I have been fortunate throughout my career in advertising agencies to not only have worked with many really smart people but also to have heard some really smart things. What I love about advertising people is that they typically find simple ways to say some complex thoughts (except people in account service, who typically use bucket loads of nonsensical words to say very little. Hey. I started as an account person).


Here is a sampling of thoughts shared with me over the years (and check out one of my earlier posts on Sam Meeks who was a masterful wordsmith and leader).


“If you are willing to work insane hours, have fun and drink lots of Coors this may be the place for you.“

Roy Spence


Roy won’t remember me but I interviewed for a supervisor spot at his agency when they won the Coors account in the mid 80’s. I have always remembered what he said.

This was his way of saying don’t expect a 40 hour week but can you still have fun and, oh by the way, I only want people who can be passionate about the business they are working on.

That agency, GSD&M, was a zoo at the time. I was pretty sure they had no clue what they were doing (in my infinite late 20’s wisdom).

I wasn’t ready for them at the time.

I probably wasn’t good enough for them at the time (or maybe I just didn’t have the capacity for their company gestalt). But they have gone on to kick some ass.

I will also say that I stored away this little learning moment and have reapplied it time and time again (not just the beer drinking part).



“So what you are saying to me is go ahead and do this if we want to be the tallest midget.”

Steve Danuser



The first time I heard this I was floored (said by one of my clients). It was awesome. I must have said something incredibly dicklike to my client to solicit this response. But he got the point of whatever I said and he had the grace to respond with some humor. I have heard nothing better to say “big fish in little pond” with more pizzazz than this. Settling sucks. And this statement captures the essence of settling.


“We don’t want to be known for creating brilliantly crafted failures.”

Don Perkins


Advertising agencies are always being pointed at and slammed for just being creative and not caring about the business, i.e., “all you want to do is wacky advertising.”

And every time I hear someone say this I think it is the silliest thing I have ever heard.

My first instinct is a sarcastic sharp retort. I want to say how dumb that comment is. My friend and great creative director took the high road. In this concise statement he says we will always be creative but with no intent to not drive results.

Let me be clear. There is no credible marketing or advertising agency in the world that doesn’t understand they are in the business of creatively generating business. Period. No debate.



“Don’t suck.”

Luke Sullivan



I could probably do an entire page of Luke quotes but this is a standout and remains in my everyday toolbox of things to say. I get so tired of people saying ‘good luck’ in a business environment – for meetings, presentations, whatever. At that point it isn’t about luck. You have probably put hours of hard work and tons of worry into being prepared and putting yourself and the team into the right frame of mind. It really all comes down to performance. You are in the time and the place and it is just time to “do it”. So. The quote. Luke just gave me a post it note before a meeting that said “don’t suck.” I wish I had kept it. He understood the value of humorously understanding in the end it comes down to how you perform in the moment.

And you know something? None of us want to suck when given the chance. Sure we want to shine. Sure we want to be great. But most of all we don’t want to suck. That quote was one of Luke’s greatest quote/lesson moments. I use it all the time.


“Sliding down the slippery slope of mediocrity.”

David Ogilvy



He actually said “the slippery surface of irrelevant brilliance.” I believe but I thought somewhere he said what I wrote above. Regardless. Another great quote from a great writer. This isn’t just a business lesson but also a life lesson. It is absolutely so easy to compromise – in business and in life.

“Just this once” you say when you are tired.

Whatever the decision or action it may be to you in the moment it is mentally “an exception”. And before you know it you are on that slippery slope.

Life is funny that way. That incomparable movie The Replacements has a scene where Keanu Reeves talks about it as “quicksand”. It’s the same thing. You get in it. And you fight hard but you just can’t stop sliding down. And it is a truly helpless feeling. The worst thing about the slippery slope is that most people don’t realize they have started sliding until it is too late. It is one of my quests in life to find good people who have mistakenly started the slide and lend a hand to pull them back up.

Does that mean I am better than mediocrity? Shit no.

I just recognize that sense of helplessness and I like people to have hope – for something better. Anyway. This quote reminds me of two things.

1. Pay attention to everything. It’s the only way to insure mediocrity can’t gain momentum (because we all have to compromise on occasion)

2. Help those who have that look of “how the hell did I get so far down this slope” by grabbing their hand and pulling them back up whenever you have a chance. There are some incredible people and some incredible talent out there that just got caught on life’s slippery slope. It doesn’t mean they are mediocre by any stretch of the imagination. Simply that they got caught on the slippery slope and didn’t know how to get off.



“All you can really ask is for someone to do the best they possibly can.”

Anonymous (and me)


I have said this a zillion times. And I have no clue who I stole it from. But if I could beat this into the head of every leader in the world I would be willing to staple the piece of paper with the quote on it to my forehead. Sometimes we ask so much of our people it is amazing. And, yes, many people do not know what they are truly capable of until they are pushed to aim for something seemingly impossible. I am a pretty demanding leader. I set an incredibly high bar for my team. But in the end all I ask is that they do their best. And if it isn’t enough they we can say we didn’t succeed for lack of trying. And sometimes that’s as good as it gets. And sometimes that is when I have been proudest of people I have led. Ask the best of people and I believe most people will surprise you by doing a little better.

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Written by Bruce