A suit, a pack of smokes and an emotionally unstable personality. The show, Mad Men, will have you believe these are the only things you need to be an ad man (or woman) at an ad agency. I’m a big fan of the show (and often reference it when still having to explain my career choice to confused relatives and friends), but as many of you know that was far from the truth in the 60’s and it’s an even further truth today.
If you’re one of many recent graduates eyeing that scintillating Summer Internship, that mysterious Account Planner position or an amazing Jr. Copywriter role at an ad agency, keep in mind these 5 things as you apply. (For specific job descriptions check out this 4A’s site.)
1. Change is your new BFF.
New business wins happen. New production processes get enforced. Scopes increase (or budgets decrease). Campaigns get overhauled overnight. Change is inevitable in any industry but it happens at lightening speed at an ad agency. Get used to it, embrace it, and learn to thrive in it.
2. The customer is NOT always right.
Or rather clients don’t always know what they want. They think they do, and they should have a good sense of it. But it is your job as their advisor to push back in a tactful, appropriate manner. That’s what you were hired for. They will respect you more for it. And continue seeing you as a strategic partner instead of just another vendor.
3. There is no creative department.
If you are in client services, the client will ask you what you think of “the work”. If you’re in production, you’ll have to figure out (creatively) how an idea will come to life (on time and on budget). If you’re in strategy, you’ll have write a creative brief that will serve as the Bible for said work. It’s important to think about how your key value (the creative work) solves a problem, moves the brand forward, and tells the right story. And you’ll have to do this regardless of what department you sit in. Because ultimately that work is what clients will evaluate you on and you will need to have just as much skin in the game as the creative department. That doesn’t mean you can do what the creatives do. As my former colleague, Creative Director and friend, Goldy Bardin, points out, “I truly believe that great ideas can come from anywhere, but there it is easy to give subjective feedback as well because some people tend to think creative is just something that happens organically. It’s not. It’s the job of the creative team to nurture those good ideas and help them mature into living, breathing, entertaining and meaningful concepts. And then to apply their craft to turn concepts into beautiful creative executions.”
4. Have an edge.
The wonderful thing about being a consultant to clients is you bring a fresh perspective to their communication challenges. In order to do that well, you need to have a point of view. It doesn’t matter what role you play on a team or how young you are, you need to have opinions. And those opinions give you an edge. You also need to have some style, a little something extra that sets you apart. Agencies like talent with a Point Of View, a creative flair, an edge. If you’re a troublemaker at heart, your calling may be in advertising.
5. Welcome to the era of Math Men (not Mad Men).
The art of storytelling through advertising will never go away. As long as brands exist, they will need to have a story and they will need storytellers. But you cannot ignore how consumers are moving through the purchase maze (not a funnel anymore) and how marketers are shifting more and more ad spend from traditional to digital. When exploring different career options within this business, do your homework. Learn how the industry is shifting and what types of roles are in high demand. Here’s a quick video that does a good job of explaining what these “math men” do and how it all came to be.
As you start researching opportunities, talking to folks in your network, comparing job search notes with your friends, try to define how your skills + your passion align with the value you can bring to a particular expertise in advertising. It’s important to have what I call a list of non-negotiable items that can help you decide between two different roles whether applying to them or choosing one.
There are many types of ad agencies (creative, digital, specialized, in-house) with multiple departments: Creative, Account Management, Strategy, Media, Production, Analytics, Project Management, and possibly more. So do your research. Find a good fit. And go forth and have fun.
What do you think of ad agencies & advertising? How did you get your start? I’d love to answer any questions or get your comments below, so don’t be shy.
Kinnari has a Masters in Communication Management from USC. She has worked in Client Services/Advertising for over nine years developing marketing campaigns for clients such as Intel, Visa, Del Monte Pet Products, T-Mobile, Dignity Health and more.
[Photo at the top – Credit: Mediative , “This is Digital Marketing..” video, 2011]