 hour days worth it.
-V. for Vinnie