By Henry Gomez – Director of Strategic Insights – Alma DDB
It was the Tuesday after the President’s Day holiday in 1996 and I was starting a new chapter in my life. After a devastating failed business venture and an even more devastating blow to my health that put me in the hospital for two months, I was beginning a new career, a new life. I walked into that boutique advertising agency at the southern end of Coral Gables without a clue about the business of advertising. All I knew is that a close friend from high school said his agency was always looking “smart people” and he was hiring temporary help. I was flattered that he thought of me as smart. He said he could offer me $8 an hour. That was $8 more than I was making at the time because I was unemployed but about to begin interviewing for teaching positions as my second career was going to be opening the minds of high schools students to the greatness that is American History.
I began work on that Tuesday literally making copies and picking up the boss’ dry cleaning. At first I didn’t like the ad business very much. As someone who graduated with a business degree in economics it seemed like ad men and women were parasites living off of the substantive work of the real industries whose numbers I charted in college. And forget about the public relations folks, to me they were parasites on the backs of parasites!
It wasn’t long before I began progressing with my new employer though my path was far from linear. I held many positions at that first agency. I hired people and fired them too. I did photo retouching and changed layouts when the art director called in sick. I wrote copy when it seemed like nobody else had an idea. I wrote conference reports. I produced a lot of radio spots, something I still remember fondly, and edited a lot of agency reels, something I’d rather forget.
At some point, it must have been in about 2000, my boss gave me another raise and asked me to come up with a title for myself. I looked in the agency “Red Book” and began browsing the titles of agency executives for inspiration. It was then that I put it all together; the title I wanted was “Planning Director.” I didn’t know what it meant but it sounded right. In my short career I had noticed that we had a lot of good people working on the day-to day-business of creating ads but there was something missing, an overall strategy to tie all the work we were doing for our clients together. Nobody seemed to be taking care of this role in our agency but the newly self-appointed Planning Director would. It’s strange and embarrassing to look back at that time because I was still so green but the important thing is that I had recognized a void when it came to strategic thinking and sought to fill it. I began to learn about my chosen field within the advertising industry and haven’t stopped learning yet. That’s really the role of the ad man, especially the planner, to keep learning.
Amazingly, every time something bad happened (including agency closures, lost accounts, and lost mentors), I “fell up” into a better position than I had been in before. And that’s exactly how I arrived at Alma DDB in November of 2008, literally a few blocks away from where I began my career more than a decade earlier. For me it was a moment to say, “I’ve arrived.” I was to begin working on one of the plum accounts of our industry at an agency I had admired since the beginning of my life in advertising.
So it’s fitting that today, the day after the President’s Day holiday, that I am celebrating doubly. I’ve completed 15 years in this industry and my colleagues and I are inaugurating a beautiful new office space that is worthy of our great agency. Nowadays I’m proud to work in this industry as I’ve come to recognize that advertising is a critical part of the selling process that keeps industry and this great country alive (and yes, that goes for public relations too). And I’m equally proud to be working here at Alma with this gifted team. Although the journey of growth always continues, today we can savor the moment and say we’ve arrived.