If you’ve been reading our blog or following Rogue Marketing for any amount of time, you may be wondering, “Who are these guys, and where did they come from?”
When someone starts a business, there’s always a story, and people often ask what was that moment (or inflection point) that made someone start. Here’s mine… (along with some insight on what ultimately led to the business Rogue has become, and the impact it continues to have on a daily basis.)
Today marks the anniversary of me walking out on the big Madison Avenue agency life (or them walking out on me). Here’s a little bit of how it happened.
You may have heard the one about the entrepreneur that turns a great idea into a successful business overnight, and then fearlessly quits their day job. Well, it just doesn’t happen that way. Every person hopes that decision will be easily planned with perfect timing. My choice to leave the big name agencies behind was in large part prompted by necessity and my defining moment came at the worst possible time. It led me to discover that opportunity is what you see after and usually when you aren’t even looking for it.
This story starts in fall of 2008. As you may remember (and if you’re over 30—want to forget) we experienced the largest downturn of the economy and stock market since the Great Depression.
In September, Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in US history, the banks needed bail money, and hard-working Americans took the fall. By October, 240,000 jobs had been eliminated. Fast forward a few months and I get a phone call. It was June 12, 2009, to be exact. I was standing at the changing table with our three-month-old son – wearing khaki shorts and a light blue golf shirt getting ready for a golf tournament starting at 2:00 (it’s that crystal clear in my memory).
“James, our client just made a massive change (that means cut) in LA and we have to make a change as well. We canceled your Monday flight to Orange County. I don’t know how to do this…..”
I stared at the phone. Blindsided by a layoff with a three-month old in one hand and my wife now on maternity leave cleaning bottles in the other room (who was told one week prior that her job wouldn’t be there when her maternity time was complete). I didn’t know what to tell Shelley. It was an emotional moment breaking the news. Two new parents sitting at home just staring at each other. Two new parents who happen to be unemployed in 2009. The entire economy crashing around us and scared out of our minds. Everyone has a moment. That was mine.
I’ve done a lot of corporate work, a lot of agency work, a lot of red-eye LAX to DFW work, those Madison Avenue meetings kind of work, and those big things for big companies that sound great at cocktail parties sort of work. Yet in it all, I can tell you that I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything because I couldn’t point to anything that I’d built. That type of work wasn’t allowing the type of impact that led others to think, “we can’t lose him from our team.” You see, I learned there’s a difference between being valued and being valuable.
With my experience, it probably would have been possible, or even easy to get a corporate job once businesses had recovered. Or, insert next agency position here. But I didn’t. Easy is easy. It’s hard to do what people say you shouldn’t do. So instead of folding to the pressure, taking agency X job in strategy/client services, I believed in myself and took the leap of faith.
I saw the opportunity to freelance and later build an agency that could be far better than anything I’d done before. But more specifically—the opportunity to create a core skill set with the help of some amazing teachers/mentors, position myself to educate others, and drastically change my perspective so the next version of me wouldn’t end up in the same situation that I had already found myself in.
Fast forward to today and I can see that so much of what drove me is now built into the fabric and DNA of our Rogue agency. How we weave in our passion, dedication to the craft…it’s not just a new campaign or the next product launch. It’s a group that’s invested, relentless, and passionate. We play the long game and push to work with companies who are ready and willing to see what can happen when others say they can’t, or when they say, “we’re all in.”
I love this anniversary—it’s humbling and drives me to work towards making sure that day never comes again (for me, or our team). And looking back, 2009 ended up being one of the best things that ever happened.
You know, I never made it to the golf tournament that day. Brennen turned 8 this year. Hayley was born three years later. My wife Shelley ended up with her dream job and every day she continues to be my biggest champion.
I’ve learned that the “bad moments” in life end up being the defining moments. After all, bad is relative. So plan for the obstacles, and be ready… because they’re going to happen anyway.
P.S. You can’t do this alone.
Managing Partner, Rogue Marketing