Everyone’s Complain Department: Feeling Lost

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The ‘Everyone’s Complaint Department’ series of comic strips began as random doodles and reflection pieces of Alvin Teoh, ECD of Naga DDB Tribal. These little stories featured in MARKETING magazine were originally posted on Facebook and are an ongoing tribute to life in Adland.
The comic depicts Alvin’s early days in the advertising industry and words from the Executive Creative Director (ECD) himself.
When I was a kuci-mayong junior creative, I thought, wow, those damn ECDs, they’re like, wow. It was a spillover from art school days when we devoured award annuals like vultures to decaying flesh.

We were fan boys of ECDs and their work made a lasting impression on us.
We saw them as highly intelligent and creative people who could make shit happen from thin air.

They were charismatic mavericks and they ignited our dreams to be like them one day.
Then, it was my turn. I was an ECD but I didn’t feel like a maverick that could make shit happen from thin air.

So I started reading up on what this job required of me. One ad blog described an ECD as a person who does nothing but say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to ideas and then goes off somewhere to work on scams to win creative awards and be a rock star and travel the award circuit to judge stuff and give talks. That wasn’t really helpful. Seriously? ECDs do that?

Now that I’ve been one for ten years I can describe the experience a little better and it’s this:

You have big dreams of making an impact on society, but you get lost and disorientated and overwhelmed half the time. The truth is, an ECD is not a demigod. Maybe some are, but not me. I am one still finding my way and I suspect will do so until my dying breath, which I hope is not anytime soon.
Being an ECD is a mash-up of many things.

You are concerned about strategies and insights, words and pictures, stories and people, art and design, brand love and results, sound and music, channels and touch-points, budgets and creative flexibility as you navigate the constantly evolving digital space and shifting sentiments of people while struggling to find a balance between gut and data and calling for the desperate need for reflection amidst a sea of change.

You’re solving petty issues that come from dealing with immaturity and hidden agendas and people with small d**k issues and unresolved chip-on-the-shoulder problems and you try to summon all the grace one could muster (while secretly wishing bodily harm to that idiot) and be a voice of reason so no one commits murder at work.

And while doing all that, you’re also battling your inner demons, fatigue and the guilt you feel from bad decisions. But you try not to show it because you’re still expected to pull a rabbit from out of your ass and be inspiring so you can keep talents, bring in new ones, work double or triple shifts to help those burdened by the weight of their responsibilities.

Then somewhere in the midst of all these things, you learn to accept the fact that you’re just a human being who doesn’t have all the answers. So you sit back, relax, count your blessings and start again tomorrow.

That is what being an ECD is all about and I relish the fact that I am still alive and am able to retain some of my sanity.

So to all who hold this post, I raise my cup of Chinese tea to you. Fight the good fight but remember to be kind to yourself. It’s totally ok to admit you’re feeling a little lost and a little stupid.

This article first appeared in MARKETING magazine issue 219. You can view the online version of the magazine here 

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