Before I had my two girls, I spent over ten years working for advertising agencies. I wanted to work in the industry after hearing stories about agencies in the hey-day 80’s. Expecting it to be all long lunches, colourful characters, and big-budget ads where I’d get to fly to exotic locations, I was somewhat disappointed by the reality of post-80’s agency life, but I did meet some amazing people, do some interesting work, suffered some rip-snorting hangovers, and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I worked in account service, which meant I spent my time trying to please the clients, the creative department, the studio team and the accountants. Generally you can only please one to three parties on that list during any given project. Every now and then the heavens smile and you please everyone. Other times they all want to put a hex on you.
Sometimes motherhood is really, really different to working in an ad agency. Other times it’s achingly similar.
(FYI if you’re one of my past clients reading this, it totally isn’t about you)
Briefing Vs. Meals
Agency: You conduct research, pour your heart into painstakingly writing a brief for the creative team, and are thrilled with what comes back. You present the campaign to the client, hoping you’ve filled them with excitement and a dose of inspiration. They reject the campaign, tell you the budget has been cut, and they’re just going to run with some of the stuff their global parent company has already done.
Home: You scour the internet for healthy recipes, spend a fortune on ingredients, painstakingly prepare a time-consuming meal and spend longer than necessary “plating up”, and place it in front of your toddler hoping you’ve filled them with excitement and a dose of inspiration. They refuse to eat it and ask for frozen nuggets instead.
Revisions, always with the revisions
Agency: Client phones to say they want to make a change to an approved print ad that you’d already sent off. You spend the next hour pleading with the studio manager to shuffle their schedule so that the f*&%ing banner at the bottom of the f*&^ing ad can be changed from purple to a slightly darker purple, while simultaneously pleading with the media department and the publication to extend your already extended deadline, and grovelling with the creative director to please just let this one go without having to go through a whole creative review. Then spend a further 30 minutes trying to track down the client (who has “popped out to lunch”) to approve the new ad. When the client finally calls back, they tell you that on second thought, they prefer it how it was.
Home: As you’re racing to get ready to go to a Doctor appointment, the toddler decides they don’t want to wear the blue shoes you’ve asked them to put on. They want to wear the sparkly gumboots… which they can only find one of. Alternate footwear suggestions are met with a meltdown, which you try to calmly contain as you frantically phone the Doctor’s office and plead for them to hold the appointment that you’ll now be hideously late for, while simultaneously turning the house upside down for the other F*&^ing sparkly gumboot, and changing a level-10 nappy on the baby. Locate gumboot. Toddler decides they’d actually rather wear the blue shoes.
Agency: Co-worker ties up the printer for an hour printing a lengthy presentation. You need to print a one page re-re-re-re-revised cost estimate for your client to sign immediately. You know your co-worker is working really hard. But you bitch to and about them for the rest of the day.
Home: Husband has a heavy day at work and flops on the couch saying he’s knackered. You realise there’s no chocolate in the pantry. He didn’t claim to be more knackered than you, and he didn’t eat all that chocolate by himself, but you bitch to and about him anyway.
Pitching Vs. trying for another baby
Agency: You’re tits-deep in a pitch for crucial new business but trying not to let on to your other clients how busy you are for fear that they’ll get concerned their account will be neglected. Existing major client phones with an emergency job and a deadline that would be near impossible under non-pitch conditions.
Home: You’re trying for a new baby, and your next step if it doesn’t happen that month is to start another round of IVF. Toddler vomits all over their bed. At 10pm. On Day 14.
New business Vs. new baby
Agency: New client’s brand launch clashes with existing client’s major promotion. Work crazy hours, piss off the creative team with your mammoth demands on their time, find yourself still sitting at your desk when the cleaners arrive, and realise you haven’t peed all day. Wake hourly through the night in a panic about something you’ve forgotten. Wonder how little sleep a person can survive on.
Home: New baby won’t feed and sleep like it says they should in all the BabyCentre emails. Toddler is in the midst of toilet training and beginning to display some of the adverse behaviour you read about in all the BabyCentre emails. Spent an inordinate amount of time trying to feed and settle the baby. When the baby is finally asleep, feel massively guilty about neglecting your toddler and try to be “fun mum” and not lose your shit when they have a meltdown. Find yourself folding laundry at 10pm and realise you haven’t peed all day. Wake hourly through the night to resettle the unsettled baby. Wonder how little sleep a person can survive on.
Agency: An error is found in a big, expensive, glossy brochure after it has been printed. About twenty people signed the damn thing off, so technically it’s not your fault, but you feel awful about it and spend almost their entire monthly retainer on a boozy lunch. You both get drunk and they tell you they hate their job and are interviewing for other jobs, and that the mistake definitely wasn’t your fault but their CEO is riding their ass. You feel a sense of camaraderie and bounce into work the next day. An email arrives from the client stating they want you to pay for the reprint.
