I have been made redundant three times in my life and all three times occasions led me on to more interesting and better opportunities.
That’s the good news.
The problem is, hearing other people announce things like that is infuriatingly worthless when you are staring down the barrel of a mortgage and the cost of living a semi-comfortable life with no income.
So believe me, I get it.
All the claims that this ‘re-alignment’ or ‘cost saving’ is not personal, all seem rather hollow. It’s unavoidably personal. And it’s hard to deal with rejection, whoever you are.
So if you have been given the old ‘Spanish archer’ (El-Bow- geddit??) I don’t know if this blog will help, but it might give you a sense that all is not lost. Because it isn’t. You just need some strategies.
So for what it’s worth, here’s what I did on each redundancy.
Redundancy No 1. Keep producing work.
It was a year after I’d got my first proper job. I thought I was the bees-knees, but I didn’t really fit into the agency’s plans. In so much as they didn’t want me working there.
In the 80s there was no consultation period, no warnings or appraisals. No advice, just “sorry but this is what is going to happen”.
“Off you fuck.”
This was a bit of a shock to the system, but I was young and cheap enough to be full of confidence in finding another job. This was when recruiters came in useful, because with a year’s experience (2 if you count all the placements etc) I could be a viable freelancer. I ended up doing a stint at a small agency called Wilmott & Partners working on a B2B outboard motor engines account. For some reason I can’t remember we also pitched for the London Dungeons account. I wrote the line “A perfectly horrible day out’ and we won the account. (They continued to use that line for about 20 years.) I also met one of my lifelong best friends here and we formed a band (covers etc) that has been going strong ever since. The agency wouldn’t have been on my list of cool agencies to work at but when you are freelancing any agency is a port in a storm and you can still do nice work. Work that can get you the next gig so the important thing is to keep producing.
Redundancy No 2. The soft underbelly.
The next gig turned out to be working at a place called The Creative Business. A year later the same routine took place and my arse was out on the street again. You would think I would start to feel a bit like I was the problem. Maybe at that time I was, but agencies were just ruthless and could fire at will, particularly creative people. So I quickly learned that everyone gets made redundant at one time or another.
It’s no comfort but at least you feel part of a strange kind of loser-family.
It wasn’t long before I found myself working in a recruitment agency. An ad agency that specialised in recruitment advertising, to be clear.
I decided that the soft underbelly was the way to go, instead of bashing my head against the big agency firewalls – make yourself available to the places that need talent and struggle to find it.
Again, not what I wanted most in my career at that point but it was work and I could use my skills. I had had no idea that there was a ton of business out there creating campaigns to recruit staff for places like Tesco or Sainsbury’s. Every job you do, you learn.
So with a bit of touting my book around I finally found a job at an agency called Madell Wilmot Pringle. (No relation to the previous Wilmot) and finally found some creative happiness, some lifelong friends , one of whom was a great writing partner. Matt and I lasted about ten years as a team and we lasted through several mergers to cling on and eventually ended up as a senior team at the then EuroRSCG Wnek Gosper, now HAVAS London.
Redundancy No 3. There are no wasted coffees.
The last time wasn’t unexpected. It was November 2008 and the world was going in to meltdown with recessions and sub prime disasters, and I was now an expensive older creative.
It was like an escape TBH.
I took some time, phoned up everybody I had ever worked with and some that I hadn’t.
So what do you learn?
There is no such thing as a wasted coffee and a chat.
People need senior creative talent for freelance.
Also that there is a lot of business out there that isn’t the new John Lewis Christmas campaign, or that isn’t a brief asking you to improve the sex-vocabulary of Mexican peasants. You just have to be willing to roll your sleeves up.
I looked back at my experience when I was younger and decided to seek out the soft underbelly once more. The low hanging fruit.
So, if you can stand knocking on a few doors, calling or emailing everyone and going back to basics like a real life game of snakes and ladders, you can get back in to the industry doing something. And if you have the Adobe skills, at least enough to get by, that helps a lot.
And that’s when Healthcare popped up in my consciousness. Tons of great briefs, no money or time but some great briefs. And a place where talent is less abundant.
So if you get that meeting in your diary. The one with the CCO and the HR director? you’ll know something is up.
But with a little tenacity and a simple strategy, it can be the start of something amazing.