So You Want to Work in Advertising…

October 16th, 2018

I often talk with people who are just starting (or trying to start) their careers in advertising. The industry needs a constant supply of fresh energy, imagination and new perspectives – even if it can be maddeningly frustrating to get a start in advertising.

Decades ago when I was first in the business I tried explaining to my grandmother exactly what was involved in advertising and what it was that I did as a rookie account executive. She wasn’t convinced it was a real job, but admitted: “Well, at least it’s indoor work with no heavy lifting.”

The advertising business has evolved. Technology has changed the way people communicate, the way we buy, the way we use products and services. There’s an overwhelming abundance of information, an explosion of big data, increasing marketing automation, expansion of social media, the influence of Artificial Intelligence and ubiquitous online connectedness.

So the advertising agency world has changed. There’s a lot more to it than what they teach in class. And most of what you see about advertising agencies on TV isn’t true –well, some of it is. It’s fast paced, sometimes stressful, emotionally involving, deadline oriented, intellectually demanding, sometimes tedious, often exhilarating and usually fun. And it always needs smart people.

It’s a business that is reliant on the success of its clients — and being able to demonstrate how every advertising program contributes to that success. It’s a team sport. Collaborating is essential to bat around new insights, half-formed (and occasionally even half-assed) notions until they eventually combine, or refract, or evolve into a beautiful, business-building idea that grows a client’s business.

Advertising requires art – imagination, conceptual thinking, design, copywriting, flashes of brilliance. And it also requires science –strategy, psychology, analytical thinking, marketing discipline, budgeting and logistics.

People who will thrive in advertising seem to share several traits:

  • They are curious
  • They are smart — able to learn fast, figure things out, adapt to new situations
  • They are comfortable with ambiguity. Most things aren’t black or white — they can navigate gray.
  • They are resilient – colleagues don’t always agree, clients are not always happy, criticism abounds
  • They can deal with stress: deadlines, delays, tedious approval processes
  • They are able to connect with people – to listen, to empathize, to understand
  • They are tech savvy – new media, data driven marketing, new dimensions of accountability all require the ability to assemble, analyze and make sense of data
  • They are confident, able to convey their opinions and ideas convincingly
  • They almost invariably have a strong sense of humor
  • No wimps or prima donnas

Advertising is an industry with a wide tolerance for eccentricity so long as you bring talent and dedication to the job. Agencies are all about developing and conveying ideas and building relationships. It can be great fun. (And it’s indoor work, with no heavy lifting.)

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