My Wife Doesn’t ‘Get How It Is in Advertising’

A story of love, cupcakes and finding sanity in an insane business

A white vanilla cupcake on a white plate with a white plastic fork and white napkin.

Remember the whole Magnolia cupcake thing?

At some point in the waning years of the 20th century, a little bakery opened in the West Village, and apparently they made some freaking epic cupcakes. In fact, if you’ve currently got any sort of “upscale” cupcake concept littering crumbs on the floor of the food court at your local shopping mall, you owe a debt of gratitude to Magnolia Bakery.

Of course, as with all Great New York Things, by the time Magnolia cupcakes made cameos on Sex in the City, Saturday Night Live, and in the pages of Us Weekly, its cool had already chilled. As the Mainstream queued up to gobble their little pastel-frosted baked goods, those who arrived first to Magnolia’s party had already backed away from the table.

Be that as it may, my wife still wanted her some o’ them fancy New York City cupcakes, dammit! And I was tasked with securing them.

We were living in Miami at the time. Julie was seven months pregnant with our first daughter. I’d uprooted our little family from Boston just two short months earlier so I could take a job at what was then arguably the most acclaimed and innovative advertising agency in the whole wide world—Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

It was a dream opportunity—a potential career maker, for sure, but more than that, it was an identity. It was like being selected for the U.S. Advertising Olympic Team. Or maybe more like being initiated into the Advertising Hell’s Angels.

CP+B was not the sort of place that hired established ad-industry rock stars. It was the sort of place that made them. Lots and lots of them. My friend Rob Strasberg, one of the most talented and awarded creative directors in the business, took great pride in the fact that CP+B was populated with creative mutts like him—people who couldn’t get hired at the more storied, “elite” creative agencies, but who had found a special home with this scrappy upstart in South Florida.

Alex Bogusky, the creative heart, soul, brains and dreamy hair of the agency, had a tremendous talent for recognizing these mutts, and was forever optimizing and streamlining the structure and culture of his agency to remove every single obstacle standing in the way of the work we did.

And work we would. Harder than we’d ever worked in our lives. Harder than we ever thought we could. In return, the work we did would be some of the best of our careers.

Critics inside and outside the agency would decry CP+B as a “sweatshop,” but then, it wouldn’t be the first time a great creative culture had to bear that cross. And besides, dismissing these cultures as “sweatshops” just means you don’t get it (not to mention, you definitely don’t get the dynamics of an actual sweatshop).

By the way, I’m not insane. I completely get why you wouldn’t get it. Especially if you aren’t in advertising or some other business like it.

Those who do get it will understand. CP+B was an opportunity factory. One colleague summed it up nicely when he told me, “You could build yourself a whole career just picking up the little assignments people drop on the floor here.” He was right. There were no piddly jobs. No dogs. Everything had the potential to be great. Everything was expected to be great. Those who do get it will understand how rare that is. Those who do get it will understand the weekends, the all-nighters, the double-all-nighters—they will understand that no sacrifice is too great to be part of something so great.

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