In one of my early jobs, I was an Art Director at one of Nashville’s largest advertising and public relations agencies. Unfortunately, that agency did a lot of political work for one party’s candidates, quite dirty political work, as I quickly learned. In one instance, the agency president wrote a press release for a U.S. Senate candidate, creating a scandalous lie about the opposing candidate. The campaign manager remarked that the story would have to be retracted the next day because it was untrue. The agency president said that was fine, for people would remember the lie as the truth and forget the retraction. No, some things never change.
I flatly refused to work on any project for any of that party’s candidates. I simply could not do those projects with a clear conscience. I know that would have been grounds for immediate termination, but I just could not do it. I never considered myself a rebel; I just felt I was standing by my principles. The ad executives had to pass them on to the other Art Director, whose principles weren’t quite as strictly upheld as mine. I think the agency must have seen me as eccentric and tolerated my idiosyncrasies because my design work had won them several Addys, the premier awards in the advertising industry.
My rebelliousness expanded. I also refused to work on any project for a nuclear energy client that they had. I was living an organic vegan lifestyle and could not support the nuclear industry. And, yes, organic and vegan living existed before the Foodie generation.
The agency did a lot of fast food industry work – hamburgers, pizza, chicken, fish. Grudgingly, I did work on those projects. This was long before all the ethical issues with the fast food giants started to manifest. I joked with my co-workers that my healthy lifestyle would not guarantee me a long life, for I would be mowed down one day by a fast food supply truck as retribution.
The agency also had a lot of virtuous clients that balanced out the questionable. There were city and regional arts organizations, charitable organizations, etc. That meant free symphony tickets, riverboat cruises, hot air balloon rides and other activities that made the job enjoyable.
Eventually, I left the agency to start my own graphic design business and, over the years, I’ve worked with many varied clients. Luckily, I never had to accept a client I did not ethically agree with. In politics, I even donate my time and expertise to causes I very much agree with.
I still don’t consider myself a rebel. Ethics and accountability should always guide everyone’s actions and should never have to be things praised for their uniqueness.