While attending Miami Beach Senior High School, we had a career day where we could visit a business we were interested in as a future profession. I choose an advertising agency. My interest in advertising was first awakened when working part-time in my father’s retail shoe store business. Over the years, I worked on inventory, ordering, and sales, but the advertising most stimulated my creative self.
A group of six students and a teacher went to visit an agency that agreed to take part. We were led into the large office of the head of the business. He welcomed us and began showing us around the office. We met the graphic designer, a photographer, a copywriter, an account representative, the art director, and everything else. He was relaxed, open, and helpful in his commentary.
At the end of the tour, he led us back to his private office, became quiet, and looking directly at me, said, “This is a terrible business, with tremendous pressure. I don’t recommend you work at an advertising agency.” After such a delightful tour, this final statement was a shock. It seemed to be a curious thing for this man to say. Being a junior in high school, I forgot what he said and moved on with life.
Fast forward about ten years and now living in Santa Fe, I was a sales representative for a bulk mail company. I would visit businesses to participate in our advertising program. This was long before the internet. I met and worked with many wonderful people. One potential business asked me to talk to their advertising agency which turned out to be just one person. Elliot Kohen had a few clients he serviced with their advertising needs and he did a lot of voice-over work. He had one of those deep, resonant voices that encourage people to listen to his message.
Elliiot and I grew to respect and appreciate each other with our different areas of knowledge. After working together for a few months he proposed we form an advertising agency. I thought is an exciting and challenging idea, and agreed to the partnership. Kohen & Khalsa ad agency’s first new clients were Bert Rutan who ran a large sporting good store, and Ernie Pompeo who ran a local auto dealership. In a play with the names, our self-promotion said how Kohen and Khalsa represented Bert & Ernie, two very popular characters on Sesame Street. We soon added more clients and were busy servicing them all. Elliot was generous in sharing his knowledge and teaching me from his many years of experience.
Less than a year later Elliot decided the agency business was not his thing so he quit, leaving me with an advertising agency, all my own. At some point, I remembered the ad executive from Miami Beach telling me not to work in an ad agency. He was right about the pressure, but I discovered with a creative mind and a trusting attitude, it worked out fine. I ran my agency for 12 years, working with lots of part-time support, writers, art directors, designers, photographers, actors, models, and for a time, an assistant.
My clients included a solar installation company, a butcher, an electronic store, and a BBQ restaurant. I was responsible for their entire budget and working with newspapers, radio & TV stations, sign makers, and more. It was exciting, challenging, rewarding, and yes, lots of pressure. Advertising agency work is about deadlines. We had lots of deadlines.
People were generally supportive of a tall, bearded Sikh man wearing all white clothes, a turban, with a knife hanging across one hip. Since it was Santa Fe where everything was possible. I often was asked how a vegetarian, I could have a butcher and BBQ restaurant as clients. I would explain my philosophy of not forcing anyone to buy anything. I believed my real job was to inform the people who want those services and products, where to find them. I did not see myself as influencing people to eat meat, but rather, to let them know where they could find good quality meat, at good prices, from a friendly staff. I am proud of the work I did.
One of the more interesting clients was, SWAIA, the organization that ran the world-famous Indian Market. Indian artists from every part of America came to participate in this huge event that lasted one week every year. I got to meet many of the artists, introduced new successful programs, and managed to deal with a fourteen-member board. It was a lot of fun to work with so many creative people and their beautiful and traditional artwork.
The time came to drop the agency and move on to other work. Upon reflection, it was a great experience which I was most grateful. I learned many skills to improve the business and myself. I still smile when I remember those words from the ad exec in Miami who said it would be best to avoid an ad agency as a profession. It seems, with a ten-year gestation period, it was meant to be.
Life often unfolds like the bud of the rose. We may plant the rose, give it nourishment, and make sure it has enough water and sunlight, but the bud opens when it is the right time. This truth is one of the reasons ‘patience’ is such a valuable characteristic. Yes, I was surprised when I suddenly owned an ad agency, and yes, I did not consciously plan this business, but it happened anyway. If you look at some of the big events in your life, you will discover the same pattern.
In the famous words from Steve Jobs in his commencement address at Stanford University. We do not see how the dots connect looking forward. Over time, we can look back and see how things were connected. As frustrating as it might be to not see how things connect before they happen, at least we can learn from the review of those connected dots as we look back. This is a reason for celebration.