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Jerry Comyn, Ad Man, Writes Viral Resignation, Goes To Uganda To Save His Soul

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Jerry Comyn:
Jerry Comyn: "My goal is to be honest for once."

Ad man Jerry Comyn, who wrote a "take this job and shove it" email that went viral, says he's living happily ever after, far away from advertising. He's spending the summer in Uganda as a volunteer for an energy project. Then he plans to live off savings while he finishes his political science degree at Trinity College in Dublin.

The 41-year-old hopes eventually to forge a low-paying career in human rights and possibly in public office.

"One thing I've got is a big mouth and a brain and conviction about politics," he said by phone this week from his parents' home in County Meath, Ireland.

Few who read his industry farewell would disagree with the "big mouth" part. He wrote the note in 20 minutes from his Nob Hill San Francisco apartment in early May, waited a day and clicked "send," he recalled. His acid-penned missive denounced ad sales as a den of liars, thieves and sellouts -- himself included. He sent it to his clients and it spread, serving as a bookend to Greg Smith's goodbye torching of Goldman Sachs in a New York Times op-ed back in March.

Comyn's letter began: "Having spent the past 18 years of my life in advertising sales, TV, Radio and Outdoor, I've always wondered why I was in a business I detested. For years, I couldn't figure it out, and then I realized what was motivating me, MONEY!" Then he moved on to his talking points:

  • I was trained to lie to clients and cheat as much as possible.
  • I was encouraged to dismiss FCC regulations on clients business.
  • 99 percent of Advertising Sales Reps spend their days figuring ways to rip off clients

Comyn tried to leave the industry once before in 2006 but got sucked back in by the money, he said. He made a career high of $186,000 selling ad time for CBS in 2004 and was earning six figures in his last job for Titan in San Francisco. "I did sell my soul for the almighty dollar," he said.

He resigned from Titan several months before the letter but couldn't resist the parting shot, which he later clarified was aimed at the trade as a whole. He named no names, but Titan still contacted him about his criticism, he said. (Titan declined comment for this story.)

Comyn, a U.S. and Irish citizen, is single and doesn't have children, so he wanted to speak out for beleaguered colleagues who couldn't because of financial obligations, he said. Job satisfaction is low in advertising, he lamented. A few studies seem to back him up. One said a third of agency professionals plan to leave each year, and "advertising and promotions manager" ranks 291st out of the "top" 300 professions listed in a work happiness index.

Not too many malcontents orchestrate their own "Jerry Maguire" moment, however. A la Tom Cruise's mission-spouting sports agent in the 1996 movie, Comyn said he intended his message as a manifesto for change.

He said he didn't see any negative comments on the Internet. (HuffPost noticed a mixed reaction.) A few of his old firms conducted reviews afterward, he added. But perhaps the biggest change was his own. "My goal was to be honest for once," he said. "At least I'm finally saying what I believe. I'm going to do what I want to do."

For the rest of us -- in advertising and elsewhere -- composing a scorched-earth public resignation is probably not a good idea.

"Bridge burners beware," workplace coach Nancy Ancowitz wrote to The Huffington Post. "Are you really ready to take the Big Break -- like maybe forever? Do you have mounds of money socked away, a hideaway in a faraway land or a one-way ticket on the Virgin Galactic? If not, just fantasize about releasing the letter, and hold onto your day job -- until you find something better."

Comyn got to the point where he felt he had no choice. Sure, he admits, the screed smacked of self-righteousness, but he has no regrets.

"I'm happy," he said. "I'm at an age where I have one more shot at changing my life."