by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) Working in an ad agency means we don’t get some of the perks our friends and family get working in other industries. It’s been scientifically proven that we’re more likely to find a unicorn fawn in a mystical forest than get things such as bonuses and 13th cheques. Ok, maybe it’s not scientifically proven but, deep down, you know it’s true. So how in the world are we supposed to make it through one of the most-commercialised times of the year?

December is to the year what Friday is to a long week. Instead of rushing to the office bar merrily singing TGIF, we rush to the bottle store shouting “Ke Dezemba boss” because, unlike Friday, December presents with an entire month to take a break from adulting and make bad life decisions. But, for every Friday, there’s a Monday and, for December, that Monday is January. Unlike Monday though, it can’t be fixed with a cup of coffee, painkillers, and a bacon, egg, and cheese toasted sandwich, because what makes January feel like Monday every day is how broke you will be. Here are a few tips to help you avoid Chronic January Brokeness this time round.

Be as stingy as client service

Because it’s silly season, you want to have as much fun as possible without worrying about timesheets, meetings about meetings, and working like a beast to meet an urgent deadline but only getting feedback days later. Like a creative with an open brief, it’s absolutely amazing until you find out what the budget is. Suddenly, for every great idea you have, there’s a client service person saying, “There’s no budget for that.” In one review, your script that opens on a sunny beach in the Maldives opens on the Jukskei riverbank instead.

The moral of the story is that you want to do everything over the holidays but, when you find yourself daydreaming about sipping piña coladas on a yacht, have a beer on a tube in your swimming pool, because there’s no budget for that.

Party like a creative

No one can trump creatives when it comes to being cheap or, as a copywriter would call it, “value for money.” They’re always the first at the boardroom raid, looting the spoils of an over-catered meeting. They drink the most at complimentary bars. Those biscuits you find when you check into a hotel? Gone in 60 seconds. And they eat enough at buffet breakfasts to sustain them until the next breakfast.

The lesson to learn here is that freebies are exactly that: free. As in, you don’t have to pay anything. So, the next time you get offered a sample of a dodgy beer that you’re not really into, get in touch with your inner creative and get value for no money. Take all the freebies that come your way, and you’ll be less cash-strapped when the Monday of the year comes around.

Think like a strategist

Of course, creatives and client service — and pretty much everyone else at the agency — don’t think about the long-term plan as well as a strategist does. They also don’t get the same luxury of time as strategists do with their jobs but we’ll save that debate for another day. When it comes to not being broke in January, the best strategic approach is to have a plan for it in advance.

The consumer insight is very simple: “I hate being broke at the beginning of the year, and I need a plan to make sure I make it through the month.” The strategic platform to help solve this problem for the LSM 5–8 target audience that works in an ad agency is: “Save now for later”.

It’s very simple: if you put away R300 every month of the year, you’ll have an extra R3600 to help you out in January when things get tough. It’s not a very sexy proposition but, then again, there’s nothing fun about being a responsible adult. Yawn.


All in all, Chronic January Brokeness is a serious condition that affects a lot of people every year. Yet, by being realistic about what you can or can’t afford, embracing opportunities that allow you not to spend anything, and starting to plan now for the next holiday, you’ll be in a much-better financial state when the Monday of the year comes around. And, trust me, you’ll be so glad for it when you don’t have to survive on two-minute noodles halfway through the month.

  • Got any other ways to avoid being broke when the year starts? Leave a comment below.


TJ NjozelaTJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is a creative group head at Net#work BBDO. With several years of experience in the advertising industry, he’s more than a writer; he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things. He once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.

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One reply on “Agency Life: How to survive the festive season”

  1. This is a great read, well written, well researched and on point. On another note, I feel you buddy, still out here dreaming of that thing called the 13th cheque… does it exist?

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