When I first started in this business almost 18 years ago, I remember we were coached to answer an interviewer's questions in a very particular way.
In the beginning I was interviewing for assistant media planner jobs, so after I met with HR I was usually interviewed by media planners and media supervisors. When I was asked why I wanted to get into media, the "right" answer was always, "I wanted a career that allowed me to express my creative side and leverage my affinity for numbers." It was imperative that the person interviewing me believed that I had an obsessive attention to detail.
Basically, if I could convince them that I had a creative flair, coupled with a love for numbers and I was detailed-oriented, I had a high probability of getting a media job. Not much has changed and everything has changed.
I think the cost of entry for channel planning jobs (the newer expanded discipline) remains an uncanny ability to extrapolate meaning from data, but the skill-set needed to succeed in the job has expanded along with the media landscape. When we’re interviewing candidates at The Media Kitchen, we still look for evidence that the person can add up a column of numbers, but we are just as eager to learn about his or her pop culture obsessions. Given all the technological support we now provide channel planners to manage data, it’s becoming more important that our planners can see trends forming through a quick study of Us Weekly or the top 10 Google search words. Being a student of pop culture is just as important as having wiz bang math skills.
I’ve always said I’d much rather hire someone who worked her way through city college waiting tables to pay her tuition than someone handed an Ivy league education. I always believed that someone who had to struggle to get an education was the kind of person I wanted on my team. He'd be smart, have a good work ethic and really appreciate all he's worked for. I still believe that. But now, I’m just as eager to hire someone who demonstrates an obsessive curiosity about her environment. I believe people who are extremely curious about the world they live in understand how people communicate and the role brands play in facilitating communication.
Clients are looking to agencies more and more for big communications ideas. As part of our daily tasks, we analyze competitive spending; post TV and print buys and project ratings; issue insertion orders; draw flowcharts; reconcile bills and mange budgets. We’ve performed those tasks since time immemorial and we will continue to perform those tasks until every medium is delivered with an IP address — but now that the media landscape has changed, we have opportunities to create even more value.
We are working in a discipline that is finally able to deliver real value by understanding which messages will work best in which environments. Finally we have the technology and the myriad channels to be able to deploy the right message to the right place at the right time. In order to be able to deliver this promise, a different kind of person needs to join what has always been called the Media Department.
The people who will succeed in today’s media departments need to be able to think creatively and add up a column of numbers. But they have to also be obsessed with pop culture and know all the latest celebrity blogs; they have to be extremely curious about their environment; they need to constantly be observing how the people around them communicate and they need to be able to craft communication plano-grams. The people who succeed in today’s media agencies need to be media anthropologists as much as media planners.
Over his 18-year career, Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, has worked in almost every category, from luxury goods to consumer electronics to beer. His clients have included Miller Brewing, Snapple, Olympus, Levi’s, Bvlgari Fragrances, Gold Toe, HotJobs, and Moët. Despite having an MBA from Baruch College, Barry believes the best education in this business comes from staying close to consumers and keeping abreast of emerging technologies. To that end, Barry likes to consider himself a media anthropologist.
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