Not a month goes by where I do not hear from a reader who is a young person, usually in media, at an agency who wishes to talk or e-mail about his or her future. Generally, they work at small or mid-sized firms and they tend to be in the back roads of American advertising meaning smaller cities rather than advertising hubs. They often ask how they can stay current with the rapid changes going on, ask what they should be reading, and where they think they can learn the most.
Generally, I suggest that they ask their boss to send them to media and digital conferences. They can learn a lot, make a contact or two, and prove its worth by writing a report to management or doing a power-point on what is happening in the marketplace. If one is a thousand miles from an advertising mecca, this could help your entire shop. Most say their CEO says that it is too expensive. Well, at that point, I suggest that they move to an advertising hub if they want to continue to grow.
The response is interesting. If someone is in their 20’s and single, they tend to be open to the idea. Some find the idea of New York intimidating while others say they want to own a house not far from the office. That pretty much kills New York.
Mobility is something that demographers have looked at for some time. Since the time of the Alexis de Tocqueville’s analysis of America in the first half of the 19th century, U.S. citizens have been the most mobile people on earth. It has always fascinated me how when Southeastern England boomed during the Margaret Thatcher era, many unemployed in the north of England stayed on the dole or lived marginal lives when a move a few hundred miles away could have guaranteed some gainful employment. In continental Europe, it is often but not always more extreme. There is evidence that in some smaller Italian cities, it is not unusual for a young adult to stay in their hometown and often rent or purchase an apartment in the same building as their parents. This is great for family life and a sense of community but it does limit employment opportunities for some very talented people. I have witnessed the same thing in Portugal.
So Americans will move but there are caveats. As a general rule, the higher your level of education the more likely you are willing to move for a good job. If you have not finished high school, you are not apt to leave home even if you are unemployed. One reason for this is that you cannot afford to travel to a new location and look for work. So, if you live in rust belt town in rural Pennsylvania and are poorly educated and out of work, you do not have the resources to go to Texas and search for work there.
The ad people whom I have discussed this topic with often ask for a town with a VERY low cost of living and a vibrant advertising agency community. Well, there are not any if you are honest about it. The least expensive places to live in America are metros areas such as McAllen-Brownsville, TX, Johnson City, TN, Johnstown-Altoona, PA and Anniston, AL. They are surely some talented people living there but those metros will never be ad hubs.
Shift to the most expensive metros and you find San Jose, CA, Stamford, CT, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington, DC and Austin, TX. While Stamford is a magnet for money managers, the rest are high tech hubs that should be hubs for the new world of digital advertising.
When people ask me why go to a big city, I give several reasons:
1) Peer pressure. You can learn from many pros around you. If you are a lone media planner or writer in Duluth, you may have unlimited potential. Yet, even your boss and coworkers do not realize how good you are or could be. In a more competitive and larger environment, you will grow by necessity.
2) Stability--the ad business has never been stable and there are no guarantees. If you are in an ad capital and your company goes south, there are other places to work. Or, you can do a start up yourself. In a small city if your shop is king and has problems, you may have to shift careers.
3) New Media--people in outlying markets say they are 100% up to speed on the changes going on in the industry. They know it is nonsense. If you work in an ad hub you are in the middle of what is going on today. Several markets are the “Silicon Valley” of advertising.
4) Chance for advancement--many 10-20 person shops are places that are great to work in, lots of fun, allow you to do good quality work and build lasting friendships. At some point, unless you own the place, you will hit a brick wall regarding growth. In a major advertising center, you may max out but at a higher plateau than if you stayed in the small town.
What if you try the big city and hate it? Go back to a smaller market! All of us deserve to be happy and, if you lower your sights, you may be content out of the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with the quiet life.
Yet, if you do not try to reach your full potential, you could wind up old and bitter as many that I have met over the years. So, when you are young, go for it!
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org