Nine-ish in the morning.
Mr. K walks into the office. Silently. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Classy and refined, his look is a mixture of colorful skinny jeans and a string of shirts (whose patterns sometimes could be quite incomprehensive). What I instantly take a look at every day are his shoes, which Mr. K makes sure add value to the outfit he’s picked out for the day. He has more shoes than any of us creatives – of course he does, because he’s the boss. But more importantly, fashion is creativity. Matching one item with another item to make fashion is creativity. “Everything around you was once an idea”. Obviously creativity is what makes him the king here.
Speaking of creativity, the whole creative team are not in here yet. Some of them left the building sometime around 9 o’clock last night, and probably are still laying in bed dreaming about whatever projects Mr. K assigned them to do. Little do those peasants know their peaceful extra sleep is about to be interrupted. “Hm… where are they? Maybe I’m gonna send them a text. No more late coming in.” Some phone has rung. Someone has woken up. Some heart has skipped a beat. And that’s just the least fear-provoking message of the day.
Welcome to the life behind the door of an advertising agency. With Mr. K.
Here’s a little note: everything that a moon-eyed beginner, like me, sees and feels could be sprayed with a little sparkle. What’s more, I am kind of notorious for being a crazy fan of Mr. K (which ironically I am), so maybe you should not expect to see an evil creative director you often hear of in advertising . He’s just a very curious case. Well, but who is not a curious case in this industry? I find each and every individual in the office a great source of diversified personalities and unique stories. There’s the CEO who during meetings complains that he cannot sit down because of some mysterious back pain you-know-who-and-what-could-cause-it (I really don’t, but the guys keep exchanging understanding and sarcastic glances). There’s the Suit-Up guy who shows up five working days a week in suit and tie, making the creative team look even more childish and inappropriate-for-work than we already do. And of course, there’s fashion icon Mr. K, staying still in his office all day long. Through the glass door and walls, Mr. K looks sraigtht to where the creative team are sitting, meaning every little move of us is very visible to him; to be fair we can also observe him in his office, walking around or recreating the “The Thinker” pose. Sometimes he stands by his window and looks down into the space – a relaxing (and human) moment that we intentionally forget he could have.
For most of the day, Mr. K rarely leaves the room; each pair of creatives would talk with him behind the yellow door – the campaigns, the ideas, the Lions, the industry secrets,… well you know what sort of talking could be in an advertising agency. Often, the guys walk in confident and relaxed, and walk out worried and confused. They would start off by throwing themselves into their chairs, moaning “How the hell are we gonna do this? It’s impossible!” – Mr. K must have had some weird idea in mind that needs to be done. Mission Impossibru. The guys would discuss, and maybe grumble, but I always know in the end they’ll figure an amazing way to tackle the problem. Advertising is the industry of problem solving, hence whatever problem and pressure may come, it does nothing worse than triggering in those creatives the deep thirst for solutions. Isn’t that exciting? But you’ll never truly feel hot water unless you’re swimming in the pool.
As for me, I have piles of post-it notes on my table, and I try to waste as many notes as possible with silly ideas and random quotes. Later in his yellow office, my conversations with him often go like this:
Mr. K (eyes away from his phone): So what’s up?
Me: May I share some ideas?
Mr. K: Sure, sure. (eyes glued to his phone again. Finally he puts it down. I have all the time between two text messages.)
Me: OK, so I have this idea… (pick out first post-it note, the one I’m most confident about)
Mr. K: Uhm… OK. What’s else?
Me: (world totally crumbles) OK, the next one is… (pick out the second note)
Mr. K: Uhm, that’s a nice thinking. What’s else?
Me: (there’s nothing to lose now) The next one is…
Mr. K: …
What else? What else? What else?
Me: (is there some machine sucking out all the air in here? Now all the notes are gone and I only have one idea left – the ridiculous one that I did not intend to propose anyway) And the last one is, I think maybe…
Mr. K: Uhm… that’s interesting. Let’s talk more.
That last line does not always come up, but when it does it feels like someone grabs you and pulls you out of water only one second before you’re drown. Then if you’re lucky (or not?), Mr. K may be in the mood to share about his life. He’s shared possibly to anyone whom he has recruited or interviewed (and he always interviews people!). We’ve collected a compilation of anecdotes of his life, which don’t help much in painting a proper picture of who Mr. K truly is: a hauntingly uptight boss, or just a playful creative like any of us; but at least we enjoy talking about him. As far as we can deduce from his behaviors, Mr. K has a thing for supernaturals and bizzarros: he grows enthusiastic when talking about Marvel heroes; he builds an imaginary land in his children’s book (yes, he wrote a children’s book) ; occasionally he calls the creatives in just to share some ghost video he’s found. Such experiences leave us a big question mark of his intentions; I suppose he’s just sincerely sending a message: I may stay behind the closed door, but I’m still one of you guys. Somehow I never believe a creative could stand being isolated from other counterparts, whether he is a boss or not. Anyone could use a sense of belonging.
And while we’re on biography, I have to admit I love hearing others’ stories. I could spend hours just listening to them, how they became who they are now – it’s such a great honor when someone choose to share a little piece of their life with you. Some gave up a career before to pursue one in advertising. Some just ended up here as a misstep of fate. Some could kill to thrive in this game. Some admit advertising is no more than a job to help them pay the bills. Some love the exciting vibe. Some hate the tension, the pressure, the over-time hours. Some totally fall for award glamours. Some can’t bear the cliché, the lies, the hypocrites going on in the industry. Some are trying to heal from a bigger dream that has broken. Some state clearly they’re just working in advertising for escaping from it.
But none of them ever says it’s boring.
Because it’s not boring, at all. It’s the game that keeps getting more and more fierce and fascinating, and the people, whoever they are and however they actually feel about advertising, are gone with its flow. We need to do one more idea. We have to do one more campaign. We could have one more award… This seems to never stop, unless you have the big guts to step out of the game – the big guts you had when you started chasing a career in this industry.
As Mr. K puts it “I just love the game.” Even if you don’t love the game, you will love these ad people.
It’s worth your pains, and your joys.