How Does an International Advertising Career Balance with the Occasional Need to Climb Everest?

I worked with Marc Hartzman in New York, just off Madison Avenue. I was 15 years into my advertising career, working my up through the ranks, from Writer, to Creative Director, to Executive Creative Director, with the occasional start-up, merger or acquisition in the mix to add interest.

This extended from offices first in New Zealand, to Australia, South Korea, New York and Malaysia, with global campaigns and clients in every region of the world.

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I was fortunate, more by good luck than good management, as I started out simply liking to write, and that my writing was good enough to get me jobs in some of the worlds top agencies. I worked out early on you could work anywhere in the world with multi-national agencies. You just had to consistently produce great work, build a strong creative team that won awards, and enjoy working with and helping build a clients business. Then you would always have a job.

The industry was turbulent though and had enough twists and turns, that if timed right, the occasional break was either inevitable or could be fitted in. For several of my Everest expeditions I was both climbing Everest, and also being paid full time, just so I’d get back to my desk job eventually, I suppose. And it kept my life insurance in place – always a good thing.

Mixing a few advertising theatrics with a very long rope. The first tyrollean traverse of the Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom, New York City – returning The Explorers Club Flag from the Seven Summits Solo for the annual dinner. Photo (and chief rigger of the ropes): Joe Blackburn

And I learned that the industry was very cyclical. Things went well, the economy was good, the companies grew. Then things would start to shift, generally in 3 – 5 year cycles. Then it was time to plan an exit, guide a climb and head for the heights of the Himalayas or into the polar regions. At one point I left the U.S. and managed to fit in successive expeditions to Everest and Cho Oyu, then a final amazing climb of the rarely guided Makalu, the worlds’ fifth tallest peak.

Balancing sponsors, advertising and a few very good climbs, with campaigns I helped create, or on a rare occasion starred in. One of 4 print ads and a TV commercial for Rolex Watch.

I remember well two jobs I accepted, with final negotiations conducted while I was in Yak paddocks in Nepal, working out a mix of salary, bonus and stock options. It was often the middle of the night due to the time change, with my every enthusiastic and ever so talented Executive Recruiter Linda Schaler, finalizing the deal with my next company, while I literally had Yaks shuffling around and munching grass in the background.

The rapid move back from the Himalaya to a desk job, no matter how big and comfortable the desk, was always a big change. But the comforts: of cushy chairs, consistent warm temperatures, lazy starts, great hotels and long dinners at a host of fine restaurants around the world wasn’t really that hard to get used to.

The Creative Directors car, suitably 4-wheel powered, off for a climb of Mount London in Colorado, after a long road trip from NYC. Subtly obnoxious, but it was dark blue at least, and a whole heap of fun to drive. Photo: Josephine Clark

Inevitably though, office life became a bit tame and after the sponsorship lectures to wrap up a climb, and a few years of advertising, I’d be looking for a way out to climb a new peak or take another group into the heights.

Through the years I was fortunate to hire a whole range of very talented creatives, with a range of skills that never failed to interest and amaze me. Some quickly rose to the heights of advertising.

And others did both, like Marc Hartzman, who wrote books and had a range of interests from ghosts, to history, to what others did besides exist in the world of communications.

Now, with many of us staying a bit closer to home, I was fortunate he tracked me down. We had a chance to talk advertising and mountains, from the ups and downs of both, to a few great climbs, and even a few great clients we both shared.

Stories from our flight to the North Pole, as told at the Willis Towers Watson annual Singapore conference.

I once gave a lecture at The Explorers Club in New York, to a group of global management consultants. I wanted it to be a mix of entertainment, balanced with a few leadership and team insights that work both in the heights as a mountain guide, and in the cities of the world in executive management.

Perhaps that came through, but the number one question I had was “How have you managed a global career, and climbed Everest, and still had all these other adventures?” The sense I had, was not of motivating them, but to make some of them realize that no matter how successful your business life is, it certainly isn’t everything.

In Marc’s series of podcasts, perhaps there is the inspiration to do a bit more, to balance the work with the play. We talked for over an hour, somewhere in there is perhaps a gem or two as to just how to balance a career with a few great adventures?

Marc Hartzman and Robert Anderson podcast in Besides Ads

Off to work, landing at Union Glacier for an Antarctic season of guiding. Photo: Chris Heintz