SELLING V SELLING OUT

 

Carl Ally Inc. was one of the greatest New York agencies.

Towards the end of Carl Ally’s life, he and partner Amil Gargano were looking back over what they’d done.

Gargano asked Ally what he thought they’d achieved.

Carl Ally said “We got more than we ever thought we’d get, but less than we deserved.”

That resonated with me.

“More than we ever thought we’d get, but less than we deserved.”

What did he mean by that?

I imagine that’s how lots of people must feel at the end of their life.

At least, the best ones.

The ones who were always striving towards something.

I imagine it must be like the anti-climax after any great achievement.

Winning the World Cup.

Climbing Everest.

Walking on the moon.

Once it’s done, it’s over.

Life, which was always about looking forward, striving, is now just about looking back.

I was reading Mary Wells’ autobiography.

She was discovered and trained by Bill Bernbach, the man who invented good advertising.

His agency was truly revolutionary.

Without doubt the best and most influential the world’s ever seen.

Eventually Mary Wells left Bernbach’s agency and opened her own.

Her agency became successful and she sold it for a fortune.

Bernbach couldn’t sell his agency for the kind of money she’d made out of hers.

She wasn’t the creative genius he was, but she was better at business than he was.

So he asked her to buy his agency.

But Mary Wells, his protégé, turned him down.

So he never made as much money as she did, and he couldn’t understand why.

This is strange for creative people.

If he was better than her, shouldn’t he be at least as rich as her?

We think just being great at our job guarantees permanent financial success.

But it doesn’t.

I meet people in the streets in Soho I haven’t seen for ages.

People who’ve won D&AD awards and Cannes awards.

They say to me “You don’t know anyone who’s got a job do you?”

How does that work?

Once, maybe more than once, you beat everyone else in advertising.

Now you’re unemployed.

It’s hard to understand, being good is not the same as being rich.

Some people can be both, but it’s rare.

Because money doesn’t necessarily come from being great and winning awards.

Being great is what you dreamed of when you were young.

To do amazing things that made everyone sit up and take notice.

But that’s not the same as making money.

That’s the part I think Carl Ally meant when he said “We got more than we ever thought we’d get.”

The agency was creatively successful beyond their dreams.

That part turned out great.

But they thought they’d be rich forever, as a result of being good.

They thought they’d have more money than people who weren’t as good as them.

But it doesn’t work like that.

And Carl Ally, like Bill Bernbach, didn’t make as much money as he thought he should have.

That’s what I think he meant by the second half of the quote.

“But we didn’t get as much as we deserved.”

That’s what most people realise when it’s over.

You can be in it for the money or the work.

But you have to decide which, and go for it.

If you want the money, you have to make that a priority.

Or you decide it’s not just about money.

It’s about fulfilling the vision you had when you were young.

 

In which case “We got more than we ever thought we’d get” is a pretty good result.