advertising, life in general

When should we leave our agency?



Since yesterday, the Internet has been busy talking about “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sach”, a public resignation letter from of its (now former) employee published in the New York Times. Immediately right after, “Why I Left Google” that was posted a day earlier resurfaced.

Of course this chain of events has turned into a meme, like “Why I Am Leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader”.

Both articles share the same theme: a long-time employee finally realizes his company has gone astray from its original vision, and turned into something he no longer believes.

I’m not arguing whether the writers’ opinions are justified. Neither I’m discussing the ethics of making your resignation public. I’m not even sure if it’s pragmatically a smart idea –unless of course you are pretty damn sure your ex-employers won’t sue you for defamations.

My point here is that we have to know when we should leave our agency. This doesn’t always mean quitting our profession and leaving advertising industry entirely. It’s about knowing the right time when we should find a new place to exchange our labor with salary.

Are there right reasons to leave an agency? Let’s unpack some of the most common reasons we often give.

People we work with

I guess many people leave their agencies because they no longer can’t stand the people they work with. I empathise with them. In every agency we’ll meet shitty clients or loser brands, but what differentiates purgatory from paradise in the workplace is the people we work with –not the size of our pay check.

Bad clients

Some people leave because they can no longer stand appalling clients who destroy their sanity or treat them with gross disrespects. I usually concur with them: no salary in the advertising world will worth your mental health.

One tricky thing about leaving an agency due to insufferable clients is that there’s no guarantee that we’ll be free from this kind of ‘evil’ in the new place. I have worked in few different countries facing clients from many nationalities, and I can testify that good clients are all alike; yet every bad client is bad in his or her own way.

Better offer

Better offer can come in many different shapes. For some it may be bigger opportunities to keep our intellects stimulated and our skills challenged. I salute people who are oriented towards growth, and I respect this kind of reason.

Often, better offer equals higher salary. If you need more money because your responsibility to other people grows, then by all means go.

Better offer also comes in more important-sounding job title. If you think your self-esteem or self-respect can be improved by it, then you probably should ask what makes your self-esteem need mending on the first place. Is it because you have ceased to produce work you can be proud of, or at least not be ashamed of? If it’s that the case, do you truly need a sexier job title?


I define integrity as the quality of staying true to what we believe as the right thing to do.

Even in advertising —the deceitful industry that capitalises on people’s insecurity to make them want things they don’t need— we should set our own principles about what we deem as the right things to do. These principles help the industry maintain what’s left out of its respectability, if not in public’s eye at least amongst marketers and our peer. So far these principles help me to still be able to look myself in the mirror without shame.

When I left my agency in 2008 as I took on an overseas job, I wrote a little note titled “When to disband the planning department in this agency” (yes, I stole Leo Burnett’s “’When to take my name off the door”).

Yesterday I revisited it and I’m paraphrasing it to make it more personal.

Here it is:

I pledge that I will leave this agency, or any agency:

When the main reason of my employment is no longer to solve business problems.
When it becomes apparent that what I mostly do is justifying ego trips, subservience out of fear, creative indulgence, or phobia of the new.

When I give up our fight against both simplistic and overcomplicated thinking.
When I readily use jargons as a handy device to disguise muddled logic.

When I succumb to the habit of coming up with solutions without spending enough rigour to deeply understand the problems.

When I regard that creativity and effectiveness are mutually exclusive in marketing communication.
When I deploy different practices for developing “creative” and “effective” advertising.

When I fail to demonstrate that in any good campaign there is no clear boundary on where strategy ends and creativity begins.

When I lose fascination and curiosity about human behaviour.
When the only thing left that I am interested in is advertising.

When I lose my faith that brand communication can make positive contributions to humanity, not just to the bottom line.

When I get hung up in the irrelevant debate whether planning department should be a cost- or profit-centre.
When I forget that if planning discipline is be a centre within an agency at all, it should always be the centre of accountability.

Bill Bernbach said, “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.” He was right, I think. What he said keeps me humble. I don’t know if I’m lucky enough, or unfortunate enough, to have never tested whether those sentences I wrote above are really my principles that will cost me money.

Dear readers, do you know when it’s time to leave the place where you earn your living now?


One thought on “When should we leave our agency?

  1. Pingback: 2016: changes, hypotheses, and challenges. | >140 characters

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