When I was about 17, I did Economics A Level.

I was crap at it but one thing stuck in my mind, the difference between real wages and money wages.

Real wages are everything that you get from a job that isn’t just money.

It might be respect, or power, or learning, enjoyment, exercise, fulfilment, whatever.

I was talking about this with my wife, an art director.

About the real wages in our job.

She was telling me, she usually picked a place by what she could learn from the people she’d be working with.

So I asked her to list what she’d learned, and from who.

She said, in one of her first jobs she worked with Paul Arden.

From him she learned not to be scared of being outrageous and shocking.

She learned the job is to be different, and to stand out from the mass of invisible advertising around you.

And if you get criticised, so much the better, that means you’re doing something different.

As Paul said “It’s good to be uncomfortable.”

After Paul, she worked for David Abbott, twice.

Once at FGA, and again at AMV.

I asked her what she learned from David.

She said class, style, and craft.

She said David taught her to respect every tiny detail about the ad.

Unlike other copywriters, he would be in the studio whenever one of his ads was being put together.

Constantly asking the art director what he could do to help make it better.

She would say to David “We’ve got a widow here, it would help if the line was two words shorter.”

And David would rewrite the copy so that the line breaks worked.

Although he was a writer he was fussier than most art directors.

After David she went to work at WCRS, with Ron Collins.

Ron had a reputation for being prickly, to put it politely.

I asked Cathy what she learned from him.

She said she learned that the idea was all-important, nothing was there just for decoration.

Ron himself had learned art direction at London’s greatest agency, CDP.

Then he went to work at New York’s greatest agency, DDB.

Ron said “At CDP I learned how to art direct, at DDB I learned how to think.” 

So what she learned from Ron was the primacy of the idea.

While at WCRS, she also worked with Robin Wight.

She said from Robin she learned energy and enthusiasm.

When Robin was working on a product he didn’t stop until he knew more about it than the people that made it.

Clients, marketing people, research & development, delivery drivers, retailers, everyone.

Robin came on like a tsunami and was just as irresistible to clients.

Then she went to work with Tony Brignul, first at CDP, then at DMB&B.

From Tony, she said she learned pride in what we do.

We are very good at our job, that is the reason why we are hired.

We mustn’t let anybody talk us into doing a mediocre job, for any reason.

It’s better not to do the job at all, than to do something inferior.

So for her, these were the Real Wages.

I’m pretty sure she could have earned more at other jobs, but she wouldn’t have learned so much.

It would be a bit like cashing your poker chips in too early.

Whereas the longer you hold onto them, the more they’re worth.

Personally I think money wages are for people just doing a job.

Money wages are for people who’d rather not be working at all.

Real wages are about more than that.


Real wages are about life.