It was December of 1999. The world was facing a possible Y2K apocalypse, and I was surrounded by cranberries. I had written a national TV commercial for Northland Cranberry Juice and was now preparing to shoot the spot in their hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids (just in case you’ve never been there) is to cranberries what Nashville is to country music.
The premise of the commercial we were shooting was that the honest, hardworking people of Wisconsin Rapids put 100% into everything they do. So they would never consider putting anything less than 100% juice into a bottle of Northland. The same could not be said for those villains at Ocean Spray. Their cranberry cocktails ranged from just 17% to 27% juice. Cut to the close up of the Ocean Spray ingredient label, and cue the horror movie music.
But this story is not about juice. It is about the director. Ashley Lazarus. While Ashley Lazarus is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard, it belongs to a bear of a man. A South African man. A man best known in America for launching the Saturn car brand with the iconic Spring in Springhill commercials. In other words, Ashley had mad directing skillz.
My first two days with Ashley were spent scouting for locations to shoot the commercial. We were looking for the most interesting locations in and around Wisconsin Rapids to capture on film.
While driving between locations in the Wisconsin countryside, Ashley, who was in his 60s, turned to me and slowly asked in his deep, South African accent, ‘Adam, how old are you?’
I replied, ’26’.
Not only will I never forget what he said next, it helped steer the course of my career, and my life.
‘Adam, eventually you must open your own advertising agency. You will be promised great positions in your career. You may even be offered them. But eventually all creatives are either passed over or forced out of agencies. The only way for you to remain in control of your career is to own your own agency.’
I had dreamed of owning my own agency since I first started my career three years earlier. But now, at 26 years old, I was told I had no choice. If I wanted to be in control of my career and my life’s path, I would have to start my own advertising agency and create my own opportunities.
That advice stuck in my head like a cocklebur to corduroy. I believed Ashley was right. Over the next 15 years I was promoted from Copywriter, to Senior Writer, to Associate Creative Director, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. But I never forgot what Ashley said. And I wanted the ultimate control over my career path.
In 2016, when I was 42 years old, I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. I also launched this blog to chronicle the entire journey (if you’d like to follow along at home consider subscribing). Today, I’d like Ashley to know that I listened, appreciated and followed the advice he gave me in the back of that SUV in Wisconsin, Rapids in 1999.
What Ashley said about my career holds true for you too. Your career path, and your life path will be determined by someone else if you don’t take control of it. You too should start your own business, or side hustle, or consulting gig. Prepare your own plan B before you need it. It’s the key to writing your own script with your own happy ending.