Home: You feel like you’ve been shouting at your toddler for doing naughty stuff all morning. Wonder if their bad behaviour is a result of your short temper. Take them to the playground, have a treat, and then snuggle up with them on the couch reading stories. Melt into tiny pieces as the toddler holds your face with both hands and says, “I love you, Mummy.” Feel a renewed sense of camaraderie and lovingly tuck them into bed that night. Toddler kicks you in the throat part way through a “the blankets aren’t on me properly!” tantrum.
Agency: Sneak out for a waxing appointment. Client/boss/creative director phones part way through your appointment. Panic, and tell them you’re at the doctor.
Home: Push toddler around in her buggy until she falls asleep before your waxing appointment. Toddler wakes up mid-appointment in the beautician’s room. Panic, and tell them you’re at the doctor.
Agency: You bust your ass meeting deadlines, turning around special projects, culling budgets, meeting demands, pushing through the creative team’s ideas and trying to exceed client expectations. The media department gets tickets to Fashion Week/the Rugby and takes the client plus a few from the creative department for “team building”. Media = heroes. Account Service = meh.
Home: You bust your ass arranging activities, try to stimulate emotional/mental/physical development with games/books/toys, cook meals, traipse to doctor appointments, ensure everyone is bathed, fed, wearing clean clothes etc. The grandparents take toddler to beach and buy her an ice cream. Grandparents = heroes. Mum = meh.
When you can’t leave it alone
Agency: Spend forever finishing a huge presentation. Close computer. Rethink one of the PowerPoint slides, and open computer to make change. Decide to move some of the slides around. Spot an error. Change it. Wonder if it was an actual error, or new figures. Go through 37 emails to check, and confirm that wasn’t an error. Change it back. Change your mind about an idea and re-write several slides. Computer crashes. When it restarts, you can’t remember which version you were changing.
Home: Spend forever settling the baby to sleep. Sneak out of the room. Wonder if you remembered to turn the heater setting up. Go back in, check heater. Sneak out. Worry that they might overheat with their blanket on. Go back in, remove blanket, sneak out. Worry you forgot to check if their window was properly locked. Go back in, check (locked) window, trip over change table, wake up baby.
Agency: Client used up all their annual leave during the year, so has to work the days between Christmas and New Year, when the agency is technically closed. They call almost daily to discuss changes to an ad that doesn’t need to be completed until February, and ask if there’s any chance of you popping into the office and arranging a Mac Operator to be there to “get a few things mocked up.” Knowing full well you’re a five-hour drive from the city and on your holiday.
Home: Baby is finally asleep and toddler is temporarily occupied with the trampoline they got for their birthday. You gratefully sit down with a cup of tea until the toddler spots you and demands you jump with them.
Agency: You really, REALLY need the loo but are waiting for an important call. Take Smartphone to the loo with you and answer the call.
Home: You really, REALLY need the loo but the baby is super clingy and the toddler is following you everywhere. Sit on the loo with the baby on your lap and read a story to the toddler while trying to stop her from shoving an entire roll of toilet paper down the loo behind you.
Agency: Gah, why was the Christmas party on a Thursday night instead of a Friday so you could sleep off the hangover? Attempt only low-involvement work. Open a spreadsheet and sit in front of it so it looks like you’re working, but you’re actually pretty much sleeping with your eyes open. Pray that one of the younger account execs will do a run to get pies for everyone.
Home: Gah, there are no sleep-ins, ever! Pounce on the first display of good behaviour from the toddler and tell them that you’re rewarding them by putting ‘Frozen’ on. When the DVD is finished (including all the special features and repeats of their favourite scenes), play lots of games that involve you lying down and being quiet, like “hospitals” and, “the lying down being really quiet game”.
Some days are just a bit shit
Agency: Have a day where you feel like you’ve pleased no one, unintentionally pissed everyone off, have way too much to do, and won’t be going home anytime soon. Have a quick cry in the toilets when no one is looking and think to yourself that you’d love to have babies and be a full time mum.
Home: Have a day where you feel like you’ve pleased no one, unintentionally pissed everyone off, have way too much to do, and you’ve just spotted wees on the floor. Have a quick cry in the toilet when no one is looking and think to yourself that you’d love to go back to work.
Please explain yourself
Agency: Start early, finish late and take no lunch breaks for weeks while immersed in a project. Leave half an hour early one day to get your haircut and have to field “taking a half day?” jokes from co-workers.
Home: Try to use appropriate language in front of the kids at all times. Yell the f-word ONE TIME during a near miss while driving, and the toddler tells everyone from your mother to their kindy teacher about it.