The ad industry requires broad knowledge. How do we keep up?
Early in my career, I worked in an agency where two newspapers showed up every morning. One subscription was mine: USA Today. The other one was the CEO’s: the Wall Street Journal. I suppose you could tell our divergent personalities and interests by those choices.
Of course, that was a couple of years before the Web became the great conduit of news and information. Now, the bombardment of knowledge and media never ceases. So in an advertising career, what’s required reading or viewing? What’s extraneous? Is it detrimental to read too much about our own industry and not enough about other endeavors?
When I recently moved cross-country, I gave away over 10 years’ worth of Communication Arts and Lurzer’s Archive magazines. Whatever historical or sentimental value they held for me was no match for the excessive space and weight they took up. In the course of purging them, I realized that while I still read more about marketing and advertising than ever, I spend increasingly less time with creative trade publications when they show up at my door.
One of the great benefits of a career in advertising that you get to work on a wide range of businesses, products, and services. Learning is constant. The knowledge isn’t confined to business topics, either. Art, literature, film, science — they’re all fair game, and what you learn about those topics can be applied to solve marketing problems.
But that also means there’s an ever-growing list of books, articles, videos, apps, etc., to take in. If you’re determined, as I am, to keep up with the changes in our business, technology, and culture, then you’ve got no choice but to cram as much information consumption into your spare time as possible.
Being that we’re headed into December, we’re about to get deluged with year-end “Best Of” lists for all kinds of media, which will give us even more to consider and choose. So our media diet gets larger every day. Me, I’ll read something while keeping an eye on my Twitter feed and keeping the TV on in the background. Do I retain it all? Hardly. But I’m consuming as much as I can, while I can.
Let’s assume you’ve already got a steady diet of what you like to read or watch. Is that enough? Not quite.
Don’t forget: advertising relies on knowledge of lowbrow culture just as much as anything that’s considered classic literature or art. Sometimes keeping up requires that you watch or read things you really don’t care for. Not a fan of reality TV or Twilight? Get over it. You have to at least know what they are, because their audiences are often our target customers.
Another byproduct of such a varied media diet is the fragmentation of our experiences. You can’t assume that anyone, including your closest friends, co-workers, or clients, has read the same stories you’ve read, or watched the same TV shows or viral videos. We can choose to select the information we want. Even to such a degree that we filter out what we don’t want to hear, or choose not to believe.
That makes for lively discussions and arguments, especially in an advertising agencies and marketing firms. We love to generalize. You hear it every day: “Our target audience believes such-and-such,” “Consumers no longer do this and that.” Many of those generalizations come from the product of our own media diet, beliefs, and experiences as much as they come from real research.
The best thing we can do is to take all the information we consume with a grain of salt. Information is no substitute for judgment, wisdom, or creativity.
Am I overthinking this? Perhaps it’s another habit of mine. Does staying informed, or the goal of it, come at the expense of other experiences that might fuel creativity? Absolutely. Perhaps I’d be better off if I sliced my media diet in half, and stopped wondering and worrying what else is going on right now so I can live more in the moment. But these days, it’s hard to tell the nutritious information from the junk.
I guess I’ll be content to remain overstuffed.
A note from Dan: If you’re thinking that you need a little sweetener in your media diet, I invite you to visit Amazon.com to get a copy of the best of nine years’ worth of columns. Order View From The Cheap Seats: A broader look at advertising, marketing, branding, global politics, office politics, sexual politics, and getting drunk during a job interview. Thanks for your support.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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